As I’m in the process of transitioning to living in a new country, my mental health has been suffering somewhat due to lack of my support network and anything familiar. Because my brain has been tending towards depression and anxiety, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how horrible everything is and how little I like it here. The problem with this is not only that it makes me miserable in the here and now, but it also doesn’t allow me to accurately perceive what it’s like here in order to try to integrate myself and build a decent amount of comfort. The further my depression takes over, the worse things look.
So how, when fighting depression, does one keep an open mind towards a new place and new people? Well so far I haven’t been wholly successful at doing this, but here are a few of the techniques that I’ve been using to keep my impressions a little more balanced.
The first, and probably most important thing I’ve been trying is what’s called “opposite to emotion action” in DBT terms. Essentially, this is recognizing how you feel and what that feeling would compel you to do (in my case sitting in bed all day and crying a lot) and then choosing to do something else. Ideally, you will do this completely. Instead of going out and thinking about how much you hate it and noticing everything that makes you unhappy, you would try to take a relaxed and open body posture, breathe evenly and deeply, and practice some mindfulness along the way. I’m not sure I’ve managed to get this entirely to the point of fully engaging with the actions of getting out into the city and trying new things and socializing, but I’ve been pushing myself to try to leave the apartment every day and try something new every day.
As part of this, I’ve been mindful of trying to notice my surroundings without judgment. This is a serious challenge and I don’t think I’m doing very well at it, but one thing I am going to start trying to do when I get overwhelmed is simply describing what’s around me in as nonjudgmental terms as possible. Stick to the facts. This has the added benefit of bringing the mind back to the present instead of ruminating on home.
The last technique is checking the facts: it’s easy to start spiraling into an “everything sucks” brain pattern, so when I notice that the only things I’ve thought for the last few minutes are “I hate this place” and “I want to go home”, I try to find something that is not those things that I feel or think. It might be noticing one good thing about the city or talking to someone who makes me smile or really anything that reminds me that not everything is absolutely horrible. I’ve been struggling a lot with this one lately as it’s easy for me to compare everything to how it was at home and find it wanting. Nothing so far has struck me as amazing or outstanding, so it’s been a struggle to accept “not bad” as a check on the “everything is horrible” script. But even “ok” is better than “shit”, and that is a fact.
Of course along with this there are a whole slew of other skills to calm my anxiety, but just surviving while hating a situation isn’t enough to fight the jerkbrain: there have to be some positives. How do you keep an open mind when depression is taking over?