Tis the season to feel a bit down, overwhelmed and stressed. When the mind is focusing on the negative details of life, it’s practicing seeing things through this lens and what we practice and repeat creates a habit of thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations. I call this getting caught in a “depressive loop.”
Mindfulness is about being aware of what lens we’re wearing when looking at life, so we can be more intentional. The unintentional act of looking toward the future with a negative lens can really sap our motivation to make any progress toward a more fruitful and positive future. After all, if we’re anticipating doomsday, what’s the point in even trying? This is major fruit for procrastination too.
Feeling depressed lights up the avoidance circuits in the brain. It’s experienced as a disengagement from life. In Uncovering Happiness I go through the science and practice of a handful of natural anti-depressants that live within every one of us.
But when we’re feeling overwhelmed with life, our negative thinking arises again, “What’s the point” or “Who cares.” But these thoughts are not facts, even the ones that say they are.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had some wise words for us about this.
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”
This piece of wisdom has been said in so many different ways, maybe the most famous being “The longest journey begins with a single step,” which was attributed to Lao Tzu.
In times of depression, when it comes to being in a moment when an onslaught of thoughts are telling you it’s overwhelming or you’ll never get it all done, having Martin Luther King Jr. or Lao Tzu in mind might be helpful.
Let’s face it, there’s times where it’s a success to take a shower or get out of bed. That is a single step.
I ride a single speed bike at times over a hill. There is a substantial difference when I do it looking up at the hill engaging thoughts of disbelief at how much of the hill there is left to go versus focusing on one pedal at a time. I actually time the pedals with my breathing. When I do it like this, it seems like much less effort and I’m at the top of the hill before I know it.
This is a truism whether someone is depressed and needs to see some movement or accomplishment to get the engines going or whether there is an overwhelming sensation in life due to a personal or professional project.
Remember these words from MLK:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
So, take a leap of faith that your thoughts aren’t facts, breathe, take that first step back into engaging life. This is an act of self-love. Be on the lookout for what might be good right now. In the end, you’re likely to be thankful you did.
Elisha Goldstein, PhD
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