Help for Depression: 5 Things to Compassionately Investigate
If you are depressed, know that you are not alone. Did you know that 1 in 10 Americans are now on some sort of Anti-Depressant?
However, contrary to popular belief, some depression is a normal part of being human. I am not talking about debilitating depression, nor am I talking about years of dysthymia, but some depressed or "down" times are functional. Our culture has convinced us that sadness means something is wrong with us.
Truly, sad feelings or depressed periods can sometimes provide us with necessary reverie, reflection and insightful information. Sometimes depression may be a creative gestational period (although perhaps not experienced this way at the time). No one likes to feel sad and lethargic. However, it is also not normal to be "up" and super "happy" at all times. There are tides and cycles to life, day and night, cold and dark. Some experience with the dark is to be expected and not pathologized.
However, if you've been feeling depressed for sometime now, it feels like something you can't just "shake off" or if you are feeling hopeless, it is time to take action. Here are some important things to gently check out:
#1 First get a medical evaluation to rule out any physical causes for the depression.
#2 Take a compassionate and honest look at your diet. Recently, Dr. Andrew Weil created a 4 weeks to happiness plan for his new book "Spontaneous Happiness". The first week of his plan consists of eliminating ALL processed and inflammatory foods. Increasingly researchers are catching on to the fact that depression and many other mental disorders begin in the GUT. Researchers are linking inflammatory diets with depression, mood disturbances and other psychological and medical issues. What are inflammatory foods? --Essentially the entire middle section of the grocery store- all the pre-packaged and processed foods. To counter this issue, Dr. Weil suggests removing all processed foods and adding in more vegetables, fruits, nuts, ethically raised meats, fish and fowl. Dr. Weil recommends adding in Vitamin D and fish oil supplements to your diet (there has also been research confirming the anti-depressant effects of fish oil due to the high omega-3 fatty acid content- specifically for people suffering from mild to moderate depression - no word yet on severe depression).
#3 Kindly evaluate your activity level. An enormous body of psychological research supports the efficacy of exercise in treating depression. Exercise has been found to be more effective in eliminating depression than anti-depressant medication. If you are not exercising, gently consider your reasons. Can you add in a small exercise regimen? Can it be as simple as a 30 minute brisk walk a few times a week or dancing your butt off privately in your living room? What is possible for you? In short EXERCISE is the ultimate anti-depressant and should be part of most any anti-depressant plan.
#4 Consider your Intentional Activities: Positive Psychology research has shown that only 10% of our happiness can be predicted by our circumstances, 50% can be predicted from our nature, but a full 40% is truly up to us.
The field of positive psychology was created by Psychologist Martin Seligman in the late 90's. Instead of focusing on pathology and what is wrong with people, positive psychology focuses on what people are doing right, who is happy and flourishing and why.
Positive Psychology researchers are responsible for much of the Happiness Research findings. Here are just a few of the several attitudes and practices which tend to increase well-being. One of their favorite habitual attitudes is gratitude: wanting what you have and appreciating it. Another favorite is mindfulness: the attitude and practice of compassionately paying attention to your life on purpose, accepting what you find, moment to moment as it arises with love. Mindfulness meditation practice is encouraged to foster development of this attitude. Another favorite intentional activity is flow:engaging in activities wherein you lose track of time due to your absorption in the activity- like horseback riding, surfing, meaningful work, painting, running or the like. Most of us don't have enough flow in our lives.
When practiced regularly these intentional activities become habits. Practice doesn't make perfect, but practice does make permanent. Intentional Activitiesor as I like to call them- RITUALS- are the place where life change occurs. Incidentally, much of what I do in psychotherapy is focused here on behavioral and mental intentional activities.
#5 FROWNING OR SMILING?: here is a quick anti-depressant ritual to practice. SMILE at someone today for no reason. Just the act of smiling can affect your mood in significant ways. Research has shown that even a fake smile can trigger neurochemical changes that will make you feel better!! An added bonus is that your smile can often evoke positive reactions from others, which can make you feel even better. :-)
Thank you for reading.
Love and Light,