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Erica: Post Christmas Slump

January 18th was dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ when Co-op researchers found 26% of the British population cited it as the date, they felt most isolated. They are at their loneliest, their debt at its highest, and the weather at its worst. 
 
So, if ‘Everyday Jane’ is susceptible to depressive grief of the post-holiday slump, can you begin to imagine the strain someone living with multiple disabilities goes through when they cannot just get up and take a stroll to grab some fresh air, or meet a friend for a drink? 
 
As a full time, wheelchair-user myself, with a strong support system in place, I still find this to be a very difficult time of year. We’re starting from scratch, wiping the slate clean. Even though the new year is supposed to smack of fresh starts and new beginnings, it also means realising that I’m back at the bottom of the mountain, and there’s no chair lift to the very high peak. 
 
I suffer from very severe depression. I find I must work extremely hard to fend off the darkness that attempts to creep upon me hourly. If I had to describe it, I’d imagine it to be something like Dexter Morgan’s ‘Dark Passenger’ from the Showtime drama played excellently by Michael C. Hall, albeit without the murderous tendencies…most of the time ???? . 
 
My ‘Dark Passenger’ is more like a fare-evading antagonist; an all-encompassing fog that blocks out every form of light. I can’t see further than my nose, I can’t hear the voices of anyone who cares, only a calamitous, mind-numbing din that makes me want to cover my ears, squeeze my eyes shut, fold myself into the foetal position, and scream until I block out all outside noise. 
 
That’s an everyday occurrence, which is why I work tirelessly to fend off even the slightest inkling that black cloud is on the horizon. I listen to music, I write, watch my favourite tv shows and films, and contact said support system – even when I don’t feel like talking – especially when I don’t feel like talking, because trying to eradicate that cloud once it takes hold, is already too late. My Dark Passenger will already have taken hold. 
 
 I asked Dr. Lavan Baskaran, GP, about his thoughts regarding the ‘post-holiday slump’ resulting in triggered depression, and his opinion on meditation, breathing, and seated exercises as a counteraction to all of the above: 
 
  
‘Depression, anxiety, stress, and general low mood disorders, are very common in the New Year.  Stressors which tend to bring the mood down include: waiting longer for January pay after early receipt in December, seasonal affective disorder (the concept of bad weather, shorter days and longer nights having an impact when heading to work or coming back); as well as when the "pause" festivities and celebrations provide for concerns about chronic disease, finance, employment, and general stress, is sadly over. 
 
My patients who suffer from chronic disease, I find, have more care and empathy from clinicians and people who understand what they are growing through at this time of year. This is sadly short lived, with usual pressures in everyone's lives starting again, and no time to care. Being amongst loved ones and enjoying time with them, distracting away from the daily pressures of chronic health conditions, certainly increases chemicals such as serotonin, which improves mood. Then when they leave us again; we naturally feel sad. 
 
All of this can exacerbate a general foundation of depression or can even trigger a first episode. The most common reason is the undue pressure we place upon ourselves with the idea of a new start. Unfortunately, the new year usually starts with a jump start, and expectation to carry on where we left off before the long period of "happiness", so the trawling emails, chasing projects again, following up on missed deadlines can all add to the pressure.  
 
We must remember, small steps, or habit forming is the best way to achieve success. Starting with a simple task - meditate for 5 minutes, three times a week - this is achievable, and then builds confidence to try a longer session. Setting up a schedule can be helpful in trying new projects and activities to complete. 
 
If you are someone who suffers from anxiety, having a list of techniques can help. Anxiety attacks can be extremely scary, leading to chest pain, tingling, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea and collapse - all symptoms that can mirror a heart attack, so it is really important to be able to recognise the symptoms, and how they differ in your case. Every patient is different so you will have to tailor your techniques, or at least get advice from a trained psychologist or doctor.  
 
Targeted breathing exercises are an excellent tool to have in your bank - and knowing that it works on a physiological level, can subconsciously itself, ward away the snowball effect of a panic attack. Focusing on your breathing not only acts as a distraction technique from the "trauma" that has triggered the attack, but also helps stabilise heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure.  
 
These factors are intricately linked to the sympathetic system, our fight or flight response, so controlling these aspects, can allow the pending attack to settle. The rapid breathing that occurs from hyperventilation from anxiety attacks, disrupts the oxygen-carbon dioxide ratio in the blood, making you become unwell, and producing symptoms such as tingling in face and limbs, that will trigger a deeper attack, from irrational thinking of the new symptoms.  Slowing down and controlling the breath will counteract this.  
 
Seated yoga is an activity that can be beneficial in terms of relaxation and breathing The idea of "being or feeling present" is the foundation of its effect on anxiety. Being aware of surroundings, the air touching your face, the sounds of the birds, etc all help in adjusting the emotion. This mindful awareness, added to breathing exercises, can have a massive positive impact on the pending anxiety, and provide relief. 
 
Once the exercise is over, further serotonin and further to this, dopamine release will occur, after a sense of reward is achieved. We have to always remember anxiety and depression lead to muscles being used less, and a "closure" both mentally and physically, so the idea of yoga and breathing is to "open" the body and mind, both physically and mentally, which then improves the emotional response.’ 
 
Dr Lavan Baskaran 
GP Principal 
James O’Riordan Medical Centre 
Addington Medical Practice
Medical Advisor for Play Action International 
 
 
 
When the first lockdown occurred, it didn’t immediately make much difference to my world. I was already housebound, unable to get outdoors. What I had struggled with, as someone who was bedbound most of the day, was an added stiffness in my joints brought on by the lack in my range of movement. It was something that contributed heavily to my depression, which I had communicated to very few of those in my support system. 
 
It was at this time one of those supporters, a very good friend of mine, Miranda McCarthy introduced me to her new venture Adaptive Yoga LIVE (AYL) – a project designed to provide online movement sessions for people living with physical restrictions; specifically, seated yoga, and targeted breathing exercises to help calm you and centre on relaxation through meditation. 
 
Miranda invited me to become the non-profit’s first ambassador, and I was more than happy to come onboard. Gone were the days when I would visit the gym six times a week, sometimes twice a day, my weight has ballooned to a staggering number I won’t share, but I will say that I believe it contributes to some of the more painful areas of my body. No longer able to withstand physio because of the degree of chronic pain I experience, I was eager to try anything that would get me moving. 
 
Live lessons are delivered online in your home, up to three times a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, 3PM), and the videos remain on Adaptive Yoga Live’s YouTube and Facebook Watch channels, making them accessible throughout. Miranda and her incredible team have been so successful, they have been recognised by our Prime Minister, with the Points of Light Award for ‘outstanding individual volunteers – people who are making positive changes in their communities and around the world…specially recognising those who are supporting our communities through the battle with Coronavirus.’ 
 
Miranda:  
 
““If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” 
 
When I invite people to try yoga, I often hear them make judgments about themselves. I hear: 
 
“I’m not coordinated.” 
 
“I’m too fat.” 
 
“I’m not flexible.” 
 
“I’m too tired.” 
 
This is when I must remind them yoga’s not a sport. Yoga doesn’t require you to be an athlete or even athletic.  You can practice yoga in your car, at the grocery store, and even in the middle of your business meeting.  
 
When a lot of people think of yoga, they think of intense poses that make you wince just looking at them, but yoga isn’t an elitist thing for mobile people. It isn’t about bendy people trying to get a perfect body. Yoga is a form of meditation. 5000 years ago, yoga was designed as “a method to stop thought waves”.   
 
The real secret to yoga can possibly be summed up in one word: awareness.  
 
Bringing mindful awareness to the body creates an alert focus to whatever you are doing in that exact moment, thereby transforming the moment into a form of meditation. It doesn't matter if you are moving or not!  
 
 
 
People who have been told that they are Disabled may not have the belief that they can do anything physical. They may believe it is beyond them. But it’s not. Even if those movements are just being aware of the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe, you are practicing yoga.”  
 
 
 
Breath work is a cornerstone of Adaptive Yoga LIVE. Instructors use specific exercises designed to calm, relax, and encourage serenity, something novices like myself can use to combat anxiety and panic attacks.  
 
As with any new activity, the more time you spend the more detail that you discover about it. Yoga has many styles that instructors will promote, with the umbrella of adaptive yoga you will be looking at a form that is more suitable for those with fibromyalgia.  
 
The conclusion I reached when I agreed to become an ambassador for Adaptive Yoga LIVE was, I didn’t need to try any specific style or learn a great deal, I didn’t even need to exercise at all; but it provides a physical focal point for my attention that diverts me from my pain and other symptoms – even if for only ten minutes a day - can only ever do me good. 
 
But that’s my story, what’s yours? 

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