Practical Mindfulness Through Depressive Episodes

Written by Cheryl
3 mins read
Published on Feb 4, 2021

TLDR: 2 mindfulness based tools to help you survive depressive episodes. To anchor & to breathe.

There is so much more awareness around mental illness, and people are much more willing to say ‘I’m depressed’. However, the conversation pretty much stops there.

People don’t usually divulge the dark, contorted details of what goes on in their head during depressive episodes. I mean, how do you say, ‘Hey, I’ve been visualising me stabbing myself for the past hour’ over dinner? It still is a very lonely uphill battle, and there’s still a lot of work to be done to bring depth into the conversations around mental illness. Meanwhile, here’s some things that I’ve found to be useful when it hits me.

I will be using the term ‘depressive episodes’ instead of depression because it is important to understand the distinction. Depression is a mental illness. One with the mental illness of depression experiences depressive episodes that are significant enough to impair quality of life, relationship with self and others. Yet, there are still pockets of space in a depressed person’s life that is void of these depressive episodes. Hence, it is important that while we acknowledge the experiences of depressive episodes, we are careful to not reduce the person to their illness.

1. Anchor in the present moment

In a depressive episode, the body feels so heavy and tired. It’s as though there is not enough energy available to even exist. But there is a whole flurry of activity going on. Thoughts are accelerating in every direction, and emotions change track from misery to hopelessness to pain in split seconds. There is actually a huge amount of energy being expended.

The emotional energy depletes rather than nourish and rejuvenate the mind, resulting in the feeling of “I can’t even move.”

Understanding this has been a life-changing moment. This understanding reminds one there is potential for the energy to be used in other ways. This prevents the energy from sucking up whatever remaining willpower you have.

Identify the low hanging fruits

Choose something that you naturally feel like doing and more importantly, doesn’t feel too forceful. Be attuned to how you feel- even if that means you can only muster the energy to look out the window, choose that.

Ground into the 5 senses
Whatever you choose, slow down and really immerse in the experience. Intentionally sink yourself fully into the feeling of aliveness-the antithesis of depression.

What 3 sounds can you hear ?

What 3 things can you see?

What smells can you inhale?

What 3 sensations you can touch?

What taste can you experience?

See also  4 things I never realised until I studied overseas…during a pandemic

As much as you can, rotate through these questions repeatedly till you feel better. Anchoring into the present moment helps you to keep a safe distance from your thoughts temporarily.

2. Breathe

Reactive is impulsive.

It is going with the first thing your brain generates: “How dare he insult me, I’m so gonna YELL at him and let everyone know what a scumbag he is!!!” The amygdala (emotional center) is at play here.

Being responsive , on the other hand, is being calm and rational.

Responsive is acknowledging the emotional reactions, but not letting that take center stage. The forebrain (logic and rational processing) is at play.

In a depressive mind, the mind is reactive. It jumps on every single thought – every thought of destruction, every thought of hatred, every thought of anger.

Every single thought is taken as an unequivocal conclusion. Hence, we get pulled in every direction and eventually become asphyxiated by the weight of our very own thoughts that are ironically, fleeting and unreliable in nature.

Deep breathing activates the forebrain processing which helps to regain responsivity. Responsivity helps to slow down the mental proliferation. It give us space to acknowledge the negative thoughts as merely passing clouds of a thunderstorm.

The 4–2–6 Deep Breathing Technique

1. Put your right hand at your abdomen and left hand over you chest.

2.Inhale for 4 seconds

3. Hold for 2 seconds

4. Exhale for 6 seconds.

Repeat till you feel a wave of relaxation.

Wishing all who are going through difficult times, love, strength and hope.

Wise Steps:

1.Arise your awareness of the five senses while engaged in an activity
2. Deep breathing to activate the Responsivity mindset

Need help? It is one call away 

SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444 

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 

Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours) 

Tinkle Friend:1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children) 

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 

Resources for applying Buddhism to depressive mental states

How does a meditator deal with episodes of major depression?

The Dalai Lama’s Advice on Depression

Popping Pills for Depression: A Buddhist View – Inquiring Mind

The triple gem

Author: Cheryl

Cheryl loves figuring out life and writing about it. Topics of interest include mental and physical health, mindfulness, self-improvement and the occasional writing that doesn't fall into any of these categories.

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