As the autumn rain begins again on our Pacific Coast, I’m reminded to be vigilant about my moods and watch for signs of depression. For me, less sunshine and decreased outside time requires that I take special care of myself so that I can fine-tune my wellbeing, moment to moment. For some of us, a bit of Vitamin D and a walk in the woods changes everything, however if left untreated, situational depression – which is the stuff of low moods that most of us have experienced at some time – can take us down the rabbit hole and into more serious depressive disorders.
Though we hear a lot of talk about depression these days, we don’t often hear that depression actually has a very important message. If we were to give depression a voice, it might tell us “something has gone terribly wrong between the reality of ‘what is’ and ‘what you want’ for yourself. The separation between these two has become so seemingly insurmountable that depression itself literally becomes the stop sign; hence you no longer want to move forward. At it’s most foundational level, depression is trying to shut us down so we don’t have to care any longer about our unsolvable problem. Though this is obviously problematic for the suffering person, depression is a natural and protective state, and its intention is to provide safety against an internally and/ or externally hostile environment.
To complicate matters, (as if it isn’t complicated enough!) depression makes everything that much more difficult. Things we often take for granted things such as clear thinking, sleeping and eating well, and exercise, all become more challenging under the weight of depression. And the longer this goes on, the more negative everything generally becomes. Then, as our brains become familiar with these realities, they literally hardwire it, so that the depressive thoughts have created a virtual super-highway of, well, you guessed it, negative thoughts and behaviours.
When dealing with depression, the first step is to check in with your doctor, and then seek the support of a professional counsellor. Together you can take an inventory of the external (such as your diet, exercise, sleep), and the internal (your relational and sociological) environments. With diet, generally you’ll want to explore whether you are eating well, often enough, or the opposite, too food-centered. When you look at exercise, sometimes it’s more helpful to think “movement” rather than “exercise” which can sound daunting and unmanageable, and start small, be consistent, perhaps tying it to something you’ve enjoyed in the past. You could try adding music – a powerful brain stimulant – into your movement. We often hear how important exercise is for fighting depression, however the truth of this really cannot be overstated. Movement fights depression! Finally, sleep is also a key piece to well-being. To this end, try brain calming rituals as you head towards bed at night such as putting on pjs, dimming the lights, turning off the TV early, and when you do climb into bed, make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible.
While depression decreases the desire in the motivational centres of the brain, thereby making the things that fight depression best literally the hardest to do, there’s always a place to start without even leaving your chair, and here’s where gratitude arrives on the scene. Out loud, name something, anything, you are grateful for today. Perhaps it’s as simple as I can read this article! The act of seeking things we are are grateful for, alters the brain’s structure. And this is again, where working with a good counsellor supports you, because depression is based in emotions that the body has decided not to process, in a mind that feels unclear, in a body that feels tired, and with a spirit that has given up. However, your task is far from hopeless, it’s to find out what depression needs you to know. Let’s find out.