Standing Up For Good Posture

Posture matters

Posture matters

Good Posture

The first time I saw this Charles Schultz comic was when it was first published in 1964. I always remembered it and it and I contacted Charles Schultz’ organization to get a copy of it, which hangs on the wall in my office.

I heard it a lot when I was growing up, “Stand up straight!” “Don’t slouch!”  I didn’t recognize my posture, at that time, as possibly being related to my mental state but, now as I look back, I was a depressed kid with depressed posture. How we hold our bodies affects our mental state and our mental state affects how we hold our bodies. There is a “chicken & egg” thing going on here.

One component of mindfulness practice is being aware of how we are holding our bodies. When we slouch, our bodies are not in the best position to deal with the constant pull of gravity. Ignoring this can lead to skeletal, muscular, neurological, as well as, psychological issues.

Fortunately, all the self-care behaviors that we strive to bring into our lives will have a positive affect on our posture. You don’t have to bring in more. Keeping up with our physical, mental and spiritual hygiene practices will help us to, “Stand up straight!”

Here’s a short TED Talk on The Benefits of Good Posture.

Finding Balance As A Means Of Managing Depression & Anxiety

It’s all a balancing act

If you’ve ever tried to stand on one foot, you know that achieving balance is a process. As you shift your weight to your standing leg, you begin to negotiate with gravity and your body to help keep you upright.

Find balance to manage depression & anxiety

Finding balance is the key to physical, emotional, mental & energetic wellness.

As you stand there, you begin to notice subtle to not-so-subtle shifts that require you to make adjustments so that you can balance. You never just arrive at a point of balance and get to stay there indefinitely. There is a continual back and forth that is necessary to keep us upright.

So it is with treating depression & anxiety. Each of these conditions require a continual negotiation with our bodies, minds, emotions and the outside world to facilitate our managing the effects of either. It is easy for someone with depression & anxiety to move into hopelessness. The ruminations, despair and fear can seem insurmountable. It appears that the people around us are handling their lives so much better than we are (often an illusion) and we worry that no one can or wants to understand what is happening inside us.

Moving away from the disease model of depression & anxiety

I don’t think that it is helpful to view depression & anxiety as diseases to be treated. In the traditional, western approach to medicine, disease is treated with medication. This belief does wonders for the bottom lines of the medical, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries but, often, offers little relief (and, certainly not a cure) to those who suffer with depression & anxiety.

I prefer to look at depression & anxiety as indicators of a life out of balance. Rather than throwing a pill at the problem, it is far more beneficial to begin treating all aspects of the body/mind system. The most accessible place to start is the physical body, start moving. We don’t need to run marathons or, even, 5Ks. Go outside, weather and safety permitting, or go to a gym, mall or rec center and start moving your body in a steady, rhythmic fashion. My favorite piece of advice to give to my patients, “Go out and walk like you mean it.” Research shows us that regular, physical activity is the single most effective behavior for positively regulating mood. It is necessary for everyone and critical for anyone with mood disregulation. Exercise is the place to start. If physical limitation prohibits vigorous exercise, do what you can and keep reading for more behaviors to help you bring greater balance to your life.

Trim Tab Theory of Transformation & Growth

Architect, visionary, philosopher and inventor Buckminster Fuller (July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983)  introduced his Trim Tab Theory of Transformation & Growth. He uses the analogy of a large ship with a large rudder. The rudder is made of thousands of pounds of steel and is surrounded by thousands of pounds of water pressure. The amount of force that it would take to move the rudder is greater than could be supplied by a motor that could fit on the ship. At the end of the rudder is a smaller, lighter, more mobile piece of steel called a trim tab. When the trim tab is more easily moved, it coaxes the rudder to move in the desired direction.

How does this apply to this topic? Imagine that depression & anxiety are the rudder. If I asked you to move the rudder (stop being anxious or depressed), you wouldn’t know what to do. But, if I suggested you start focusing on the trim tab components of your life (see my S.T.R.E.S.S.S.S.S Formula For Wellness) and you began to exercise, manage sleep, meditate, etc., you’d, eventually, feel the rudder that is your life begin to move in a better direction.

I know, from personal experience, how depression & anxiety can rob us of motivation. The mere idea of taking on a self-care regimen can feel too big to even consider. My advice, pick something, pick one self-care behavior (my bias is toward exercise being the first) and start to make small, incremental movement toward making it a part of your life. Start to move the trim tab and, as you begin to feel the benefit, you may find the motivation and increased sense of control to bring other self-balancing behaviors into your life.

You don’t have to do this alone. Seek the help of friends and family, where possible. Enlist the help of a mental health professional. Tell them about the Trim Tab Theory and choose the element of self-care that you want to start with. Tell people, specifically, how they can support you: “Call me every morning at 6:00 and remind me to get up.” “Keep inviting me to go for walks, even if I decline.” This will help you to feel less alone and may empower your efforts.

Here is an interview with Dr. James Gordon about his book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. He has some good ideas. Also, contact me about using Energy Psychology techniques that can help to reveal self-defeating patterns of thinking and discharge the emotion that keeps us stuck in depression & anxiety. I can work with you face-to-face or remotely.

Do what you can, no matter how small your efforts seem. The most important qualities to managing depression & anxiety or making any kind of change in our lives are Practice, Patience & Persistence.

Having successfully engaged the process of learning to manage a life-time of depression, I can tell you that it can be done. Your depressed mind will tell you that it is all a waste of effort and that your situation is unique and can’t be helped. When this happens, say, “Thank you. This is real and it is not true.” You’re saying “thank you” to the mind that is trying, in unhelpful ways, to keep you stuck and feeling safe, “this is real,” acknowledging to the mind/body that the feelings you have are real and “this is not true” to challenge the lies that the depressed/anxious mind produces.

For people currently taking medication for depression & anxiety, don’t stop without the guidance of your healthcare professional. Fortifying yourself with a  sound practice of self-care can bring greater benefits from your medication and can offer the foundation upon which to gradually discontinue the use of medication, if that is the course of action you and your prescriber undertake together.

Contact me for more help. I wish you the best.

Thoughts vs. Feelings: There is a difference

“I feel like…”

A bright red heart and gray brain sit on opposite ends of a dark gray board balanced on a gray question mark. Isolated on white.

Is it a thought or a feeling?

It is everywhere. It’s used in casual conversation as well as in newspaper columns, by my fellow therapists, celebrity interviews, novels and, sometimes, can be found in more academic writing. I’m talking about people saying, “I feel like…”:

“I feel like Bernie Sanders would be a good president.”

“I feel like she would look better with short hair.”

“I feel like you should major in psychology rather than engineering.”

In each of these examples, the speaker introduces their thought disguised as a feeling. “Bernie Sanders would be a good president” is a thought as is, “She would look better with short hair” and ” You should major in psychology rather than engineering.” The speakers may have some emotion or feeling that is generated as a result of their thoughts, but it is important to our management of emotion to be able to distinguish between a thought and a feeling.

Consider this statement that will be much more emotionally loaded: “I feel like women who have abortions should be punished.” If challenged by someone who has a different opinion about women who have abortions, the speaker could shut down the conversation by saying, “That’s just how I feel.” We’ve been taught that people are entitled to their feelings and that we have no right to discount someone’s feelings. The problem is, “women who have abortions should be punished” is a thought or, if held long enough and nurtured, can become a belief. While we may hold that people’s feelings cannot be challenged, when we identify a thought or belief in ourselves or someone else, we can stop to consider whether or not there is evidence to support such a thought.

It doesn’t matter the age (although Millennials seem to use it more) or the level of education (I just busted a PhD who has written three books),  I often hear my patients begin with, ” I feel like..” and then complete the sentence with a thought. This practice has become so ingrained, when I point this out, I am often met with a quizzical look.

Think about how the level of discourse could be elevated if people recognized their opinions as, mere, thoughts rather than thinking that their opinions have more validity because they elevate them, erroneously, to the level of feeling.

Person A: ” I feel like women who have abortions should be punished.”

Peron B: “Really, why do you think that?”

Person A: “That’s just how I feel.”


Person A: “I am deeply opposed to abortion and believe that women who have them should be punished.”

Peron B: “Tell me more about how you came to believe that.”

Helping my patients to identify feelings is central to my work as a psychotherapist. If I buy into convention and allow patients to continue with their thought as if it were a feeling, they will be impeded in their processes of identifying actual feelings that they may be having. I prefer not to be complicit in our culture becoming even more dissociated from feelings by allowing people to believe they are engaging their feelings with, “I feel like…” when they are, actually, entertaining a thought. I feel like, rather, I believe it will help us, as a culture, to become more emotionally competent when we are better able to distinguish what we think from what we feel.

Read more on this thought in this New York Times column by op-ed writer, Molly Worthen.