Usually, depression isn’t a mystery. It’s a state of mind/body that obviously and often elegantly reflects the conditions of our life. The passing of a loved one. The breakup of a long term relationship. The sudden loss of our savings in an investment gone wrong. Rejection. Illness. Disappointment. All this can stimulate a series of emotions and ideas characterized by sadness and despair.
Like a mirror
Our body also mirrors our anguish, often having difficulty sleeping, losing appetite, sex drive, and feeling exhausted. Just getting up from the couch is experienced as an ordeal. Depression does not necessarily call for a catastrophe or triggering event. Years of bad diet, unhealthy living and lack of exercise take their toll. Some people swim in the strain of unreasonable objectives and a lack of time to get things done.
Others lack meaningful work and a helpful part in the world. For a lot of us who experience periods of depression, even lengthy periods, the cause isn’t a mystery. We need not search for childhood injury or brain chemistry that is tainted. We need only examine our own lives. Yet, for many people depression is a most unusual and perplexing puzzle. I’m considering the human being who’s the model of health, engaged in meaningful and challenging work he enjoys, surrounded by a loving and supportive family.
Here’s a person whose life rests on a strong spiritual foundation, who oversees money sensibly, who complains small and expresses gratitude a whole lot. His life and lifestyle don’t have any visible weak link — such as a rock wall with each stone solidly in place — and yet the exact same being is consumed by a mood of hopelessness, emptiness and despair. Here we have melancholy veiled in mystery, with no natural or visible link to life.
Though such people could be infrequent, the cases of unexplainable changes and changes within our feelings aren’t. Have you ever awakened to the new day and found yourself feeling somewhat more happy and optimistic about things than you were when you went to bed? Yet the circumstances of your life are no different today than they were last night. Have you ever awakened and found yourself feeling somewhat down or even depressed though at bedtime you’re feeling fine? One moment mystery, a moment not-mystery.
So maybe we could conclude that depression isn’t a mystery and, too, it is. Whether your depression is cryptic or not there are things you can do (and not do) which will likely affect how you feel. Additionally, there are things you can do which will help you”live through” the feelings with no life collapsing. Many of these approaches are simple and make sense to us when we are not depressed. When we are depressed we forget our attempts to employ them give way into the quagmire of gloom which weighs us down. Yet it is those very moments where depression is upon us, that we have the chance to learn a new way of reacting to it. Even one little success gives us a base for doing something different.
Waht to do?
Begin working with your focus. Imagine that your focus is a flashlight. You can either shine it on yourself — your ideas, feelings, body sensations and issues — or you can shine it on the world around you. Depression goes hand in hand with self- focused attention. Watch a gloomy person walking down the road and they frequently have their head slightly down and their mind’s eye focused inward on feelings and ideas. In actuality, even when we are not depressed we often”live in our mind” much of the time. Once we realize this, we can start working with our focus so we notice more of what is happening around us. Colors become more vibrant. The shapes of leaves on trees intrigue us.
Architecture. Shadows in the late afternoon against the background of day lilies. A sleazy character in a poorly lit parking garage has noticed when we’re looking around. Consider this: You’re only depressed when you are paying attention to your depression. Depression, like other feelings, is not usually an all day affair. It’s more of a moment-to-moment experience. More minutes of discovering that means less minutes of noticing this. And “this” may include feelings of depression.
Broaden your focus, deepen your focus, and shift your attention to the world around you, the world outside of your skin. B. Find some meaningful purpose for living — one day at a time. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl spent a long time at the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. His deep story is told in the book, Mans’ Search for Meaning.
Through the daily horror of camp life there were people who gave up and people who didn’t. The survivors nearly always had some purpose for surviving-a purpose beyond themselves. For a single person it was a kid waiting in a foreign country. For another, it was a partner who might still be residing in another camp. For Frankl himself, it included rewriting the manuscript of his book which was ruined when he was taken prisoner. When Frankl advised miserable patients he saw the change that would occur if they became involved in some purposeful activity.
Begin an exercise program. Study after study shows the dramatic effect exercise has on mental health, and specifically on combating depression. Many of these studies compare depressed people who begin a fitness program with those in comfort and/or psychotherapy programs. Typically the exercise group fares at least and psychotherapy, and in a number of studies exercise proves to be more effective than psychotherapy when followup studies have been done years later.
Exercise may not just help to ease the feelings of melancholy, but really help prevent it indicated in a 1988 study that indicated a low level of exercise activity in non-depressed white girls often called the onset of depression up to 8 years later. And in the meantime . Most of us are quite happy to feel happy, but hate feeling depressed. This seems fairly reasonable, but it becomes an issue when our intolerance of unpleasant feelings turns into immunity. The energy we put into”I do not want to feel this way” is a fantastic strategy for fueling the precise feeling we wish would go away. The alternative is to take the feeling and just co-exist with it for some time.
This was the approach recommended by Japanese Psychiatrist Shoma Morita (1874-1938), the creator of Morita Therapy. The key isn’t to enable the feeling to assume charge of your life but rather to let it tag along as you continue to live your life. Or “excuse me depression, but do you want to join me in the backyard while I pull some weeds.” This sort of reaction to depression takes a lot of the”punch” from it. The plan is similar to the strategy used in several martial arts — do not attempt to defeat your opponent by attacking him directly, especially if he is stronger. Instead, use the strength of his attack to defeat him.
So, I’m suggesting a sort of martial arts strategy for responding to depression. It takes practice, but after a couple of successes you will find that it’s not as painful than an all out war and it has the benefit of letting you make progress during periods when you were formerly immobilized. These are seven strategies that may help you respond more efficiently to depression.
They’re not simple and growing skill will take a little time and effort. But you will find that the majority of these strategies will help you in other areas of your life: a healthier body, more intimate relationships, and a closer relationship between your religious beliefs and your everyday life. And lots of these exact strategies will be helpful in coping with other unpleasant feeling states — such as stress, anger, shyness and anxiety. Sometimes they can hit you all at once. Then the entire group of you can hurry down to the local restaurant to get a wholesome meal. They will not like that. They might even get angry and go someplace.