Fed up feeling depressed? Here are some tips
As we feel our self being pulled into depression again, it can feel scary. How long will this last? Will it never end? Will I always be like this? Depression can feel like it's hard-wired into who we are. And in a way, it is. But that is good news.
Depression in our development of self
Developmental psychologists such as Jerome Kagan suggest that humans develop a 'self' by the time they are 18 months old. However, this sense of self only emerges from the activity of the brain in interaction with other 'selves'. Through interaction and imitation with a sensitive and responsive mother during sequences of attunement, misattunement and re-attunement, the infant is given a ‘psychological birth’.
"We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship." Harville Hendrix
Wounded in relationship
As well as impacting on psychic development, early attachment interactions actually generate brain development. Or harm them. This means that if the mother is not sufficiently responsive to the child or is abusive, the actual functional structure of the brain can be adversely affected. In particular, this can leave our right hemisphere more wired for depression.
Healed in relationship
However, in a sensitive and supportive therapeutic relationship where we feel seen, heard and understood, we can build a more resilient self. Such a healing relationship is not just 'talk therapy', but a limbic brain to limbic brain connection between client and therapist that actually builds new synaptic connections and circuits in our brain. In this way, we grow or repair our own brain! Thus the therapy relationship is the foundation of deep-seated healing and change at the highest level – that of the self.
Symptoms of a depressive episode
The symptoms of depression are more severe than just a low mood and are well-documented. Whilst some symptoms are obvious others are less so:
- trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- anger or irritability
- restlessness or hyperactivity
- feeling hopeless or helpless
- feeling guilty or worthless
11 tips to help
If you can take effective action to tackle depression as soon as symptoms develop you can recover sooner. Even if you have experienced depression for a long time, putting some hard work in to change the way you think and behave will improve your state.
The following tips may help you deal with a depressive episode:
1. Accept the problem
Change begins with acceptance. Without acceptance, we are always fighting to get rid of something that we don't like. This battle will only make change harder, if not impossible. There is a silver lining in every cloud. Even depression has an upside. Ask yourself "What am I not doing because I have this problem?" or "What I am doing that (on some level) I sort of enjoy doing, and that I won't be able to do if I don't have this depression?"
2. Understand that this can be changed
You weren't born with depression. Somewhere along the way, in relationship, you accumulated this tendency. 'What gets fired, gets wired'. Yes, this is the way you are wired, but given the fact that the brain has plasticity - that it can be rewired. This can be changed.
3. Keep a diary to track symptoms
You know yourself that the symptoms come and go. Some days are better or worse than others. That this too will pass. If you keep a diary to track this, you have solid proof on the days where this is less believable. You may also notice patterns in days when you are worse. There may be certain triggers that set you off and that you can change when you have that understanding.
4. Stay calm
We can feel scared or anxious when we feel the onset of depression. Especially if this is a familiar place. By learning calming or grounding techniques to help you stay calm you will be more likely to think straight. When we are emotionally aroused, our neo-cortex (the sensible, logical part of our brain) goes offline. Listening to music, walking, meditation, being out in nature, stroking our pets, talking to people who care and have soothing voices and facial expressions will help. And there are many other techniques.
5. Feel into your body again
Depression is a kind of numbing out. In that process, we switch off from our bodies, and that deprives us of an important resource. Our body holds much wisdom and is a safe haven for us to access. Yes, it also holds some difficult feelings, but if we can learn to 'be with it' we will find peace. Here is a simple guided practice to help you be with your internal experience of your own body.
6. You are more than your depression
"I am depressed", we say to ourselves. Thereby defining our self in a very narrow and quite destructive way. Remind yourself that what is actually happening is that you are going through a depressive episode at the moment. Depression isn't 'You', you are a collection of much more than that.
7. Practices to balance brain hemispheres
Depression is largely a right hemispheric, or limbic brain, process. By practising techniques that re-balance the hemispheres we can train our brain to tone down the dominant aspect and strengthen the parts of the brain that will bring us out of depression. One such practice is that of alternate nostril breathing (podcast).
Remember that such practices are behavioural choices that will affect our emotional state.
8. Challenge negative thoughts
With the right brain dominance in our seat of self, we have more of a tendency to focus on the negative and also feel more negative feelings and emotions. If we can work at observing our thought processes more and noticing the particularly negative slant they have, we can learn to challenge them. You might need some help with this, as these processes of thinking are so automatic.
9. Establish clear boundaries
When we are depressed, our energy is low. We can be more vulnerable to others' negativity, trauma or anxiety. Make sure you have clear boundaries and, with kindness, limit your exposure to people (or activities) that might drain you. However, don't let this tip into withdrawal. The right kind of social connection will help you cope.
It goes without saying that exercise helps. But you don't need to run a marathon or cycle 60 miles. Simple yoga exercises or walking will suffice. Anything where you are moving in a conscious and voluntary way, and where you feel a sense of control will help. Exercise that keeps you connected with the ground and with nature will be especially beneficial. Try pushing yourself a bit further each time, to get a sense of achievement.
11. Practice gratitude
Gratitude and appreciation are 'higher-order', positive emotions that have a powerful effect on our heart and bring us in harmony. Keep a gratitude diary to write down at least three things that you are grateful for or appreciate each day. No matter how small, this will help force you to focus on seeing these things in your life (for they are there!).
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