Friday, August 15, 2014

Nature Heals

Queen Composter has been feeling blue.

I have struggled with blogging for the past few weeks, with little desire and seemingly little time to do so, which is ironic given that I am on summer vacation. I have also been trying on post ideas and tossing them to the side because they didn't grab me. I have even forgotten to post when I have made commitments to do so, which makes me feel guilty. But I now have something that I think I am ready to share, and it is going to be hard for me, so please be kind.

I have been depressed for many weeks now. Thankfully I have not struggled with depression for many years, or a lifetime, as some people do. I am no expert on depression and in the past I have struggled to empathize with people who are depressed. You know, like just focus on the positive, stop dwelling on the negative in your life. I do understand that it is not this simplistic.

For many reasons my life this summer has been a perfect storm for depression. Professionally I am struggling because I am involved in a prolonged labour dispute (that escalated to full strike in June) that shows no end. This has triggered monetary stress, which in turn has triggered a whole variety of other stresses. Then there are cyclical reasons for my low mood (what woman hasn't experienced this?). The cherry on top is that my left hip has been inflamed and extremely painful since June (hmm, coincidence?) which has caused my lower back to go out. Anyone who has ever experienced chronic pain can tell you the effect that it can have on mood. Of course, the pain has slowed me down and I have not enjoyed as many long walks and bike rides as I had hoped I would. Thankfully my hip and back are improving (but that is another story).

Also playing into this, I believe, is that I may be spending less time outside than I should in the last couple of weeks. My middle daughter was stung quite badly at the beginning of the summer and it has been a struggle to get her to spend any length of time outdoors, which caused us to cancel our summer camping trip. Also, because it is so hot out during the day (we have had an unusually hot and dry summer here in the pacific northwest), we have been seeking cooler locations, usually indoors during the warmest times of the day. 

But I know that Mother Nature is the greatest medicine, and I have a treatment plan. 

Spend Time Outdoors

There are numerous studies singing the praises of time outdoors, and I know this to be true. I am continuing my participation in the 30 X 30 Nature Challenge from the month of May to spend at least 30 minutes in nature each day. This is an easy one because I have a veggie garden that requires my time each day. But I need to do more trips to the ocean (my happy place) and forests or wooded areas. The Japanese have a word for time amongst trees, shinrin-yoku, or "forest bathing". 

At one my my local Happy Places, Garry Point in Steveston, BC

Spend Time Playing in Soil

Scientists have discovered that a bacteria in soil, mycobacterium vaccae, has a similar affect on our bodies as antidepressant drugs, and that by breathing in soil particles and digging in soil with bare hands helps the bacteria enter our system and have a calming effect on our systems. Mid summer I don't have as much need to play in soil but now that I'm preparing my fall and winter garden and harvesting the fruits of my labour, I am getting dirty again. I always feel rejuvenated after a gardening session, and now that the weather is beginning to cool down I can spend more time in soil.

I have logged many hours digging in my garden to grow
beautiful sunflowers.

Practice Mindfulness

As David Suzuki has shared, we are literally the air we breathe, and so when I am outside I try to find a quiet spot and time to breathe, or meditate. Even people who don't know who to meditate, or don't want to meditate, can calm themselves with a few deep, mindful breaths. Scientists have proven what yoga practitioners have known for centuries, that breathing techniques calm the brain and reduce stress and anxiety. Have you ever had your blood pressure taken before and after taking relaxing, deep breaths? Relaxing breaths are even more helpful when paired with mindfulness, or being fully present with each breath, while pushing aside or letting go of other thoughts. For a while this will feel very uncomfortable and most people will only be able calm their mind for minutes, but over time the ability to relax for longer periods will improve. I even use mindful breathing with my class of elementary students using the Mind Up program. *

Combining mindfulness and time outdoors.

I know that for severe depression professional help is required, and I am not saying that this is all that is required to deal with depression, just that it has worked for me in the past and I am trying it again.

Have you ever experienced low periods or depression? How have you dealt with it?

*Disclaimer:  I have not received any money or other benefits to share about the Mind Up program. I was trained by my school district and have used the program in my own class for one year. I am sharing it because I like the program and have seen the benefits of using it.


Eco Yogini said...

I'm sorry you're feeling depressed! That's awful. I was actually wondering how you were doing recently; on the other side of the country we only get snippets of the labour dispute in BC...

I agree that during times of stress and sadness going outside and spending quiet, non-plugged in time just breathing has been so helpful.

Green Bean said...

Last year, I spent months on the couch due to a back injury and eventually had to have surgery - which required a lengthy recovery. I was very depressed as a result but the bright spot in my day was lying on the couch, watching the birds at the birdbath and feeder outside my window. Nature definitely heals. I couldn't agree more!

Christy said...

Well, since posting this I've been to a beach two times, a hike in the forest once and logged some crazy hours in the garden getting dirty repotting my fall/winter garden seedlings, so I'm hopefully on a better path.

Back pain is the worst, and surgery too? Wow, that must have been debilitating and hard.

Du La said...

I'm sorry to hear that you are feeling depressed. Speaking from personal experience (bouts of mild - moderate depression for 4 years in the past) and professional experience (more than 65% of my patients report some level of depression and anxiety), I think your plan is a great place to start. There is a strong theory in naturopathic medicine called Nature Cure and although it was practice differently in the past, I think the essence is about connecting with nature, spending quiet time alone and finding space to be present is helpful. I also found helping others to be immensely therapeutic (I always looked forward to my volunteer work at the food bank when I was depressed). I hope you continue to find peace in a busy world.


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