Over the years, I started practicing a wellness method that has helped me manage anxiety and depression holistically, naturally, and healthily, and has completely transformed my life for the better. For a the full story of how I started getting panic attacks, see here, otherwise continue reading for details on the method.
The method consists of 5 components:
- Being in Nature
I’ll describe each of these components and how I use them to promote overall wellness and prevent anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness is defined as: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of sitting for a period of time and focusing attention on one’s breath. When the mind begins to wander, focus is simply returned to the breath. Don’t feel discouraged if you have difficulty focusing. It’s completely natural and expected that the mind will wander, in fact it’s a part of the practice. Your job is to notice it, and when it does, returned focus to the breath – not in a forceful or punishing way, but rather gently, as if redirecting water with your hand in a tiny stream.
Practicing mindfulness meditation each day is excellent at reducing stress, anxiety, and improving overall mood. It’s like hitting the reset button on a computer – it flushes out the excess junk so the mind can function optimally. Additionally, mindfulness meditation is the practice of self-awareness. It makes us much more conscious of the thoughts and emotions that might otherwise be playing out subconsciously in our minds. We can therefore see how these subconscious thoughts and emotions may be affecting our actions, and possibly undermining our growth.
An excellent free tool to help with your mindfulness meditation practice is the Insight Timer App, available for both iOS and Android devices. You can use the timer to set a specific meditation duration and include special background music and sounds to help you relax. I recommend at least 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation each morning to help start off your day on a great note. I always meditate with my morning coffee in my hands, and take a sip periodically. I feel that it’s an additional mood booster and helps me to reinforce my daily meditation habit.
Play is something that most adults have forgotten how to do, but is a potential cure for much of what ails us mentally and emotionally. Play is an excellent healthy mood booster and can get us outdoors and interacting with other people in a fun and life affirming way. Try to choose an activity you enjoy greatly, that involves interaction with people you love spending time with. Outdoor sports is an excellent option, such as frisby, catch, volleyball, etc., however, indoor activities such as board games can work well too. Make sure it’s something you enjoy intrinsically and are doing it just for fun and nothing else. So much of what drives our actions is related to money or success, and it’s an absolute liberation to do something just for fun.
Personally, surfing is my play time activity of choice. It’s exercise, social activity, meditation, and nature all rolled into one. However, I have friends that find hiking, or bicycling equally as rewarding.
Try to make play a part of your weekly routine in order to add a dimension of healthy fun to your life.
There are studies that have shown community to be the single most important factor in preventing addiction to drugs or alcohol. While other studies have shown community to be the most important factor in living long happy lives.
Finding community can be a bit difficult as a working professional if your job is not particularly conducive to it. In my last job, I worked with people primarily 20-30 years older than I was, so it was quite difficult to build community with individuals I could relate to. I eventually found community outside of work, first in a salsa dancing group then in a surfing group. The experiences I have had with my community have been some of the most fun and rewarding I’ve ever had in my life.
Being in Nature:
There is a certain connectedness to the natural environment that we lose when we live in the city for too long. I believe this can manifest itself in a sensation that something is missing. A certain void is felt in one’s life the cause of which seems unidentifiable.
Nature can have a deep calming effect and can inspire a feeling oneness with something much greater yourself. When I instinctively escaped to the ocean when I first began experiencing panic attacks, I believe it was the calming aspects of the natural environment which eased my anxiety. Now I make connecting with nature a regular part of my wellness routine.
The mind is a survival machine. As a result, it constantly anticipates worse case scenarios and broods over potential threats, and problems, even if there is no immediate hazard to one’s health. This constant hyper-vigilance can put the body in a perpetual state of fight or flight response with elevated stress hormone levels. The long term effects of this kind of wear and tear on the system can lead to disease.
Focusing on gratitude can be a way to counteract one’s habitual obsessive negative thoughts. If you notice your mind playing out a negative thought pattern, take a deep breath, countdown from 5 to 1 (5, 4, 3, 2, 1), then think about something you are exceptionally grateful for. It can be something as simple as your health, the wonderful feeling of taking a deep satisfying breath, the comfort of having food to eat or a roof over you head, or perhaps family and friends. Concentrate on the feeling of how wonderful these things make you feel. Eventually gratitude will become a habit.
It can be very beneficial as well to make gratitude a part of your daily meditation routine. I personally take about 10 minutes during my morning meditation to feel grateful for the wonderful blessings in my life.
My life radically changed when I began to incorporate the 5 elements above into my weekly routine. I haven’t had a panic in over 8 years. Moreover, I feel like I’m able to deal with life’s challenges in a constructive manner and set myself on a trajectory of steady personal growth. My daily routine looks more or less like this: morning meditation, surfing, work, spend time with friends and/or have dinner with my girlfriend. Whenever I’m away from the coast, I try to replace surfing with a walk or run in the forest or in the hills.
I hope you too will find a routine that incorporates the 5 elements above and add more balance and tranquility to your life.