Category Archives: Anxiety and depression

Life is like a block of Swiss cheese

What do you do when you fall into a hole?


It started when I checked in, with my consultation group – stated my feeling of frustration and lamented about how hard it is to change my brain and live free of self-defeating thoughts. The same unkind thoughts that come up and replay over and over. I tried to change them but couldn’t. I had been feeling not good enough/unloved yet again – after a (minor transgression, really) hurt that I had experienced from someone I care about.

When I spoke it in the group I felt like I was just checking in honestly – acknowledging an awareness I had had about how stuck and pathetic I was feeling, and felt some relief just to articulate, say it. Having an awareness about a feeling is a little better than simply being overrun by that feeling. I also felt a little stupid and not as effective as my colleagues who always seem to have it all together. I thought I was speaking about something unique to just me.

But I was further uplifted to hear everyone else acknowledge in their check-ins that they too had self-defeating thoughts at times and they too struggled with how to deal with those.

We began talking about how life is like Swiss cheese… And I felt immediately understood – gotten. And oh yeah – not alone.

So often my clients tell me about some slip or dip they’ve had in their lives that brings them down. Ruminating about how they were feeling so good, but suddenly got caught off guard when their partner said something unkind; or when too many challenges piled up (being sick, tired, having a misunderstanding with their teen; not having enough time to have a conversation with a loved one, worrying about a sick coworker; and hearing of one more anti-immigrant sentiment expressed in the news, or another person of color who has been mistreated… Etc.) and they felt overwhelmed or inadequate; or feeling a pervasive sadness or irritation for seemingly no reason at all.

Sometimes they’ve eaten too much, or not eaten well; or not slept or not taken good enough care of themselves. Sometimes they’ve been crying too much, or raging too much, or feel hopeless or unmotivated. Sometimes they’ve been impatient with their kids and snapped at them. Sometimes they can’t seem to ever like themselves even though they’ve tried, or they’ve just had a long period of feeling some unwanted feeling (self-judgement, sadness, loneliness, vulnerability, heartache…) that they couldn’t shake or don’t know where it came from or what to do with).

These experiences remind me of Swiss cheese and how life is like a block of Swiss cheese.

Don’t you also think of Swiss cheese automatically, whenever you’re struggling with one (or several) of life‘s hardships? Let me explain…

We go along, feeling more less secure, intact in our lives. We have some good relationships, housing, families and friends we can choose to be with or not; a job, activities we enjoy. We’ve grown to feel mostly OK about ourselves, even if we don’t always take the best care of ourselves. That’s when we’re living on the structure, ridges, solid parts of the Swiss cheese.

And then, usually quite by surprise, we fall into one of those holes. Some holes are small, tiny, almost unnoticeable. Some are bigger and deeper. Suddenly we’re in the empty space of the Swiss cheese; the holes of life. It’s not just that Swiss cheese (life) is full of holes that is bad enough, but it’s what happens to our mind when we fall into those holes that really wreak havoc.

Typically we’ll experience a different state of mind when we fall into the holes. And sometimes one of those holes in the Swiss cheese leads to the next hole, to the next empty space, or to the next series of holes just like that.

Our state of mind shifts (or crashes) into being hurt, insecure, feeling unloved or not good enough like always when we slip into a hole. We might become distant or shut down, or hyperactivated; pessimistic; angered or very anxious. We get down on ourselves and can feel like pitiful examples of human beings. We may fall into old negative self-talk or those repetitive messages that always come up when we feel bad. We think we’ll never get it right; we’ll always be stuck.

Now Swiss cheese is actually pretty yummy. And the essence of it is that it’s full of holes. In fact, Swiss cheese has the right balance of cheese and holes so it still has flavor. The holes are what make it Swiss cheese. When people eat Swiss cheese, they don’t lament that the holes are there or that one hole is bigger than another. And maybe it’s the holes that actually hold up the cheese part, giving it definition, character, surround. Sometimes the slices are all holes… Sometimes it’s more firm. Sometimes a slice is rather lacy in design.

The holes in Swiss cheese come from bacteria that creates carbon monoxide bubbles that pop or from particles that get that process in motion. The holes in Swiss cheese are actually also called eyes. The holes are the identifier of the cheese – not a source of imperfection in the cheese. Turns out that the larger the eyes in the Swiss cheese, the more pronounced is the flavor. Although of course, cheese that has too many large eyes does not slice well and comes apart, so the size of the holes in the Swiss cheese are actually regulated in order to have the best cheese possible.

  • We all have self-defeating thoughts, criticisms, disappointments with ourselves and others. This is our default mode.
  • We all have some degree of difficulty when we fall into the holes of our Swiss cheese life. This usually takes place with a shift in our minds.
  • We all experience something in our bodies when our mind shifts (rapid breathing, heavy heart, tension in our necks or forehead, upset stomach, etc.). Our memories can even change.
  • We can soften the impact of falling into the holes of our Swiss cheese life: We can bring compassion to ourselves.
  • We can appreciate the “holes“ as what makes the Swiss cheese what it is. Maybe even see the holes as the foreground and not where something is missing. See the holes as what supports the structure of the cheese.
  • We can get out of the holes with kindness rather than making the holes bigger and losing the whole essence of the cheese.
  • We can see the holes as just another interesting hole, not a bottomless pit.
  • We might acknowledge the hole to someone who cares about us and feels instantly better by their sharing their Swiss cheese story also.
  • We might meditate our way out of a hole.
  • We might laugh at the absurdity of expecting we would never fall into another hole again.
  • We might notice that when caught in the middle of a hole in the Swiss cheese, that there is always some cheese nearby.
  • We might see the holes as what makes the Swiss cheese whole.

What happens when you fall into a hole in your Swiss cheese life? I’d love to hear from you about what you notice or how you get out (or stay in!) the hole. Just reply to this post.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with, in, or getting out of the (Swiss cheese) holes of life, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

When you’re feeling anxious or down…

Try this Video Mindful practice for Anxiety and Depression

Have you been feeling anxious or depressed lately, or maybe even anxious and mindfulness for anxiety and depression; video mindful practice; how to be kind to selfdepressed? Do you find yourself swirling with ruminating thoughts, or ideas you can’t get out of your head? Relentless worries about a change that’s coming up soon? You can’t quite relax or settle down about it – you’re sure something bad will happen or it just won’t work out? Are you so overwhelmed that every time you know you should do something good for yourself you just feel agitated?

Or maybe you feel really low, down in the dumps, hopeless, and feeling like a loser in everything you do. You feel depressed about your life circumstances, and worse, even more depressed about yourself. It’s hard to get motivated about anything; or feel pleasure about stuff you used to be excited about.

Most people who come to see me have some version of anxiety or depression that they’re struggling with. And of course, if you struggle with one of these, you often struggle with both.

It’s just how we are wired.

It’s hard to not feel bad about yourself when you are wrought with anxiety or stress; or don’t think well of yourself; or are tired of always feeling tension or fear or being down in the dumps. It’s hard to not worry when you are feeling depressed or hopeless, or guilty.

The things we tell ourselves, when we are depressed or anxious often make things worse, even though we desperately want to get rid of these heavy uncomfortable feelings. Often times that negative voice takes over. We compare ourselves to everyone else out there who doesn’t seem to be burdened or overwhelmed by spells of depression and overwhelm. We think we shouldn’t feel this way; there’s something wrong with us.

We’re just a ‘hot mess’.

‘Normal’ people get through things much easier or don’t worry so much…

Often our negative thoughts make us feel even more alone. And afraid, and depressed.

This week I offer you a short (about 12 minutes) video where I walk you through a gentle practice you can do when you notice you’re slipping downward in your feelings, or getting too overwhelmed with them…

I take you through seven steps (please forgive my error in the video where I say that there are eight steps) – (I guess the eighth step is to actually watch the video and practice along!) that are about getting quiet and still and into a compassionate place, so you can tend to and befriend these difficult emotional states. Or pause and reflect upon them rather than do the typical fight/flight/freeze reaction that we usually have when we’re clobbered by our own challenging feelings.

You can watch the video here: mindful practice for anxiety and depression  

and/or read about it here..

The steps include the following:

1) Doing a Mindful Check-In

This is a simple checking in with yourself about what’s happening in the moment. Listen to the sounds around you and notice the environment you’re in – what’s surrounding you; what’s the weather like; what position is your body in? A Mindful check in includes then paying attention to what’s going on inside of you at this moment. Observe your internal weather report and describe your feelings, thoughts, body senses. What’s the state of affairs internally?

2) Mindful Breathing

Take a couple of long slow deep breaths in, and then let yourself breathe out, even more slowly. Simply notice where your breath goes and watch as it goes into your nose, mouth, and through your chest to your belly. When you breathe out, let your belly button touch your spine and pause for a bit before you inhale again.

Then breathe normally and be present to each breath. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back and notice the next inhalation, and the next exhalation, and so on.

3) Body scan

Bring your awareness to each part of your body, starting with the soles of your feet and moving upwards, all the way to the top of your head. From the soles of your feet, notice then your heels, ankles, tops of your feet, toes. See how your calves and shins feel, then move onto your knees – back and front; then to your thighs and quads. Have awareness of your pelvis area, your genitals, hips. Notice your whole lower body altogether.

Then pay attention to your belly area; your lower back, chest, shoulder blades and upper back. Observe your torso together with your lower body for a moment. Consider all the internal systems working within you – respiratory, digestive, circulatory, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive, immune,… and how they all work together like a fine tuned machine to pump your blood, connect your brain, allow you to breathe, and keep you alive.

Notice whatever feeling or sensation that is in any part of your body and simply let it be. Bring awareness to your shoulders, your neck, your throat, mouth, cheeks, nose, forehead, temples, face all together, brain, ears, scalp and head.

Notice your body as a whole sitting here altogether. Have a moment of appreciation for this body of yours.

4) Mindful Self Inquiry

Now that you’ve gotten pretty aware of your body, it’s time to bring your attention to your feeling state. Notice what emotions are present, and particularly strong. Bring an emotion into your awareness and try to observe it; let it be. Gradually check out the dimensions of it. It’s OK to stay on the edges of it, that anxiety or overwhelm that you’re feeling.

Slowly move into it and around it, like dipping a toe into a pool of water until your body gets acclimated enough to the change in temperature. Practice being with your stress, or anxiousness, irritations, painful memories, difficult emotions and just letting them be.

You don’t have to figure out the why, or analyze them or fix them, or get rid of them. Just gently let them be. Let your feelings show you everything you need to know about them at this moment. You are swimming, floating in a pool of emotions, but you are not defined by those emotions.

Be tender with those feelings, as if you were cleaning up broken glass and don’t want the shards to hurt yourself or someone else. Listen with your heart to the feelings and have compassion.

5) Watch Your Thoughts

With this sense of gentle compassion, watch your thoughts go by. Imagine each thought is on a cloud in the sky, blowing and moving across your horizon. Or imagine your thoughts are each on a leaf, flowing by in a stream you are next to. Sometimes rushing by and fast flowing. Sometimes gathering and piling up; and then at other moments breaking free from the rocks and floating on downstream. Notice that your judgments, plans, worries, come and go; ebb and flow. Let them go by without having to do anything about them.

Remember your thoughts are just thoughts – just mental phenomena, energy, vibrations in your mind, a mental event. Your thoughts do not own you. They’re not the boss of you. They are not you. Watch your thoughts come and go and notice they are ever-changing. When you set your thoughts free, you are freeing yourself.

6) More Mindful Breathing

Again take a few long slow deep breaths in. Pay attention only to your breathing. Notice it and allow it to be as it is. No need to fix it or change it in any way. Notice each inhalation and each exhalation. That’s the only thing you have to have awareness of. Watch your belly rise and fall; slowing down. Stay present to each breath, and if you have wandered away, gently come back to your breath. Kindly.

7) Compassion and Self Compassion

Once again, bring to mind that thing you’ve been feeling so anxious or overwhelmed about. Remember there are a lot of people out there struggling just as you are. Offer well wishes for everyone else out there who has been worried in the same way or felt the same struggle. May they be at peace as they go through this. May they be well. May they feel a sense of compassion and support.

Then offer yourself the same sense of compassion, gentleness, as your face all that’s on your plate. Remember you are a beautiful human being – not defined or limited by any of your thoughts, feelings, body experiences. You have your own unique ideas, emotions, wishes, needs, strengths and vulnerabilities. Take special care to treat yourself in a friendly way. Feel compassion for and honor YOU.

You can experience the practice with me here: 

VIDEO: when you’re feeling anxious or down

You can also break this down and use only one or two of the steps for a couple of minutes a day, to help you deal with your anxiety or depression. Of course, remembering to be mindful is one of the hardest things, so sometimes it’s helpful to just give yourself mini moments of opportunity to bring your attention to the present.

I’d love to hear from you. Just reply back about when you think you might be able to use a practice like this – in it’s entirety or in small doses, to help you get through difficult times.

If you or someone you love is having difficulty with managing your emotions and negative thoughts, please call me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445