“Move for Mood”

When people come to see me to help address experiences of depression or anxiety, I always ask them what role physical activity (especially outdoors) plays in their days. If the answer is “none,” or “not much,” it is often my first “prescription” to add some kind of regular physical movement to their  lives.walking-to-improve-running460

The fact is (and an increasing number of studies have shown) that for possibly the majority of folks, regular, moderate physical activity alone is as effective for mild to moderate depression and anxiety as either antidepressant drugs or “talk therapy”. And for those who do take medication, see a therapist, or both, it can make the difference between the medication and the therapy working well, or not.

Many people experience depression at some point in their lives. depressed-woman-400x400Whether you have or haven’t, it might interest you to know that a whopping 25 studies have found that people who engage regularly in outdoor activities such as walking or gardening are significantly less likely to develop depression in the future, or to relapse from a previous episode.

So why does moving our bodies benefit our emotional states? There are several factors, each of which may be more or less important to a given individual.

Physically, activity that stimulates the cardiovascular system can boost levels of the neurotransmit­ters that influence mood. Psy­chologically, activity can provide a sense of accomplishment and control and a sense of feeling more “at home” in our bodies (whatever their size, shape or condition). Activity also shifts our attention away from our mind’s anxieties and concerns.

And while certain kinds of activity seem to be more effective on mood states than others (yoga and walking, for instance, appear to be especially effective), it is important to start with something you can enjoy, at a level of exertion you can tolerate, and then do it regu­larly—ideally most days of the week. Consider the setting, too: walking or bicycling outdoors is likely to be both more beneficial and more fun more than running on a treadmill or using an exercise bike indoors.img_0857

Then there is the element of “mindfulness,” which increases the mind-body benefits of any activity. The practice of yoga, by definition (“yoga” means “union”) is an activity which emphasizes cultivating the mind’s ability to settle itself with breath and attention, while at the same time developing flexibility, balance and strength in the body. Similarly, the practice of “mindful walking” is a way to bring balance to our whole being.

According to Steven Woolpert, LPC, who leads “Mindful Walks” in the Columbia Gorge, “mindful walking in nature brings the beauty and healing power of the natural world into mind, body, and spirit.” Instead of concentrating on achievement-oriented goals like distance, speed, or heart rate, in “mindful walking” the activity itself is the goal, and the focus is on paying close attention to the experience, moment to moment. (For a good, short introduction to “mindful walking, visit http://www.wholeliving.com/134206/mindful-walking).d5-31-300x225

Interested in learning more about how and why to “move for mood”? If so, consider attending the first of the two-class “Feeling Good” fall series of free community classes on wellness topics. The October class will meet on Monday, October 10 from 5:30-6:30 at Canyon Wren Wellness Center in Maupin. This class will explore the connections between activity and mood, and will be preceded by an optional, introductory “mindfulness walk” at 4:30, led by Steven Woolpert and starting at the Center.

In addition, everyone who attends the class will receive a free, 3-class “introductory package” gift certificate (valued at $15) for yoga classes in Maupin. If you do plan to attend the class, registration is appreciated, but not required; call Canyon Wren Wellness Center at 503-838-6144 to sign up, or learn more.

 (In November, both this blog and  the next “Feeling Good” class will focus on “Food for Mood”— stay tuned!)

How to Drive Yourself Crazy

A couple of years ago in this column, I shared the text of a talk on “aging” that my mother, Jan Henderson, used to give to various audiences, from nursing home residents to medical students at OHSU. Aging— its challenges, joys, and opportunities— was her favorite topic. Mom left behind a lifetime of chronic depression and alcoholism beginning in her late sixties by dedicating herself to exchanging behaviors that maintain and refresh suffering for those that cultivate joy and good health. In doing so, she became, in her seventies, a living and persistent example for me of how we can begin to live a life of joy and vitality at any age, and in any condition.

So what fun it was the other day, as I was going through her files on aging and self-help topics, to find a clipping provocatively entitled “How to Drive Yourself Crazy,” excerpted and adapted in 1987 from a longer article by Dorothy T. Harrison, Ph.D. Hair_pulling_stressI love the tongue-in-cheek way that Harrison’s behavioral “advice” reminds us that, consciously or unconsciously, we are always “behaving” in our thinking and actions…and that our choices and habits determine how we feel as a direct result.

In italics, below, is the text of that article; read it and weep, and laugh…then choose!

Articles and books on a variety of self-help topics are widely available. There are suggestions on how to cope, reduce stress, and in general make your life better and more satisfying.

However, it appears that there are many of you out there who don’t aspire to satisfaction, but instead seem to be working on making yourselves miserable. Some of you seem to be experts at this, but others haven’t quite got the hang of it yet. For those of you in the latter category, here is the definitive self-help primer on how to really make yourself crazy!

1)Save your major worries until about midnight, then start heavy thinking. Suggested topics include your old age, losing your job, the mistake you made at work last week that they haven’t discovered yet, that suspicious wart you’ve had for five years. You can work up a good panic by 1:00 a.m..

2)  Keep an inventory of your faults. Ignore strengths. Focus only on your bad points. Try to select friends who will remind you of them. If you don’t have friends like this, you probably have some relatives who can be counted on to point out your weaknesses.

3) Set unreasonable goals. No matter how much money you’re earning, remember that there are others doing better. Try to name three of them, preferably younger than you are. Think how others could do a better job than you do.

4) when your kids mess up, don’t accept it as routine. View it as the first sign of impending moral decay, delinquency and a wasted life. Imagine them as shiftless bums at age 30, scrounging off you.

5) Put off everything until the last minute. In this way you can create a sense of frenzy and chronic stress no matter how much time you had in the first place.

6) To aid in the creation of stress, try to sleep as little as possible. Eat junk food and never exercise if you can help it.

7) Don’t let others know how you feel or what you want. You shouldn’t have to tell them: they should be able to read your mind. If you assume this, you stand a good chance of feeling really deprived.

8) Don’t trust anyone. Struggle with problems alone. If you feel the urge to confide in someone who seems to care, remind yourself that people are basically no good and out for themselves.

9) Never take a vacation or rest. It’s a luxury you can’t afford, especially if you’re working up to a really good state of exhaustion.

10) Above all, never seek help. No matter how serious the problem, convince yourself that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that you can tough it out alone.

If you follow this program, you have a good chance of feeling really rotten in no time at all. Good luck.

…and have fun with that!

Or just have fun.