Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Keith Hagenbach BBS BA Dip Psych
31st December, 20140 Comments
Invited to draw a picture to illustrate how they feel, people suffering from depression often employ images like dark clouds, sad faces and deep holes. Working to transform these pictures so a bright sun replaces the storm cloud and sad faces rediscover their smile, there are some wonderfully simple but effective anti-depressant actions people can take for themselves.
Depression usually involves a flow of negative thoughts. Exercise helps transfer our focus from thoughts and ideas to our experience of the physical. Taking a brisk walk or, even better for the more energetic, a bike ride or gentle jog puts us in touch with our bodies. And while we are aware of our breathing, our heart rate or how it feels to place our feet on the ground, we are experiencing rather than being trapped in thoughts. [And don't forget dancing is exercise, too].
Using our creativity
The part of our brain we use during creative acts is different from the part that governs thinking. Whether it's painting, sketching, writing, making models or taking photographs, creative acts, like exercise, give us a welcome break from purely mental processes. Even if they have been neglected for ages, almost all of us possess creative talents; using them can offer priceless help in lifting our spirits and easing depression.
In depression we often occupy centre stage in our thinking. It tends to be all about us; how we have failed, how badly others act towards us, how we deserve [or do not deserve] what we see as misfortune, how incapable we are of making changes in our lives … and so on. Helping others in some way - perhaps by performing some small act of kindness - is making someone else our focus of attention, a shift we may find so uplifting we repeat it.
Keeping a journal
... And just in case you don't feel up to taking exercise, painting a picture or performing an act of kindness how about noting down how you've been feeling? No need to be elaborate, but by making that record you are taking the position of observer rather than being mired in the feelings, and that simple act can be extraordinarily helpful. Remember to pay special attention to the thoughts and actions that helped you feel better - it will remind you to repeat them.
It is very easy when we are feeling 'down' or depressed to stop doing things - especially for ourselves. Depressed people often report feeling lethargic, short on motivation and devoid of energy. Odd though it may sound, as they start doing things again they discover they have more energy rather than less. Getting into action - especially acts we find are a source of pleasure - can be a simple yet powerful antidote to depression.
It would be unrealistic to imagine any one of these is a magic wand which by itself will banish depression. It may, however, may be a very valuable step on the road to recovery. The best way to find out is to choose the one which you find most appealing, form a clear intention to utilise it, and see how it works in practice.
About the author
Keith Hagenbach is a psychotherapist with over 15 years in the NHS and private practice, now based in East Sussex. Apart from depression he works with a very wide range of issues including marital and relationship difficulties [individuals and couples], stress and anxiety, family issues, self-esteem and bereavement.
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