Posts Tagged ‘depression’

The Importance of a Brain Roadmap

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

Everyone even vaguely interested in anything from self-improvement, procrastination, and healthy living has come across some metaphor mentioning how the mind and body are like cars that run on gas and need to be refueled from time to time. Whether that be fuel or sleep, or healthy dieting, or smart organizational strategies to prevent you from falling into a cycle of avoiding responsibilities until they pile up to extraordinary quantities, you know the drill. But fuel isn’t the only thing a car needs to run properly.

It needs a good driver. It needs someone that knows the rules of the road, that knows the machine and how to operate it, and most importantly, someone that knows where they are going. It’s fine and dandy to be going 60 miles per hour down the highway, until you realized you missed your exit two hours ago. Your brain, body, life, goals, need a compass.

Which is where good introspective time can benefit. Not just as a student, in providing your brain with some rest and clarity, but also as a human, trying to make it in a human world.

Personally? I meditate.  Not necessarily in the old Buddhist monk or American hippie way, but in a more convenient one. I’ll meditate while walking. Actively think while I step, let the rhythms of everyday life hit me in a way that is conducive to good thinking. I’ll stand in the shower sometimes, and just look at the wall, and think for five, or ten minutes. More importantly, I journal. One page, every day. I’ve kept it up, pretty regularly, for almost 3 months now, and I see the progress I am making towards my goals. I’ve finished two full notebooks of dense writing, and at the very least my handwriting has gotten really, really good. But also, I have a creative, and meditative outlet for any emotions I might be holding in, any worries that might be resting on my shoulders. There have been times where I sit down angry and get up calm, or start writing with frustrations and despair creeping in behind my shoulders, only to walk away calm and collected, ready to tackle my day.

My own experiences might not be the most convincing, but the proof is there. Mindfulness and meditation improve not only your physical health, like decreasing your risk of heart disease over time, but also your mental stability by decreasing cortisol levels in both short term and long term practitioners. In fact, mindfulness is one of the key treatment options for patients with depression or anxiety. It is often the first strategy used to try and combat both illnesses. Obviously, it’s not a cure-all, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

As for the journals I keep? The University of Rochester has done extensive studies showing that journals help you prioritize your problems, fears, and objectives, and thus manage your anxiety, or stress levels. They help you focus on what you want, whether that be your life’s ambition, or something as simple as sticking to a healthier diet.

You may already be taking every step you can think of to make your brain and body operate at a higher level. You may be going faster, and stronger than ever before. But if you still feel directionless, lost in the wind? Spend some time mapping out your brain. It could work, you never know.

Sources:

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1
https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/benefits-of-mindfulness/


By Victor Galov

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Psychotherapy and Me

Saturday, September 27th, 2014
Henri Matisse's The Goldfish

Henri Matisse’s The Goldfish

“I’d like a hug,” I decided on my last day. We proceeded to discuss the details of our hug – where we would place the arms, when to terminate the embrace, how tightly we would hold each other. After agreeing on my comfort level, I stood and hugged her, a tad tighter than we had initially agreed on.

We pulled apart and she asked, like a typical therapist, “What are the tears in your eyes about?”

Tear ducts unabashedly hot, I replied, “I don’t know; what are your tears about?”

My therapist was crying. She was crying for me, for the progress I’ve made in the past three years, for the impending separation to come. My time with her was not over – I still planned to have a session every month – but everything from this point on will be different. That much, we both knew and expected.

A week into college life in New York City, and yes, everything has changed. My cat doesn’t mewl for food every morning. The night is noisier, both in and out of my head. I’m surrounded by strangers who all seem like they’ve got it together. I miss the convenience and privacy of my room, long drives while blasting music, and the Henri Matisse Goldfish painting that hung on my therapist’s wall. Everything is different, including me.

Four years ago, depression plagued me. It seemed the only things I enjoyed were sleep and razors, constant worrying, and constant headaches. When I began seeing my therapist, I was an ugly, unromantic mess. I said, “I can’t imagine myself not having depression.” Depression was a parasite that scarred my arms, legs, and cheeks. I weighed on my few friends until they broke and left me, exhausted by my exhaustion.

Four years ago, I could have never survived my first hectic week at New York University. Though self-doubt never quite disappears, it has diminished greatly over the course of recovery, helmed by my therapist. Without her, my ship would have been smashed to bits on the reef. Without her, I would not have found the willpower to brave my way through life’s complexities and simplicities.

Living the college life with depression is precarious. Many young adults have not reached any level of self-comfort yet. Many suffer undiagnosed. This is why I urge everyone who suffers from even mild symptoms of depression and anxiety to reach out for help – be it through college or through local connections. Don’t let the stigmas of therapy and mental illnesses prevent you from getting the professional help you need and deserve.

The poster of Henri Matisse’s Goldfish on my dorm room wall is a reminder that therapy can (and already has) helped me thrive during the overwhelming college experience. These days have the potential to become the most wonderful days of your life – don’t let yourself drag you down.

In a series of eight blog posts, I will discuss what I have learned throughout my journey through depression, and how I have overcome my demons. With a little advice and self-help, maybe you can, too.


 

ChristelleMarie Chua, New York University ’18

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Student Depression: Working Within the Bounds of Gravity

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Every student in the depths of depression goes through that particularly steep and lugubrious slump. Honestly, it’s more like a cliff. Full of electric eels and piranhas and alligators, who keep mauling away at any bit of hope you may have left.

"We feed on your misery and despair... and cashews."

What if you could turn those bloodthirsty blues into a pool of rainbows and unicorns? Well, not exactly. But pretty damn close.

All you need is a mantra. Here are the magic words: work within the gravitational field.

Sorry, that’s not a reference to Gravity.

"

But it’s nonetheless solid advice.

There are two minefields we step into when we’re depressed: the future and the past. The latter is relatively simple—you wish you could change something you did. But you can’t. You can’t change the past. Argument over. Talk to me when you step through a wormhole and end up with your thigh attached to your face, or an extra set of eyes under your armpit.

The future—aye, she’s a tricky one. Depending on the way you perceive what is to come,  you can either end up in a pool of your own tears and blood (the result of papercuts while crying and leafing through your ex’s photo album, of course), or you can get a fucking grip, grit your teeth, and grin through those horrid weeks.

Ideally, you want to choose the latter. It always ends up a mix of both, though. We simply want to minimize the one where you sink yourself deeper into a pit of self-loathing and pity.

This is where gravity comes in.

Imagine this overly-elaborate and seemingly-unrelated scenario: a newspaper intern is hired for the summer, and he’s doing relatively well—bringing the coffee, unjamming the printer, even writing a little piece for the paper once in a while. But then he does something stupid: he overshoots his mark and decides he wants to be a full time reporter now. Stuck with the notion that he’s too good to be an intern all of a sudden, he stops being speedy with the coffee, the printer remains jammed and the office is lagging because a millennial twat (no offense to 99% of my readers, of course—but I can say it because I’m 22) decided he’s too good for mundane tasks that he was assigned to.

Something similar happens when you overshoot your thought processes. Let’s use subject A’s—Loverboy’s—thoughts as an example: “She never loved me!” Loverboy thinks. And then he shakes his head angrily and retorts, “I never wanted her anyway!” and then it goes back to, “we’re never going to be together again!” and… well, ad nauseam. Despite the only thing that’s corporeal to Loverboy is the shower floor and the empty bottle of vodka, he gets stuck in his head about what might come.

Now imagine he’s working within gravity, within the limits of the day—the limits of his current, veritable environment. In this mindset, the only questions that should float to mind are, “why haven’t I finished showering if it’s 4am already and I went in at midnight?” and “this empty bottle of vodka means I’ve probably drunk texted her several dozen times already and that I’m going to have one shitty morning.”

Loverboy is now working within gravity. The sadness is there but he handles the tasks at hand—turning off the shower nozzle, throwing the empty bottle into the bin and hitting the hay.

If there was no gravity we would float away into space. Unfortunately, our brain has no hemisphere. We float into the clouds and freeze and stagnate and get stuck. That’s why we must create our own gravity and work within it.

Dale Carnegie mentioned to live in day-tight compartments. It’s the same exact principle as working within gravity. Take the day in chunks and don’t overshoot your bounds or you’ll get stuck.

Now, this doesn’t mean you’ll be traveling to that pool of rainbows and unicorns anytime soon, but there will an inherent sense of “I’ll get through this in the near future” as you crunch your teeth between the stream of tears and type that term paper up the day before it’s due.

Au revoir.

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Aleksandr Smechov, Baruch College.

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Student Depression: Your Personal Project

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

I’ve decided to construct a life-size replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza using only Styrofoam cups and Elmer’s Glue. The fumes from the Elmer’s will fuel my strange ambition and the cups will be my portable latrines. Will I ever finish the Great Styrofoam and Elmer Pyramid of the Bronx? Inevitably no, but I will inadvertently finish the myriad other more manageable tasks I haven’t had the patience or the verve to get around to.

And that’s the point.

If you’re still stuck on the image of latrines and foam cups with weirdly-hued liquids bubbling inside, get your head out of the toilet. The crux of the matter is that committing to an ambitious personal project is an effective gateway drug to doing the smaller stuff you’re setting aside now.

Ever noticed what you do when you’re on a productive roll? There’s a snowball effect. All of a sudden, you want to do the stuff you’ve been neglecting; you feel like you can get everything done in one sitting.

Unfortunately, this sort of productivity binge is a rare beast.

How do you awaken the beast more often? You poke it.

In more boring words, you instigate incentive by getting your brain on a more productive wavelength.

Once you start a task, it’s hard for your brain not to pester you to finish it. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect.

First thing’s first: set yourself up with a personal project. Here are your guidelines:

1) It has to be fun.

2) It has to be creative.

3) It has to be ambitious.

4) Great Styrofoam and Elmer’s Glue Pyramid of the Bronx is taken, sorry.

5) It has to constantly rely on your cerebral musings… so watching movies, eating, cooking, traveling, dancing and other activities where you can partially or fully turn off your brain, or fall into a routine (basically anything you’d do to distract yourself from your mission-critical tasks) are no-go. SORRY.

Some suggestions:

  • Start a Word document journal. (Don’t even think about using a pen unless you’re going to transcribe it via keyboard later—e-journals are infinitely more reliable since you can search specific keywords [and start to see disturbing patterns], and it’s much easier to publish your lurid memoirs if you don’t have to use an Egyptologist to identify your chicken-scratch glyphs.)
  • Make an animated music video (AMV), live-action music video, video blog, short film, etc.
  • If you can’t draw a stick figure for your life, paint something abstract. MOMA is great for inspiration.
  • Learn HTML and CSS and create a kickass personal website. Use this to market yourself.
  • Emulate your favorite author’s style and write a short story in their voice.
  • Notice how you can easily use any of these accomplishments in a resume, portfolio or cover letter? Yep, that’s what you’re aiming for. Something that can potentially get you moolah in the future and improve your creative noggin.

Here’s what will happen: your brain will start to anticipate and get excited for the personal project you’re undertaking; you’ll get into the groove of doing, not worrying yourself into depression; a downhill-snowball effect will occur where you’re gaining momentum and stagnancy equals death; you will look to other places to be productive, i.e. the shit you actually gotta do; you will feel accomplished and have personal reference experience (aka accomplishments you can stroke your ego with) that will push you even further; you will become president on the universe.

What are you waiting for? Get your personal project started NOW.

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Aleksandr Smechov, Baruch College.

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Student Depression: Overshooting Your Mark

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

Overshoot your mark. Bite off more than you can chew. Start at the deep end. Let it hit the fan. You’ll get further than you’ve ever gone before.

You might be utterly vexed now, straining your follicles with the massive amount of hair tugging you’re doing right about now. I understand, just let your follicles have a break for a moment.

Why would you put yourself in supposedly unwinnable situations, or set goals that are, at the moment, too lofty? What benefit is there to overshooting your mark?

Take a look: You have a literary analysis paper due in a week, so you set aside your personal project for a week, you tell your friends that you’re way too busy to hang out and those extra credit assignments you were so adamant to get down and dirty with? Locked away in that little crevice of guilt in your mind.

Now that you’ve got all this freed up time, what happens to your main assignment? Unless you’re writing a 30-page paper that applies a Derridean, Foucauldian and Barthian lens to Joyce’s “Araby” (never again), you’re not going to spend every waking moment (never, ever, again…) writing your paper. Maybe you’ll think about it for several days, start getting those awful vomiting butterflies parading around your stomach lining, fall back into your depression (but we worked so hard on curbing it! Why does this puny paper have to take over your life?) and finally get working on it two days before deadline, panicking yourself into a cold, smelly sweat. Not cool.

"My surname is Derrida, but the very fact that I have been named manifests an externality that dissociates Derrida the 'man' from Derrida the 'name,' the latter of which is an empty signifier, and I'm totally confusing the sh*t out of you right now and enjoying every second of it."

Students, including myself, fall into habitual patterns that are too familiar to comfortably escape. Hey, it’s worked before, you got your work done, so what’s the problem? If it ain’t broke… wait, no. It is broken. You’re not helping your depression by adding anxiety, stress and detrimental habitual habits to the mix. But I’ve got a solution, so don’t you fret.

All those plans you put off for the week? Put them back in your schedule and then some. See your friends, work on your own personal project (more on this in the next blog), do that extra credit, and then commit to something (or several things) with a deadline, preferably before the time your assignment is due. Agree to write an article for the school newspaper, commit to checking out that new French club (voulez-vous lire Campus Clipper avec moi ce soir?) and schedule an appointment with your guidance counselor.

Stuff you schedule, basically.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should cram as much time-wasting activities as possible. All of these week-fillers should be beneficial to your development and recovery one way or another.

So why does this method work? Let’s look back at that last-minute example. You had a huge paper due that was supposed to take a week to complete and you crammed all that work into the air-tight space of maybe eight hours over two days. That leaves at least 104 waking hours where you have the paper on your mind. Maybe not consciously, not all the time, but the thought is there, and it won’t flutter off till you’ve got it handled.

104 hours. That’s almost, like, 127 hours.

"How many hours did Franco spend worrying instead of just cutting off his arm?"

The biggest enemy in this situation is your excess thoughts. Your most practical ally is overshooting your mark and cramming your week with self-beneficial and self-developmental tasks and commitments. There comes a point where the brain doesn’t see an opportunity to worry about what you’re not doing because it needs to hone in on more immediate tasks, like cleaning your room because a friend is coming over, writing that school newspaper article because the deadline is tomorrow, or whatever other task that need immediacy.

What happens now is that you stop worrying because you stop thinking about worrying (whoa). When your mind knows that there are a plethora of tasks coming in from all directions, it slaps itself awake and starts to focus, otherwise it risks embarrassment: you don’t want your friend to look disgustedly at your semi-soiled underwear hanging lasciviously on your lamp, or your school’s newspaper editor giving you the evil eye for the next month. This time, fear of embarrassment works to your advantage (and the only time it should work to your advantage).

You get busy, you get into a flow. You have no time to worry, you just do. You start looking for productive tasks to fill up your time, and it so happens you’ve got that huge paper coming up. What better time to do it than when you’re so tuned into the present moment and riding a productivity binge?

And what seemed like overshooting the mark suddenly seems more than manageable, and leaves you with more free time than if you’d have spent 104 hours worrying and 8 hours doing.

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Aleksandr Smechov, Baruch College.

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