I recently attended a wonderful seminar on depression. The presenter first defined the disease of depression. He conveyed that it is an illness that impacts three major areas in humans – emotions, physiology or energy, and thinking. Then he talked about key areas of daily life to pay attention to that can help one heal through depression. First, the 3 areas that depression impacts:
Emotions – sadness, irritability and “anhedonia” (the inability to experience pleasure) are often present.
Physiology or energy – there is a change in our sleep “architecture” (delayed sleep onset, don’t get to stage of deep sleep where healing and growth take place). Fatigue is common, so we crave energy. To gain energy, it’s common to binge on simple sugars, which increase our blood sugar, which increases insulin to combat the elevation in blood sugar, which then decreases our blood sugar, which leads to fatigue. This is a vicious cycle, as at the end of the cycle, simple sugars are again craved.
Thinking – depression leads to a spacey, internally disorganized state. This is different than traits of ADHD that leave one feeling distracted by external stimuli. There is a feeling of hopelessness and possible suicidal thoughts. Cognitive distortions are common, caused by interference in perception that are created by the cloud of depression. Gaps in perception are filled in with negative assumptions about life.
Always with depression there are behavior problems of some sort, and subsequently negative feedback is received by the depressed person. There is also always some degree of relationship problems, resulting in more negative feedback that helps fuel the cycle of depression.
Based on all of the above, the depressed person is left with a compromised sense of meaning, purpose and self. Depression destroys one’s capacity to act and to feel a sense of confidence and purpose.
So that is a descriptive summary of depression. Next, the speaker gave a prescriptive plan about how to grow into healing through depression. He made a distinction between treatment, which is what is done to the person (such as medication), and healing, which is done by the person. The things to be done by the person were simple, but for someone who has depression, may certainly not be easy. But good to at least have a road map to healing. Here are the areas that deserve special attention.
- Sleep – how and when we sleep matters. Deep sleep is when our minds and bodies recover and heal. With depression, sleep patterns are often disrupted or out of whack. Important to have rituals around going to sleep that signal to the brain that it is time to shut down. He shared that he has a cup of tea and does some reading, which becomes a signal to the brain to slow down when it is repeated as a nightly ritual.
- Eat – how, when and what we eat all matter. May be good to add in Omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. As noted above, try to avoid getting stuck in craving cycles related to simple sugars and empty carbs.
- Move – he said move instead of exercise, but it could certainly include exercise. But he stressed just moving – walking, playing – activating our physiology facilitates healing.
- Breathe – find time in the day for deep, calming breathing – deep through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Think – pay attention to thought patterns, especially negative ones and work to change them, orient them to the truth. This can often be the focus in counseling.
- Learn how to speak effectively – being able to express our internal experience helps us feel understood and known, which facilitates our gaining of social support. We are social beings, and it’s hugely important to not feel alone and isolated.
- Gradually by doing these things, we build back up our sense of meaning and purpose.
- Tend – I like this word. Doing these things is about tending to ourselves, like we would a garden. It implies that healing doesn’t just happen, we need to engineer our healing process, and this can give us a sense of empowerment.
- Seek – fill in the blank here. Figure out what you want to do that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose, and then endeavor to do it.
- Imagine – imagine yourself thriving, doing what you want to do. Also called visualization.
For the depressed person, he stressed that it’s really important to be patient. Be patient with yourself and the process of healing. It’s apparent that the 10 things listed above are in a way all of the things that are difficult to do when feeling depressed. But they at least give a road map toward healing, especially since these areas tend to take a back seat when we feel depressed. Lastly, he said there can also be a place for anti-depressant medication to help facilitate the ability to tend to oneself.