Category Archives for "Sleep Better"

Aug 28

How Rumination Keeps You Depressed and What To Do About It

By Vickie | Sleep Better

Do you ever find yourself lost in rumination?

When I was depressed I often did something which is very dangerous because it allows depression to be maintained.


I spent hours wallowing in my thoughts and feelings.

Day after day I moped and brooded, languished in my own misery, pined, grieved and generally felt very, very bad.

“Why didn’t I have any money? Why did I live in such a crap house? Why couldn’t I get more clients? Why was I always feeling just a bit panicked? Why was I always dissolving in tears? Why wasn’t I married? Why couldn’t I get a grip? Why was life so bad? What’s wrong with me? Why am I such a loser?

Why couldn’t I just feel better?”

On and on and on.


So what is rumination exactly?

It’s a nasty, nasty habit which can lead to depression and can maintain our experience of depression over a long period of time. It’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s say you’re not depressed, but something has happened, an unpleasant conversation at work, the stress of an illness, an unexpected accident of some kind. You’re feeling bad.

You begin to go over and over in your mind how this could have happened.

“I should have spoken up about it…I should have said…why did this happen to me?  What did I do to cause this? Why is he so horrible to me? What if ….doesn’t get better?”

Your mood drops. You begin to feel consumed by this issue and it spreads to the way you feel about aspects of your life and yourself.

Is Rumination Normal?

Doesn’t everyone think about things that are going on in their life? Isn’t it normal?

Yes, it’s absolutely normal to think through problems. benefits of taking antidepressants

Nope, no brain chemical imbalances here!

Our marvellous brains use thinking processes to help us sort through problems and find solutions. We use our cognitive abilities to consider different aspects of a difficult situation and decide on different methods and approaches which we believe might help.

In non-depressed people, thinking is used to find solutions, or to work towards solutions which for complex problems may take weeks or months, but we use our cognitive skills to set goals and set action plans to move towards those solutions.

In depressed people, the amount of value generated through rumination is quite low. Rumination does not push us to identify solutions. Rumination is fixation on the problem as a problem, not as a challenge which needs a solution.

Rumination is quite disempowering. We flounder, lost and drowning in our own thoughts. Our thinking is not clear, logical or solution-focussed. We are lost in the emotion of the situation, unable calm our feelings so that we can concentrate to finding a way out.

What Do We Ruminate About?

Rumination is quite generalised and abstract.

1. We ruminate on the Past.

We may ruminate on past events and conversations, going over and over not only what happened or what was said, but also on what we believed was meant by the other person or event.

For example, a colleague did not spend the usual few minutes chatting with you in the tea room. You decide it means they no longer like you, that you are not worth knowing, that they are horrible, that maybe nobody likes you at work, that you are doing a bad job, that maybe they are going to sack you, and so on.

Rumination (and other depressive thinking styles) don’t allow us to see alternatives to the situation. We are so caught up in our emotional response to the situation that we cannot calm ourselves long enough to wonder ‘what if’ the situation is not what it seems.

Maybe your colleague was just running late for a meeting and intended to chat with you at lunch time.

2. We may ruminate on being depressed.

How did I get like this? Why can’t I get moving in the morning? Why don’t I have any energy? Why do I cry so much? Why do I get angry so much? Why do I feel pressure in my face muscles, tension around my eyes, a sick feeling in my stomach? What’s wrong with me?

2. We Ruminate About What kind of Person We Are

We may ruminate about our Selves, our character and our perceived flaws. Why am I such a loser? I’m hopeless, pathetic, no-good, useless, waste of space.

So what’s happening in the brain when we ruminate?

Parts of the brain which are involved in rumination are parts of the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and the anterior cingulate. Studies have shown that these regions of the brain are active when we ruminate.

The prefrontal cortex is the centre of brain’s planning and decision-making circuit and is a large region that sits behind the forehead. Our motivation and decision-making originate in the prefrontal cortex.

However, when we are depressed, it is also a source of problematic thinking such as worrying, guilt, shame, indecisiveness and ‘fuzzy-headedness’.

The amygdala and anterior cingulate are part of the limbic system and are located deep in the brain. This is the brain’s emotional centre and is where feelings such as excitement, fear, anxiety, memory and desire emerge. In particular, the amygdala is responsible for anxiety and the anterior cingulate is concerned with focus and our ability to pay attention.

You can see how, in depression, an overly active amygdala will create sources of stress a very emotional reaction to a situation, and overactivity in certain parts of the prefrontal cortex affect how clearly you can make decisions.

In 2010, researchers at Stanford University looked at the difference in activity in the brains of people who had been diagnosed with depression and those who were not depressed. The participants were asked to think about different topics, such as ‘What people notice about my personality’, ‘a row of shampoo bottles on display at the supermarket’.

The first question was designed to cause rumination. Pondering this question produced greater activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala, and parts of the prefrontal cortex of the depressed people than in the non-depressed participants.

What that means is that the rumination of depressed people is quite an emotional activity rather than logical or solutions-focussed. Also, the increased activity in amygdala mean that those emotions tend to be negative. Finally, activity in certain parts of the prefrontal cortex means that decisions around problems are difficult to reach.

How To Stop rumination

The regions of the brain need to be exercised to maintain their effectiveness.

To engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, we need to practice decision-making, which of course is quite difficult in depression because rumination gets in the way.

“What’s the right thing to do? I can’t even think straight let alone make decisions”.

Depending on the subject of your rumination, make a decision to find out if what you’re thinking is actually true or not. We have already looked at ways of finding evidence that the negative thoughts you have about yourself are true. No evidence? Then you’re thoughts are just lies that somehow you’ve come to believe are the truth.

Ruminating is a dangerous downward spiral into depression. It can keep you depressed.

Start to notice when you fall into rumination so that you can steps to avoid it in the future. changing your thinking

Make a note of when you notice yourself ruminating.

Rumination Diary

Set two or three pages aside in your note book for your rumination diary.

Set the alarm on your clock or your mobile phone for 30 or 45 minute intervals through the day.

Each time the alarm goes off, open your journal and make a note of what you were doing for the previous 30 minutes and what you were thinking about at the time the alarm went off.

Were you ruminating? What were you ruminating about? What were you doing while you were ruminating?

What could you do to avoid the rumination?

You might write something like:

10.30am         Ruminating about that situation at work last week. What was I doing when I was ruminating – trying to file some old documents. Felt bored and couldn’t concentrate. Next time I need to file documents I’ll put my earphones on and listen to some dance music. That should stop me ruminating and probably get the filing done much faster!


3pm Ruminating about that back ache I’ve recently developed. What was I doing when I was ruminating? Waiting to see the doctor. Feeling a bit worried about it. What if I need an operation? Next time I’m at the doctor’s I’ll take a really good book or interesting magazine.

Rumination often happens when we are not actively engaged. It can happen when we are watching TV if the program is not engaging enough, or something that happens on TV triggers ruminative thoughts. It can happen when we hear a sad song or waiting at a red traffic light or sitting in the train or bus. 

Noticing when you are beginning to ruminate gives you the opportunity to do something to distract yourself which will calm you if you are feeling agitated or emotionally upset. Even just taking a few deep breaths will help cut the rumination in that moment. 

Of course, the best way to deal with rumination once and for all is to find solutions to the problems you are ruminating about. This may mean learning to think differently about situations, more effective coping strategies for when you are faced with a problem or challenge and learning how to make decisions that will start to solve some of the issues that are causing your rumination.

But that might be for another blog post! get enough sleep
May 12

Stop Rumination and Get Enough Sleep

By Vickie | Get Moving , Mediterranean Diet , Sleep Better

Is depression something you feel you can take control of?

Did you know that what you eat, how much you move and whether you get enough sleep can all affect your mood? In these three posts I’ll show you how making simple changes in these three areas can really help you feel better.

If you’ve been taking medication and believe that depression is a physical illness with an external cause, then you may find it hard to believe that your well-being is actually in your hands.

Thinking about moods, feelings and emotions as natural, rather than abnormal, may help you get treatment and feel better. That treatment may be self-sought and self-applied. That treatment might be to do more exercise and enjoy a better diet, include more social occasions and increase connectedness, get enough sleep and pursue more meaningful life. Get out of your head and into your body.

But you won’t do those things if you believe your moods are caused by something you can’t control.

What would be the point? You can’t make yourself produce more insulin if you’re diabetic no matter how hard you try. Same with an underactive thyroid. You can’t force your body produce more thyroxine. You have to take this in artificially.

The fact that some activities make you feel less down shows that you can produce, by setting your mind to it, the kinds of neurotransmitters which are involved in good feelings. This you cannot do with diabetes or thyroid malfunction. But you can with low mood.

This should be empowering. This means your health is in your hands. And in your body.

It does not mean, however, that your chronic low mood is your fault.

No, because we all do the best we can with the resources, knowledge and information we have at the time.

So what if your decision wasn’t the best one you could have made? You did your best at the time. You can change and choose to do better next time. Be kind to yourself.

Isn’t that empowering? Does that make you feel different about depression? That you could grow and learn to react differently and improve your knowledge and information and responses?

I guess if there is a ‘gift’ in depression it’s the opportunity for self-growth.

This post covers the first of the most important things you need to lift your mood and think more positively about the future: Sleep.

Sunshine and Sleep

Nobody operates well on less than the optimal amount of sleep. It’s the worst feeling, being sleep deprived. Many people experience poor sleep, insufficient sleep and move through their days in less than ideal form. The longer we go without adequate sleep, the worse we feel and it quickly becomes a downward cycle of misery.

Not getting good sleep is a characteristic of depression.

One of the things which interferes most with a good night’s sleep is rumination. your body

Are you sleeping like a baby? Waking up every for hours crying?

Rumination is thinking things over and over and over, without reaching any conclusions or solutions. When we are depressed we often ruminate over our lives, our depressive symptoms, our hopeless future. We also go over conversations or incidents that occurred that day.

It’s very hard to go to sleep and stay asleep when our mind is churning over like a never ending factory machine.



How to turning off the rumination machine:

  1. In another room (not your bedroom), take a notebook or piece of paper and a pen and make notes about the things that are worrying you. Do not use whole sentences. Use bullet points and make brief notes about the people, situations, health or financial issues that you are facing. It might look like this:
  • Ask Dave (my manager) for a day off next week so I can visit my aunt who is very ill
  • Stop eating so much chocolate and cake: I must lose weight before Jenny’s wedding!
  • Start saving more money
  • See the doctor about that pain in my leg
  • Try not to be so nervous in meetings

2. Now that you have your list, note down one or two things you can do to solve each problem. For example:

  • Ask Dave (my manager) for a day off next week so I can visit my aunt who is very ill – I’ll ask him directly after our team meeting tomorrow morning
  • Stop eating so much chocolate and cake: I must lose weight before Jenny’s wedding! – After work tomorrow, go to the supermarket and buy some salad vegetables.
  • Start saving more money – Ring the cable company and cancel that TV subscription. I never use it anyway.
  • See the doctor about that pain in my leg – Ring Dr Roberts tomorrow in my lunch break

Try not to be so nervous in meetings – just take a few breaths before the meeting starts and go into the room with a smile on my face.

3. Now you have listed your main worries and provided a simple course of action. Close the notebook and put it away.

4. When you are lying in the dark, if your mind starts up with all your worries, say to yourself,

“I’ve thought about that problem and I’ve already come up with a solution. I’ve written down everything I need to do. I won’t forget. I don’t need to think about that problem any more. If I need to, I can think about it more tomorrow. Giving myself permission to switch off and go to sleep now”.

Like any new habit, this will take some practice. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find your mind going around and around. It probably will!

Just return to the thoughts above, “I don’t need to think about this now. I’ve already come up with the solution. Giving myself permission to switch off and go to sleep now”.

5. If you continue to worry and think about a particular problem, sit up in bed, or better yet, leave your bedroom and do a couple of EFT tapping rounds on that problem. Tapping on your body distracts your mind from thoughts. Don’t turn the main, bright light on! Use a torch or dim light. Then take a deep breath, go back to bed, relax and let yourself drift off to sleep. your body

Enjoy your early morning coffee in the sun and reset your body clock.

When you wake in the morning, reset your body clock by getting early morning sunshine. Within an hour of waking, step outside and stand in the sunlight for 15 minutes. Don’t wear sunglasses and don’t look at the sun. The corners of your eyes have very sensitive light conductors that connect with your brain. These tell your body it’s time to wake up and will assist with the production of melatonin when the sun goes down and it’s time to rest. It’s important to reset your body clock to ensure regular circadian rhythms.



The next post discusses how getting enough exercise will help you get enough sleep and eliminate depression from your life.








May 11

Lifestyle Change For Depression Recovery

By Vickie | Get Moving , Mediterranean Diet , Sleep Better

Lifestyle change is the key to living free from

chronic low mood.

When I understood that the crushing sense of sadness, frustration and disappointment I had experienced for so long was a result of stress caused by an unbalanced lifestyle, I set about putting the imbalance to rights.

I looked at each area of my life and made a decision about how I could make things better. After I had my moment of anger about the depression returning I set about finding solutions that were based in lifestyle change.

This is what I came up with:

How I got more active

It was clear from my reading that doing regular exercise is a wonderful anti-depressant and this put me in a quandary because I loathe exercise. This was one lifestyle change I was going to find difficult.

It’s not that I don’t like moving; I don’t mind walking and I used to ride a bike regularly in China, but I hate the idea of just walking on a treadmill, or a stationary bike, or lifting weights or even playing sport (I’m so unco-ordinated). Dr Ilardi suggests that we find it difficult going to the gym because we take a look at the stationary bikes, for example, and our brain says ‘Nooo, don’t get on…you’re not going anywhere!’¹

It seems that for the unmotivated, like me, exercise is done better with a sense of purpose and not just the purpose of fitness, even mental health. For me, exercise has to be linked to something useful or productive. So I had to incorporate my exercise into my everyday life.

However, while I was living in northern China, so much of the year is bitterly cold that it’s difficult to do outdoor exercise. So I joined a gym. I used the weight machines and treadmills but after that I did something fun; I took a dance class, salsa or Mongolian dancing. I made the ‘boring’ workout more interesting by taking upbeat music or an interesting podcast, but what I was looking forward to was the dancing. lifestyle change

Walking in the park…get some sunshine, some fresh air and a much brighter mood!

Home in Melbourne, it was interesting how I began to slip back into my old ways, taking the car most places and being busy at work, not taking time to exercise after work. As the effect of not doing regular exercise became noticeable again in my mood, I was determined not to be so sedentary. I had to make this lifestyle change to resist the increasingly low mood.

I couldn’t think of anything worse than being stuck inside a gym, so I bought some tiny second-hand weights and walked in the park a few times each week.

The more I walked the better I felt and I began to incorporate more walking into my everyday life, leaving the car at home and using local facilities.

How I ate better:

When I was low in mood, I ate a lot of stodge; bread, pasta and rice.

I mostly did this because I didn’t have much money and meals were often pasta with tomatoes or commercially made paste, macaroni and cheese, rice with chicken in curry sauce out of a jar, or sausages and onion gravy.

I grew up understanding that a balanced diet is important and tried to eat fruit each week, but somehow the depression left me craving carbohydrate laden foods, and the sugar! Oh, I ate chocolate, cake and doughnuts often. I also ate a lot of fast food when I just couldn’t be bothered cooking.

Back then I really didn’t understand the connection between mood and food and that the foods I was choosing and the meals I was creating may have been keeping my mood depressed.

When I went to China, I knew I had to start eating better. I had to make a dietary lifestyle change. I was in a new country with a new start in life. I was determined to do things differently and set about finding sources of food that would sustain my health.

Next to the campus where I was teaching was a small collection of shops and I discovered a tiny fruit and vegetable shop owned by a smiley lady. Her shop was dark and the fruit and vegetables were stacked untidily around the walls. I choose carrots and beans, tomatoes and eggplants, onions and garlic, apples and watermelon. Other fruits and vegetables were obtained from the huge supermarkets in town.

My only concern was getting enough protein. Chinese butchers tend to sell the whole animal (it seems) and I’m no good at home-butchering. With no language skills I found myself having to make do with canteen meals containing meat and cooking vegetarian. In time I found a meat counter at one of the bigger supermarkets where I could use hand gestures to show I wanted a small portion of beef, for example (and some fatty minced pork for the various dogs I was forever adopting).

I also found tinned tuna, eggs and yoghurt, so that covered some of my protein and calcium requirements.

By the time I got back to Australia, I was eating a low-meat, high vegetable diet, though I still chose pasta and rice with most meals. Yes, changing my diet was an easy lifestyle change to make.

One thing I really missed in China was fresh herbs and spices to add flavour to my cooking. I had Chinese flavourings, sure, but I really missed fresh basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley and chives as well as spices.

When I moved from northern China to a city more centrally located, Xian, I had access to a wider variety of foods and I even found fresh basil. It was a bit wilted but I snapped it up with glee. It was the only time I found it; that supermarket had always run out whenever I returned. I adore the smell of basil; it transports me to exotic countries where the days are mellow and the sun is hot. China was fascinating, but my heart lies further west, around the Mediterranean. lifestyle change

I love the fresh, delicious tastes of Mediterranean cooking.

When I returned to Melbourne from China I started my new teaching job at the university. It was busy and there was much to think about. I was trying to get my head around the curriculum, plan lessons, attend meeting and do assessments; things that were never needed in China because as a foreign English teacher, all these requirements were left up to me.

I began to feel the stress of the job mounting up and my mood dipping again.

I started to buy comfort foods on the way to or from work. Stopping in a fast food restaurant for a sausage and egg breakfast burger seemed a treat which sweetened the start of the work day. Going home, tired out and unhappy, I’d stop for a Chinese take away so I didn’t have to cook.

I heard my mother’s voice in my ear, ‘Carrots make you see well in the dark’ and ‘Fish is good for the brain’ and I knew my health would suffer if I continued down this path to my old, depressed ways of eating.

Somewhere I heard about the Mediterranean Diet and set about reading more.

The more I discovered, the more excited I became. Not only does the Mediterranean Diet have significant health advantages, it’s emphasis on fish and plant based foods is also very important for brain health. Not only that, the recipes just looked delicious.

I read further and knew that the Mediterranean Diet would be a perfect fit and an easy lifestyle change to make with its simple combinations of foods and flavours. Some meals could be frozen for convenience, but the added bonus from doing more cooking was that I was feeling like I was really taking care of myself and preparing meals was very satisfying, an accomplishment whereas before cooking and eating was more of a chore and definitely didn’t make me feel very good.

In the past I was focussed on just not being hungry and buying cheap, filling foods that were not enjoyable to prepare and even less enjoyable to eat.

Now, I was loving the preparation of the food, absolutely delighted by the look of the dishes with their bright colours and textures and loving eating the new, fresh flavours. My mood was definitely improving as a result of this important, dietary lifestyle change.

How I started sleeping better

My major stressors have always been work and where I’ve noticed the effect the most is in my sleep patterns.

Trying to build a business with seriously low mood is a recipe for disaster and I spent every evening dreading the long night time hours when I’d like awake, staring at the walls, tears often coursing down my face.

When I closed the business and retrained as an English teacher, that source of stress evaporated. I felt confident teaching in China, but when I returned to Australia, I found the teaching much more difficult and I slowly felt the stress creeping back.

As my stress around work increased, I got less and less sleep. My thoughts whirled around in my head. I had a particularly difficult class, with younger students who were disruptive in class, low motivation and poor participation.

Despite loving teaching in China, I began to wonder why on earth I had chosen to teach English as a second language. I had envisaged a class of adults, who were all keen to learn, who were courteous and determined. Instead, I had older teens (an age group I know nothing about) who were learning English under duress, were surly, bored and aggressive.

I went to bed each night dreading the next day. I found myself more and more weepy and unable to turn off the thoughts that invaded my mind each night when I laid my head on the pillow. I woke groggy and grumpy. Things were not going well for my mood.

My level of exercise had dropped and I was probably not physically tired enough to fall asleep easily. Not only that, but my internal body clock was out of whack. I was sleeping too late and finding it very difficult to wake up in the morning. I wasn’t spending enough outdoors to reset my body clock. lifestyle change

Your brain does important cleaning work while you’re sleeping; make sure you’re getting enough!

It was imperative that I learned to relax more and switch off those thoughts. It was imperative that I made sleeping better a lifestyle change urgently.

I went back to Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a strategy for dealing with troubling thoughts and feelings I had learned many years before. This involves stimulating the traditional Chinese acupuncture points using the fingers instead of needles. Tapping on various parts of the face and upper body while stating emotions out loud clears the negativity held in the body by these emotions. I’m not entirely sure how it works, perhaps it just distracts us from our thoughts.

Each night I wrote out the problems or challenges I had experienced during the day and used this calming practice to soften my feelings about them. Writing out the problems I had had and also planning for the next day, not in detail, just in note form, helped to get those thoughts out of my head.

Then I took a warm shower and used lavender scented soap. I had a hot milk drink and read for about 30 minutes before turning of the light.

Lying in the dark, it did take some effort to shut off the thinking and I used mindfulness (especially of the breath) and relaxation techniques. With practice, these techniques were effective and I found myself dropping off into sleep more easily and remaining asleep during the night.

Getting out in the sunshine while having breakfast or early morning tea or coffee helped reset my body clock and dimming the lights around the house, switching off the computer and television and ensuring my room was cool and dark enough also improved the quality of my sleep. This is a simple lifestyle change that can make all the difference to your mood and daytime functioning.

How I started socialising more

I am a private, introverted person. With the exception of my 20s when I lived in shared houses, I have always lived alone. I enjoy and need time alone.

At university I went to parties or the pub and mostly enjoyed those occasions, but I usually had a sense of discomfort, of not being able to fully participate, of feeling a bit ‘on the outside’. I think this was a lack of confidence. I didn’t feel as witty or attractive as my friends (though they never intentionally made me feel like this; I have lovely friends!); instead I felt rather dull, uninteresting and serious.

I longed for more intimate gatherings in quiet venues with just a few close friends who shared similar interests as I did, without all the stress of going to parties.

As my mood dropped, the idea of meeting up with friends was something I began to dread. I felt terrible about myself and was convinced I’d make terrible company. At work I was around people constantly and I found it draining. When I got home I was greeted warmly by my dog and felt I needed no other companionship than my faithful, non-judgemental furry bear.

Nonetheless, there was something that made me long to share some part of my life with others and I think it was for that reason that I enjoyed the appointments with the psychologist. We had a cup of tea together and chatted about life. I also felt oddly comforted by the occasional visits of the local Seventh Day Adventist lady, Lorraine. Her gentle outreach lifted my mood.

So it was clear that to live without depression, some kind of social interaction was necessary and important.

But how?

This was another lifestyle change I was going to find difficult.

After I lost my job twice in three years I set up my own paralegal consultancy offering immigration advice. I had few clients but had read about the power of networking. In a moment of rare energy I found a local small business networking group in a neighbouring suburb and joined up.

We met weekly in a café for breakfast and to discuss business matters. I usually felt a tremendous sense of trepidation and anxious nervousness before the meetings. After all, I wasn’t a successful businesswoman by any means. Rather, at the beginning I felt a bit of an imposter, a fraud.

Nonetheless, I got myself up and dressed nicely and headed off in the early morning light to our café. The people were very friendly and welcoming and overall I enjoyed these gatherings very much, even if they didn’t contribute greatly to the growth of my business! It helped develop my identity as a business person and was a great lifestyle change, giving me interaction with like-minded small business people.

I also began to think about how much I had enjoyed dance in my life. From daggy jazz ballet classes at school and flamenco lessons in my 20s, I had always enjoyed moving to music. There was always a sense of not being very good at it, of self-consciousness and fear of what others may think, but I enjoyed it enough to go to classes regularly. lifestyle change

There’s something incredibly joyful about dance!

I found a small local salsa class and started to go to the casual classes they offered. It was tiny, only about six of us were there at any given class. This suited me perfectly. I got to know the core group and become comfortable with them, even venturing out to clubs with them sometimes.

Looking back, this gave me many of the things you need for a anti-depressant lifestyle; friends and human contact, exercise and for me it was much more ‘cultural’ and meaningful than bopping about on a nightclub dancefloor where people are mostly showing off. This was a really important lifestyle change as it reconnected me with something I loved.

When invitations to coffee or meals out came from friends I still found myself dreading the approaching date. It took quite a long time for me to feel comfortable with more than a small handful of my very closest friends. I’m not sure why this should be. I know I did compare my life with theirs, my constant career changes with their steady rises up the professional ladder, my material possessions with theirs.

Before I headed off to China I had a small party to say goodbye to my loved ones and that was fun. When in China, it’s impossible to be alone for long (it’s a collectivist society where the group is paramount and your employer treats you like parents, regularly calling you to be involved in various activities including dinners). I made friends with my teaching colleagues, both foreign and Chinese and also with the students. I also got to know people who worked at the gym I attended and who had good English as well as through a book group I joined. My years in China were very social.

Back in Australia, my work kept me interacting with people, but it was my job that started to stress me out and I began to notice my life outside work began to be affected. I longed for the weekend when I could be alone. I started house-sitting for people who were away on their holidays, looking after their dogs and once again canine company was enough for me.

This was the time when I noticed my mood dropping and my thoughts turning more negative and before they could take a hold of me, I realised what was happening and that’s when I began my hunt for a solution, particularly in lifestyle change.

How I started living a more meaningful life

What do I mean by a ‘more meaningful life’? I’m not a philosopher, but what I mean by a ‘more meaningful life’ is one that is satisfying, that is rewarding, that makes you feel good.

My career path has been one of twists and turns. Every eight years or so I come to a cross-roads in my working life and find I need a change for some reason. At times I envy those people who have one set course in life and know what it is from early on. They know from childhood that all they ever wanted to do was be a nurse or a teacher or run their own business. I never had that. All I knew was that I was fascinated by the world, its history, cultures and peoples. lifestyle change

Take time to reflect on your values and what gives meaning to your life.

So I went to university and studied archaeology. I wasn’t particularly bothered by the fact that there are few jobs in archaeology world-wide, let alone in Australia. I was happy in the world of 3000BC. To keep myself alive I temped. In the year I took off in between my third and fourth years I did a reception training course, learned how to type and answer phones, and started temping which stood me in good stead on and off for decades after that. I didn’t enjoy the work, but it wasn’t dreadful either.

By the time I finished my doctorate in archaeology I was so demoralised that I turned away from the field I had so enjoyed and retrained in immigration law.

Wow! Archaeology to immigration law. That’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it? Yes, but in my mind the link is an interest in people and culture.

I got a job where I could hear different languages spoken all around me and engage in cultural traditions and customs from around the world. This was one of the things that had attracted me to archaeology; the fact that I could travel and excavate in fascinating parts of the world. So while it wasn’t life BC, it was still an area that I loved.

But the community sector is poorly funded and for this reason I found myself without work twice in fairly rapid succession and for this reason thought that working for myself might be the solution. Of course I had no business experience and found it extremely difficult and this is when I might have experienced an episode of more severe depression.

When I finally got professional help with my ‘low mood’,  I decided that perhaps I should wind up the business and when my dog died, I knew it was time for a lifestyle change. There I was at another crossroads.

By this stage I thought I was just strange, a person who felt disconnected from the rest of my friends and family who had been in their work for some years, were starting to buy apartments, marry and start families. In contrast, my life looked totally different. In fact I felt I hadn’t really grown up and was still living like a university student.

Heading to China to teach English as a Second Language I felt like this was my last career, the thing I was meant to be doing with my life. I had a wonderful three years in China, developing my skills as a teacher, making friends, visiting fascinating places and recovering my sense of equilibrium. It was as though I had had a clean slate from which to start the rest of my life. I returned to Australia refreshed and ready to start teaching in Melbourne.

I got a job at a university in Melbourne in their English language centre. I felt like a fish out of water. I was still teaching, but the curriculum was set, the exams were prepared for me and the marking rubric used to grade them, I had to work with another teacher and attend meetings, CPD training sessions and basically found myself in way over my head.

I put a smile on my face and got on with the job, but it became clearer as the years went by that I was unhappy and feeling increasing stressed at work for a number of reasons.

I made a decision. I stopped caring about what other people thought of my working life and slowly slid out of the job. I was slowly coming to peace with my lifestyle, the life that society does not usually accept as normal. I began to think of myself as interesting, resilient and adventurous.

Now it’s your turn…

What can you do, today, this moment or this week to start putting your life back in order? What kinds of lifestyle change can you make to live a more fulfilling, enjoyable life?

I’ll let you know right here… lifestyle change


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(1) Ilardi, S, 2010 The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs, Da Capo Lifelong Books.


Mar 30

Sun, Sleep and Daylight Savings

By Vickie | Sleep Better

Summer is absolutely my favourite season. I adore hot weather. Such a relief from the chilly winter, though here in Melbourne the winters are hardly bitter. But there’s nowhere so cold as a Melbourne tram stop when the cold southerly wind is blowing and I’ve spent decades waiting at cold Melbourne tram stops in winter!

 A warm breeze in spring bodes of the hot weather to come. It brings hope, a sense of better things to come. Summer as a child means freedom, no school, no homework, no bloody PE. For me it meant travel, packing up the caravan and heading for the beach, or sometimes inland to the mountains. It meant books, time with family, exploring new places and spending time as one wished. sleep depressionI remember as a child the rhythm of summer that went a bit like this: 4 or 5 days of hot weather and then a build-up of puffy clouds, growing denser as the afternoon wore on and finally erupting in what many people (but not me) longed for: the cool change. The temperature dropped 20 degrees in half an hour. The rain came down in buckets and on the roads steam rose with that gorgeous industrial smell of tarmac which I will forever associate with summer.  

The other thing I loved about summer was daylight savings time.

Long balmy evenings, the cricket on the radio and sometimes the TV, hanging around the caravan playground after dinner, or playing cards around the little table in the van. The bite of the sun is tempered by the soft lingering dusk.   Nowadays I enjoy the long summer evenings with the back door wide open, listening to the birds settle in for the night. Or with friends, glass of cold wine in hand, relaxing in the park or a lovely private garden. And finally, the night closes in, heading for bed, relaxed and pleasantly weary.

But I’ve been feeling tired recently.

I don’t know why. I wake up and I’m not refreshed, although I sleep soundly through the night. My eyes are slightly sore and watery and the bags under them puffier than usual.

I switch off my bedside light between 10pm and 10.30, which might seem early to some of you night owls, but I try (more or less) go to bed with the sun and wake with the sun. I wake about 6.30 to 7am and get up straight away. In summer there’s light behind the curtains and it’s time to get the day underway.

During the summer it’s easier to sleep with the sun because the sun doesn’t set till later, but the times of dawn and dusk are changing now that we’re heading into autumn and I think that may be the reason for my tiredness.

Over the past few days, I’ve woken mid-dream. It’s still dark outside and I feel like I’ve been woken from sleep depressio a heavy sleep. I guess I have the right amount of REM sleep, but I rarely remember dreams, nor do I usually wake in the middle of them.

As I understand it, your body should naturally wake you during the first phase of sleep, a very light phase without dreams. Waking in Stage 1 of the sleep cycle is easy because you’ve barely dropped off.

It seems that at the moment I’m not waking during Stage 1, but rather during Stage 5, REM sleep or even Stage 4, which is deep, slow-wave sleep. Apparently waking during these stages is what makes you feel sluggish and heavy. Napping during the day should be kept to a maximum of 25 to 30 minutes to avoid this slow and lethargic feeling when you need to be refreshed and energetic to do what you need to do for the remainder of the day.

The thing is, I wake at about the same time, 6.45 or 7am, but I feel awful. I’m wondering if waking during REM sleep is what is making me feel so groggy in the morning and more tired during the day.

But why should I feel so exhausted upon waking when I’ve had the same number of hours asleep?

I’m also wondering if this is related to the fact that it’s still dark at 6.45am.

Compare that to this morning, Sunday, when I woke after 8, perhaps 8.20, and even taking into consideration that I went to sleep slightly later than usual, about 11ish, I still had the same number of hours and I still woke up refreshed and ready to start the day.

I think I might have had enough of daylight saving now. sleep depressionI’m thinking that waking in the dark is what’s making me feel sluggish.

Part of my body clock is saying, ‘All right then, you’ve had your 8 hours sleep, time to wake up!’ and so I do. But some other part of my body clock is saying ‘What?! It’s still dark. Go back to sleep’.

Perhaps my body has had enough rest and is ready to be up and about and my brain is attuned to the sun and isn’t going anywhere until the sun is up too.

I’m not really sure but I can tell you this…getting up in the dark is hard.

In ancient times, people slept when the sun went down and woke up at dawn. Life was so different when we were all hunter-gatherers, and later when we settled down and became farmers. While there might have been time to relax in the evenings, around the camp fire, or the kitchen fire, chatting, telling stories, singing songs and all those old-time fun things, people mostly went to be early and rose to work the next day when there was enough light to see.

The advent of electricity kind of mucked things up for us.

Shift-workers can find their body clock goes severely out of whack from working during the night and trying to sleep during the day. Even starting in the wee hours of the morning can be very difficult.

Special lights that simulate the dawn have been designed to gradually brighten the room to something approaching daylight, encouraging bodies of shift workers to believe that the sun has actually arisen. It’s much easier to assimilate to gradually diffusing light than to be rudely awoken by a sharp alarm clock and a blindingly bright bedside light.

In a week or so we’ll change the clocks at the end of daylight saving. I think I’m quite looking forward to it, even though it means the end of summer too. But that’s OK, winter brings its own set of things to get excited about.

Light and Mood

I’ve not seen any holiday brochures for dark, gloomy, wet and cold places. OK, maybe you want to experience the aurora borealis or polar bears in the arctic; maybe you need to be there over winter…but generally speaking, we are attracted to sunshine, beaches, palm trees waving in the breeze, green and luscious mountains and so forth for our hard-earned holidays.

Why? Because, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, sunshine makes us feel good.

Moods all over the world are known to rise in summer and drop in winter. There’s even a name for wintry depression: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD can be treated with special lamps which mimic the light emitted by natural sunlight. These lamps can be very effective in lifting a SAD mood. If you live in a country which has very long winter days, where the sun goes down about 4pm or perhaps even earlier, investing in a special light lamp might be just the mood-boost you need. sleep and depressionGoing outside, into the natural light, is mood-boosting wherever you live. Even on overcast days, natural light is much brighter than inside lights. I find a great way to lift my mood is to take my morning coffee outside and sit in the warm sunshine for even 10 or 15 minutes. I’ll still do this in winter, though the air may be chillier. With a warm jumper and a scarf you can still get your morning does of sunlight.

Getting a few rays within an hour of waking also resets the internal body clock via tiny receptors in the eyes. Take your early morning tea or coffee outside with you; don’t wear sunglasses but don’t look directly at the sun either. Take a moment to do some mindfulness meditation. Focus your attention on the sounds you hear and the aromas that waft in from other people’s breakfasts; the temperature of the air and your hands around the warm cup. Look around you. Let the sunshine in!

The end of daylight savings means getting the sleep cycle back in order.

I’m always a bit wistful about the end of summer. No more hot, easy-to-dress-for days, no more chilled glasses of wine on the balcony, no more strolling about the neighbourhood after dinner, no more picnics in the park.

But I need to get my body clock back in order. I need to feel that it’s time to get up when I naturally awaken. Time to look forward to all the goodies that autumn and winter have to offer! Crunching leaves beneath your feet and comforting soups and crackling fires. Wrapping yourself in a favourite coat and scarf…That thin afternoon light that’s so evocative. Frost. A gentle rain. Casseroles. Snuggling. Books….

Until it’s time to change the clocks back to daylight savings and the cycle starts again. sleep and depression