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Emotional Variability: Healthier Living Through Mindful Awareness

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Mindful Awareness

When you find your center in the moment a certain calm becomes a natural state. There are so many ways to get to “this moment” that mindfulness has become a booming business. But, for the purposes of our discussion, I’m going to define mindfulness as “being so alive and aware in the present moment, that both past regrets and future fears lose their potency in your life.”

Thoughts and worries become like clouds passing by, in the present moment, your love of this life, this moment, this breath, becomes the focus, the point of living, the center of all that is in your life.


Emotional Variability

I’d like to set a new frame for you about the word depression. We all think we know a little about depression. Even those of us who have struggled with BIG D Depression in our lives, we think we’ve got a handle on depression. But we don’t. Depression is different for each and every one of us.

Here’s a large distinction I made this morning while talking to a friend:

  • Mood/Emotional UPS and DOWNS are connected to the regulation/nervous system in the body.


  • Depression and its physical attributes represent a different kind of wiring system in the body.

Sadness vs. Depression is where we often get confused. Our thoughts about others’ depressions are based mainly on our own contextual understanding of SADNESS. (Especially, if we’ve never experienced a “depression” depression.) But sadness is a universal emotion. When a person or a pet dies, we feel sad. We don’t necessarily get depressed or feel what depression is like. We are merely sad.

Depression, on the other hand, is more of an illness. When you have the flu, for example, your body simply cannot respond to your requests for energy and enthusiasm. When the depression spiral starts, it’s often impossible to stop the freefall into this “sick” state. I have been able to stop the drop with very intense mindful practice, but I have also used medications to help put a floor under my fall so I don’t head down into the dark basement of hell. When I am clinically depressed I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. It’s not laziness, however, it is some form of exhaustion that feels a lot like the flu. My entire body is suppressed. Coffee tastes awful when I’m trying to kick start a depressive morning. Routine tasks like brushing my teeth or taking a shower become things I avoid.

Let’s talk about what has helped me lessen the crash of depression in my 20+ years of living with depression.

Finding Center in the Middle of this Crazy World

I am still meditating on this idea daily. I am okay and safe even if I’m sad and listless. If I can stop my mind from punching my emotional heart, I can stop and arrive at peace. I can work on developing patience for myself and my journey. Each day is a journey. Some days are hard. Some days are euphoric. By stopping each morning and connecting with my body, mind, and spirit, I am recentering my life. No matter what state I’m in, my centering practice is essential to finding balance in the walk of life.

Serenity Now

If you pay attention to this exact moment (Yes, even your experience of reading these words) a calmness can be found. No matter how stressed, anxious or tired you are, there can be peace and serenity. Just as things are now, changing nothing, at this moment you can be at peace. Right now, ask yourself, is there a tiger at the foot of my bed? Am I being threatened with violence or harm at this moment? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing the answer is no. You can embrace this peace with a micro meditation. Here is my moment-to-moment meditation of peace.

In this moment I am safe.
I breathe in love.
I hold a moment of stillness and surrender.
I breathe out fear.
I rest in the peace of this moment.

Now, you can reset your emotional presence and go forward with the “next right action.” From a place of calm and peace, we can surrender to the flow of life and make more conscious decisions about our actions AND our thoughts.

Recalibrating Our Emotional Compass

The first step in refinding your center when you are out of balance is to become aware of what is going on in your body, mind, and soul. By examining your own emotional state, and “labeling” it, you can start the journey from awareness to inflection to recovery. Here’s how that looks.

Awareness is about self-monitoring, self-soothing, and check-ins with yourself. Example: “Who today my brain is a bit fast, I’m talking too much, I need to check in on my energy and emotional balance.” By becoming aware of your current state, you can make logical decisions to support your health and energy.

Inflection comes in after your become aware of your current state and make some choices to readjust your upward or downward trajectory. The micro corrections we all do throughout the day are a bit more critical for us “empaths” and “sensitive folks” as we move throughout our lives. I can make choices in the moment that LIFT or CALM my energy. If we are aware of where we are we can make micro corrections to stay on course with our plans.

Recovery comes into play as your decisions bring your energy and mood in line with where you’d like to be. You can redirect your mood and energy in this very moment. When you start with awareness and labeling you can begin to take more conscious charge of your life and your life experience.  Recovery, to me, means achieving balance and self-appreciation again.

Awareness + Inflection ≠ Recovery


A Roadmap for Recovery

It’s important that you chart a path forward so you can make good choices as you move through the phases and moods of your life. Every age, every season, every birthday, every anniversary, has an energetic and emotional load. When you gain awareness and mastery of your own flight path you can set your goals a bit higher. Living a good life is not about success or money, it’s about satisfaction and love.

I know I want to feel loved. And I need a sense of fulfillment in my creative work. The ninja trick is to own that sense of fulfillment within yourself and your own appreciation. Sure, I think I’d like to be famous and recognized for my writing or my music, but… Every article, every chapter, every song, every poem, gives ME some joy and satisfaction. If I can enjoy and love my own craft, I will spend more energy and time growing my own fire and fanning the flames myself. I cannot wait for the world to recognize me as a XXXX (fill in the blank) I must own that feeling for myself. And I must CLAIM that title for myself.

  • I am a writer.
  • I am a poet.
  • I am a musician.
  • I am …


bradley cooper in silver linings playbook

Depression Hits Everyone

We see “depression” in movies, the media, and television shows. It’s almost as if “emotionally challenged” or “bipolar” is a character rather than a painful condition. I can’t name too many good examples of accurate or compassionate mental health characters. Pat Solitano, in Silver Linings Playbook (Bradley Cooper), is a wonderful representation of a challenged and loveable (though misguided) young man. He is striving to make the best out of his difficult situation. And he is working hard to repair the damage his mental challenges have wreaked on his life.

The media in general, however, shows mental illness in the funny and quirky actions of a supporting character. For those of us working through the reality of our challenge, there is very little humor or levity. Our pain is larger than most people can grasp. And our ambitions over time, become limited by our fears of falling back into despair.

Dark Force Rising – Challenge Accepted

What about that darkness? What about those challenges? Have they made me stronger today? Would I be a different person if I had never experienced the black dog of overwhelm? I would definitely be different. Would I have benefited from a non-alcoholic dad? Yes. If my mom had been less codependent and more available to me as a kid, would I have had more success in my high school and college years? Sure.

AND, I would not wish depression on anyone, but I also wouldn’t change my experience of life, either. I am where I am, because of my journey and struggles. I am stronger because of the work I have done, learning to manage all aspects of my life. My energy, my emotions, my physical body, my spiritual and mindful awareness. I have done “a bit of work” on myself.

Let’s take the darkness in our own lives and forge wonderful lives, wonderful relationships, and wonderful children. We can do this. I have done it. I am doing it every single day. You can do it as well.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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My first book on depression and my own recovery story is now available through Amazon. Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Diagnosis of Mental Illness.

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