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Monthly Archives: October 2014
I spend a lot of time imagining my perfect life. I think about the clients I want to work with, how many hours a week I’d like to work, which pair of really cute boots I’d like to wear while working. If I had to plan it out, it would look something like this:
I would wake up to the sound of water lapping at the beach. My breakfast would consist of a perfectly foamed latte and eggs scrambled with feta and roasted peppers, eaten on an old farm table I found for a pittance at a flea market. I would be wearing pajamas that are somehow simultaneously crisp, flattering, and comfortable.
Wonderfully, miraculously, I’m very nearly living the dream these day. I’d like a few more clients who have built philanthropy into their business models. I’d like a bit more upper body strength. I need more winter-friendly clothing and, eventually, I’d like a better car. But I got this close to my dream life by doing something so crazy-stupid-easy it nearly falls under the heading of “I don’t want to tell you about it because it’s so obvious that I feel embarrassed saying it out loud.”
But here it is: I figured out what I wanted. Then I stopped doing things that didn’t get me closer to that goal. And when I stopped doing those things, I started doing things that brought me closer to what I wanted.
That’s it. Below are a few examples of how easy it is to put this method into practice:
If you want to save money so you can do something big and exciting:
Stop: Eating out, buying things you don’t need, keeping monthly payments (gym, cable) you don’t use.
Start: making and sticking to a budget, reminding yourself why you’re on a budget, eating in, doing cheap things with your friends.
If you want to be in a serious relationship:
Stop: Dating people who don’t thrill you, mooning over your ex, hooking up with that person you know is bad news, putting off Big Deal conversations that need to happen.
Start: Asking your friends if they can set you up, online dating, defining your deal breakers, thinking Do I like him? rather than Does he like me?
If you want to be healthy and fit:
Stop: Eating unhealthy food, driving everywhere, avoiding exercise, drinking so much coffee or alcohol.
Start: Eating more produce, walking or biking when you can, finding a physical activity you actually enjoy, drinking more water, getting outside.
If you want a great social life:
Stop: Hanging out with people who don’t fill you up, hoping that people will call you, gossiping constantly, flaking out on events you committed to.
Start: Reaching out to people you want to know better, planning events and inviting people to them, saying yes (and attending) more events, taking classes filled with like-minded people, being reliable and helpful, saying nice things to and about people.
The really magical thing? Even when you take just one of these steps — either the “stopping” step or the “starting” step — big, startling, I-didn’t-expect-this-to-happen-so-fast changes will fall into place.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Being depressed can make you feel helpless. You’re not. Along with therapy and sometimes medication, there’s a lot you can do on your own to fight back. Changing your behavior — your physical activity, lifestyle, and even your way of thinking — are all natural depressiontreatments.
These tips can help you feel better — starting right now.
1. Get in a routine. If you’re depressed, you need a routine, says Ian Cook, MD. He’s a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA.
Depression can strip away the structure from your life. One day melts into the next. Setting a gentle daily schedule can help you get back on track.
2. Set goals. When you’re depressed, you may feel like you can’t accomplish anything. That makes you feel worse about yourself. To push back, set daily goals for yourself.
“Start very small,” Cook says. “Make your goal something that you can succeed at, like doing the dishes every other day.”
As you start to feel better, you can add more challenging daily goals.
3. Exercise. It temporarily boosts feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It may also have long-term benefits for people with depression. Regular exercise seems to encourage the brain to rewire itself in positive ways, Cook says.
How much exercise do you need? You don’t need to run marathons to get a benefit. Just walking a few times a week can help.
4. Eat healthy. There is no magic diet that fixes depression. It’s a good idea to watch what you eat, though. If depression tends to make you overeat, getting in control of your eating will help you feel better.
Although nothing is definitive, Cook says there’s evidence that foods with omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon and tuna) and folic acid (such as spinach and avocado) could help ease depression.
5. Get enough sleep. Depression can make it hard to get enough shut-eye, and too little sleep can make depression worse.
What can you do? Start by making some changes to your lifestyle. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try not to nap. Take all the distractions out of your bedroom — no computer and no TV. In time, you may find your sleep improves.
6. Take on responsibilities. When you’re depressed, you may want to pull back from life and give up your responsibilities at home and at work. Don’t. Staying involved and having daily responsibilities can work as a natural depression treatment. They ground you and give you a sense of accomplishment.
If you’re not up to full-time school or work, that’s fine. Think about part-time. If that seems like too much, consider volunteer work.
7. Challenge negative thoughts. In your fight against depression, a lot of the work is mental — changing how you think. When you’re depressed, you leap to the worst possible conclusions.
The next time you’re feeling terrible about yourself, use logic as a natural depression treatment. You might feel like no one likes you, but is there real evidence for that? You might feel like the most worthless person on the planet, but is that really likely? It takes practice, but in time you can beat back those negative thoughts before they get out of control.
8. Check with your doctor before using supplements. “There’s promising evidence for certain supplements for depression,” Cook says. Those include fish oil, folic acid, and SAMe. But more research needs to be done before we’ll know for sure. Always check with your doctor before starting any supplement, especially if you’re already taking medications.
9. Do something new. When you’re depressed, you’re in a rut. Push yourself to do something different. Go to a museum. Pick up a used book and read it on a park bench. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Take a language class.
“When we challenge ourselves to do something different, there are chemical changes in the brain,” Cook says. “Trying something new alters the levels of [the brain chemical] dopamine, which is associated with pleasure, enjoyment, and learning.”
10. Try to have fun. If you’re depressed, make time for things you enjoy. What if nothing seems fun anymore? “That’s just a symptom of depression,” Cook says. You have to keep trying anyway.
As strange as it might sound, you have to work at having fun. Plan things you used to enjoy, even if they feel like a chore. Keep going to the movies. Keep going out with friends for dinner.
When you’re depressed, you can lose the knack for enjoying life, Cook says. You have to relearn how to do it. In time, fun things really will feel fun again.
When I was twelve years old, my sister and I were trapped in a house with no power when it rained cats and dogs outside. Our mother had gone to a temple nearby locking us inside. It was not the thunders and the intensity of the rain that frightened us but the fact that she was all alone god knows where and back then, we didn’t have mobile phones. I remember us standing near the entrance of my house holding the bars of the sliding gate looking out yearningly, just like prisoners in movies do. And as we stood there we saw our favorite tree, that was at least 8 feet tall, fall over. The rain eventually slowed down to a drizzle, and my mother found me crying, squatting near the fallen tree when she came back. She immediately brought out a shovel, dug the mud around the roots of the tree, lifted the tree up, added more mud to the base and it was standing again in no time. It lived for many years to come. That day, my mother was my hero.
When this happened the three of us, my mother, sister and I, were living in Madurai, while my dad worked in Bangalore. He called us once a week and we had to keep the call short so the phone charges don’t add to our financial burden. He would come over some weekends and we were always there at our local railway station to receive him. We would walk back home and have our breakfasts together. Those were hard times but that was when we all connected well together as a family.
My mother had more troubles than she’d tell me then. Our grandparents lived with us and she had to take care of four of us and our home-sick, out-of-station dad. I liked my grandparents. But they were not so kind or understanding with her. My mother learnt to ride a cycle at the age of forty to get to places sooner. We all ran with her as she first pedaled through our neighbourhoods well past midnight. I was proud of it, but my grandmother found the thought of an obese woman riding a cycle hilarious. I would tell her about the fat joke grandma made in her absence and she would act like she didn’t care. She’d tell me “never let them get to you”. She’d tell me not to be weak. “If you give in now, you’ll give in forever”, she’d say.
Later on, when our dad and us started living together again, our financial situation had moderately improved and I started spending a lot of time talking to my mother about religion, marriages, books and life in general. We had amazing arguments until my dad shushed us and forced us to sleep. After which we continued talking in whispers. She would tell me the scientific reasons behind religious practices, she would explain the metaphors in Mahabharatha, and we would have endless arguments about love marriages and arranged marriages. She had great imagination, she wrote poetry. She felt caged inside the middle class housewife’s body. If not a hero, I still thought she was the smartest person I knew. I even wrote a poem thanking her for being the best mother.
But she started complaining. When I got old enough to understand adults, she started complaining about her life incessantly. She told me that when the tree fell she was actually scared, that she felt very bad about the joke grandma made.. She told me a lifetime worth of sad stories and secrets, things that I did not want to know. I became tired of listening to her, of comforting her, of urging her to follow her dreams, of getting mad at her for giving excuses. I was not proud of her anymore. And now, when I read the poem I wrote for her when I was twelve, I think I was naive.
Parents stop being heroes at some point. And the circumstances leading up to it are always ugly. You realize they made the wrong call more times than you can count. You realize that the world didn’t screw them over; their worldview is screwed. You get frustrated when they don’t listen to you telling them to not make another mistake. You give up.
It came to a point where my mother and I had nothing to talk about. She waited for me to chat with her about life in general, like I did when I was a kid, but I didn’t have anything in common with her. And she started preferring the kid me.
Recently, she did what I always told her to do. She took an initiative; she learnt a new language at 50 and became a teacher in a school. She changed her life in a matter of months. When she called to tell me that she got a job as a teacher, I was very happy and I felt the closer to her than I’ve felt for ten years. But she was eager to cut the call sooner to talk to a friend of mine who’d been supportive to her through this. I felt jealous and sad.
I have listened to everything my mother complained about, every single incident in her life that she remembers. I have a total life experience of 73 years and I still screwed up a relationship. I want to fix it. I try to find out what my friends do, how they talk to their mothers. I get nothing out of it because I am not like them and my mother is not theirs. I try to help her out with chores even when she doesn’t ask me to, but that doesn’t impress her. She still wants me to talk and I am stumped.
She passed on a lot of insecurities and fears to me, which I consciously try to keep in check so I don’t turn into her. But she also passed on her habit of reading and her extensive imagination. When she forgave me for my million flaws, I couldn’t forgive her for tarnishing the image of her I had as a kid. I stopped being there for her when it got difficult. Now the roles are reversed and I dial her number hoping she’d have something to share with me this time.