How to Cast Your Own 'Patronus' in Tough Mental Health Moments
For the two or three of you who are not big Harry Potter fans (tsk tsk) this might be a little hard to understand, but I encourage you to hear me out anyway. In the world of Harry Potter, there is an extremely valuable spell called the Patronus charm. This spell has the specific effect of driving off the nasty flying wraith-like beings called Dementors. Dementors are terrible because their only purpose is to hover around and suck the happiness and life force from their targets. Here is a description of Dementors from the Harry Potter books:
Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.
Does that sound familiar? Kind of sounds like depression, anxiety, negative thoughts, self-doubt, etc. Sometimes it feels like our negative thoughts and feelings are just circling around in our brain waiting for their chance to strike out and zap all of our happiness away from us. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tool you could use to drive them away just like the wizards and witches from the Harry Potter series have?
It’s not as outlandish as you might think.
In order to cast a Patronus charm, the witch or wizard must be able to harness the power of some very happy memory from their past. In the presence of a Dementor that sucks all of the happiness from the air around you, that can be quite difficult. Through training, the witch or wizard can rely on their ability to pluck their happy memory from the library of within their head and let it fill them and empower them to cast the Patronus charm and eliminate the threat of Dementors. To me this sounds so much like the way it can be terribly difficult to rely on your coping skills like breathing or meditation when you are under pressure and a panic attack or breakdown is knocking at your door. However, with practice, you can teach your body go through the process of relaxation even under tough circumstances.
So what the heck does all of this actual have to do with the Patronus charm? Well, I think that J.K. Rowling was onto something with the whole happy memory thing. Rather than just a happy memory of any kind, I want you to think of one that fills you with a sense of gratitude. Maybe it is something small like someone buying your coffee on a super hard and stressful day, or maybe it is something big like finding out your child is healthy after a nasty accident. I think you can harness the power of that memory to serve as your own Patronus charm.
I’m not just making stuff up here. There is a great deal of science behind the idea that practicing gratitude has positive effects on your physical and emotional health. In fact, gratitude can help you decrease feelings of loneliness, increase positive emotions and have a positive effect on blood pressure. The best part is that you can actively train gratitude as a skill and become more sensitive to noticing moments that generate a feeling of gratitude in your every day life.
Enough with the background. Here’s how you can cast your own Patronus charm. First, take three nice deep breaths. Breath in for four seconds, hold it for four, and breath out for four. Now keep breathing nice and steady and try to locate that gratitude memory from your own mental library. Once you have found that memory, I want you to focus on it and use your deep, rhythmic breathing to breathe life into it. Feel the memory fill you as if you are experiencing it all over again. Try to actually feel those warm fuzzy tingles in your chest that you had at the time. Sometimes, we try to hard to push back against the icky thoughts and feelings that we have, which just makes them bigger and more ugly. Instead, you are going to focus your energy on magnifying this feeling of gratitude that is fundamentally incompatible with the negative ones competing for real estate in your brain. If you find your attention shifting away from your gratitude memory, that’s OK. Just say to yourself, “Expecto Patronum” and return your focus and your breath to that beautiful memory.
Practice makes perfect. For this meditation to have the maximum effect, you should practice it in the comfort of your own home during times that you aren’t already stressed out. That way your body and mind learn how to access that powerful memory like a reflex no matter what stressful circumstance you find yourself in. With this practice, you will be just like Aberforth Dumbledore rocking the Patronus charm in the Deathly Hallows when Voldemort himself is at the gates.
Follow this journey on Duff the Psych.
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