Stress, Anxiety, Depression et Sophrology
Living a healthy life is a must to beat anxiety, stress and depression. This month, we will come back to the basics of a healthy life. We will see some simple exercises, easy to practice. We have already seen that repetition is an important part of Sophrology as it will help the subconscious mind to remember new messages and also help to create new habits. You can therefore, if you wish, practice these exercises regularly in addition to those we have already seen. It is the repetition that will help you form new habits without too much effort.
Understanding stress, anxiety, depression to learn how to cope
What is stress?
Stress can be defined as a state of the body in reaction to a sudden aggression. That means that when a sudden event happens in your life, and it could be a positive or negative event, this will set a real biological reaction in your body. This event changes something for you and your body reacts to this change. Stress is not pathological, it is a normal reaction that occurs in living beings. Let’s take the example of an animal under attack: it is under stress, the stress will increase its heart rate which will allow it to run faster. Stress creates some biological reactions in the body allowing animals and people to protect themselves or to fight against an attack or an aggression. Stress is therefore a normal and important response of the body. Today human beings are more rarely chased by wild animals or attacked, nevertheless if we go back to prehistoric times when human beings had to protect themselves against wild animals, the rapid increase of the heart rate when under attack allowed them to escape faster. Today a person attacked in the street still see his/her heart rate increase to help escape. Apart from the obvious stress of a physical attack, there are many other stressful situations including events that you may see as positive: any type of important change implies stress on the physical body, for example a wedding, voluntary retirement, a birth, a new job you hoped for, a move to a bigger house, etc. Other stress inducing situations could include the loss of a job, undesired retirement, death of a loved-one, divorce, conflicts with others, etc.
What is anxiety?
Unlike stress, chronic anxiety is pathological. If it is a temporary response to a stress, it remains normal. But if it becomes chronic, it becomes a real disease. It can be defined as fear, painful worries, emotional and nervous tensions leaving a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity.
Chronic anxiety can lead to depression.
What is depression?
Depression is a pathological state that can be defined as a profound sadness, an emotional distress, followed by a slow down and often a loss of self-esteem.
Why do stress and anxiety can lead to depression? Stress over long periods of time (for example if you are constantly under the pressure of a demanding boss) can lead to a loss of resources, a lower immunity, a feeling of being tired all the time, an incapacity to face situations. The anxiety created then, that could become chronic, brings an emotional and mental weakening. It is then important to know how to recharge, how to regain confidence and self-esteem, how to regenerate. Anxiety empties you and can bring a loss a self-esteem and an important distress that can turn into depression.
How to cope with depression and anxiety?
It is important to come back to the basics. Many simple things are in fact very important to restore balance: it is important to eat well, sleep well, avoid stimulants (coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco), have outdoors physical activities, preferably in the countryside: this will allow you to recharge, mentally and physically.
We will now see some simple techniques that can help you recover that balance and avoid anxiety and depression. The goal of these techniques and advices is to restore a healthy living, which is sometimes enough to avoid excessive anxiety and depression. Sometimes it is not enough and in the following months we will see other techniques to help with more stubborn cases. Nevertheless, without a healthy life, it is rare to succeed in regaining a good mental balance.
Sleeping well is extremely important to be able to cope with anxiety and depression. However anxiety and depression often prevent a good sleep. In these circumstances, how to get a good night’s sleep? An anxious person will tend to have many anxious thoughts when going to bed. Depression brings many negative thoughts when the mind should rest.
If you suffer from insomnia or if you simply cannot fall asleep easily, a simple rule is to avoid staying in bed when you don’t sleep. It sends a wrong message to your brain and to your body: the bed becomes a stress generating place and the moment to go to bed can become frightening or dreaded. So if you don’t sleep after around 30 minutes in bed, get up and read for some time or do one of the previous Sophrology exercises we’ve done or one we’re going to see today. Going to bed should become a pleasant and calm moment. It is always better to avoid all electronic devices and screens at least one hour before bed, switch off all phones (no plane mode), and prefer calm activities before going to bed: take a bath, read a book (paper, not on a screen), avoid eating just before sleeping.
Then it is necessary to learn to calm the mind. A simple and very efficient technique is to observe one’s breath:
First exercise: Observe your breath to restore calmness
You can practice this exercise before going to bed or in your bed or anytime you want. Take a comfortable position and close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath, breathe in and out slowly but do not try to alter the way you breathe: breathe naturally through the mouth or nose, without trying to slow or speed up the breath, simply observe the breath. However, if it has become natural, try to use abdominal breathing. If it is not natural yet, try it for a few minutes while staying focused on the breath. When your concentration weakens and you realize that you are thinking about something else, come back calmly to the breath. You can practice for 5 minutes and increase the time as you become more experienced.
You can also practice this exercise with open eyes, while gazing downward not to be distracted by what you see.
What you eat is important to cope with anxiety and depression and also to feel good and be in good health.
It is particularly important to avoid stimulants which increase anxiety and, indirectly, depression. It could be useful to decrease or stop drinking coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco. It is important to be careful with tea and coffee as they can create a strong addiction. If you are addicted to coffee or tea, it is best to decrease quantities instead of stopping abruptly because you could suffer from withdrawal with strong headaches among other things. If you consume lots of stimulants and it is too difficult for you to stop, start by decreasing your consumption. There are also methods in Sophrology to help stop smoking if it is too difficult for you.
Let’s go back to some simple advices:
Avoid eating fruits with meals, fruits are eaten at least half an hour before meals or 3 hours after meals.
Avoid drinking with meals. Drink a lot of water through the day but not with meals.
It is important to eat slowly and to chew properly and for a long time: anxious people often eat too fast.
Avoid sugar. Few tips to reduce sugar consumption: drink juices containing only fruits (100% fruits, no added sugar or anything else), no sodas, no sugar in your coffee or tea, avoid candies. When you eat sugar avoid refined sugar and choose unrefined sugar instead. Be careful with brown sugar which is often colored refined sugar. Read the labels and prefer unrefined sugar.
Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and Omega-3 fatty acids. What we eat is often too rich in Omega-6 fatty acids and not rich enough in Omega-3 fatty acids. To avoid this imbalance, replace a ‘Omega-6 oil’ by an oil rich in Omega-3 fatty acids : use canola oil for cooking, flaxseed oil, etc.
Gluten: Many people are gluten intolerant or have a sensitivity to gluten. The problem is that you don’t always know it and the sensitivity is sometimes difficult to detect. Yet gluten can make sensitive people more anxious or more depressed. Some people who stopped eating gluten testify that they feel less anxious or depressed. It is not the case for everybody of course but it could be interesting to give it a try and reduce your gluten consumption or avoid gluten completely for a period of time to see how you feel. Be careful though! Ask the advice of a nutritionist or a medical doctor before changing your diet to know if that could suit you!
How to eat less gluten? Avoid wheat flour and replace it by rice flour, corn flour. Avoid bread and replace it by gluten free bread that you can easily find in shops nowadays. Same for pastas with gluten free pastas or eat whole rice instead.
Finally do not forget that it is important to eat whole foods (whole flours, whole rice, etc.) and to avoid non whole foods that are refined.
Here is an exercise to practice at meal time:
Second Exercise: Learn to appreciate food
At meal time, concentrate on what you eat (do this exercise with vegetables, if possible use organic vegetables), focus on the taste of the vegetables in your mouth, chew very slowly and for a very long time, concentrating only on the taste of the vegetables and on your mouth and jaw. Think about these foods that allow you to live, think about the nutrients they bring to your body. Do this exercise for 2 to 5 minutes. You can also do it at another time of the day with fruits.
Spending some time outside
Having a physical activity is important to be healthy and to reduce anxiety and depression. If you are not comfortable with sports, a small walk outside allows you to refresh yourself and to have a physical activity.
If you can walk in the countryside it is even more beneficial.
If you cannot go to the countryside, go to parks, gardens.
Third Exercise: Reconnect with nature
Go outside, preferably in the countryside or in your garden if you have one. Walk in the grass if you can, feel the ground under your feet, focus on the air on your face, on the contact with nature. Touch trees if you can, feel the bark under your fingers, concentrate on what you feel. Try to use abdominal breathing all through the exercise. It is an exercise used to reconnect with nature and to concentrate on your sensations. If the weather is suitable and under the right circumstances, you could also do this exercise barefoot in the grass or in the sand on a beach.
We have seen some important points to restore a good balance. If you are usually an anxious person or if you suffer from mild to severe anxiety or depression, recovering a good balance is necessary for any work on yourself and is a first step toward recovery. For some people, that is enough to make excessive stress go. For others, it is the basis to build on to treat more severe or deeper issues which we will see in the future months.