Depression is a state of extreme unhappiness, described by sufferers as a black, dismal, dungeon of despair, or a stifling hot room with no means of escape, a heavy overcoat of pain with the buttons soldered together. It is characterised by a sense of loss of control overone’s life, a loss of enthusiasm, and the inability to enjoy pleasure. One may know what to do but cannot summon the energy to do it.
When we forget the real reason we are living for, the world becomes like quicksand that sucks us into a vacuum. When this happens, we live less and less, we merely stay alive. The cause of this is when we fail to thoroughly work through and resolve our emotions, their
energies remain stuck within us and accumulate until all we feel is their collective darkness, as there is not much room left inside for anything else.
Our primary obligation in life is to give birth to all parts of ourselves. The choice to escape darkness is at the same time the choice to escape light. To knowingly opt out of painful emotions is to unknowingly opt out of pleasurable ones as well. This numb state of existence is promoted by our society today. But to give birth to every aspect of ourselves the dark and the light is to emerge into the world as being alive in every sense and to share our unique gifts with the world stemming from a deep sense of aliveness radiating from within.
Knowledge is power. An understanding of the intricacies of our suffering gives us the key to unlock the door to our dilemma and with the right tools we can start the transformative process which will take us to self-mastery.
Emotional Symptoms of Depression:
• a continuous low mood.
• increased irritability and frustration.
• crying a lot.
• loss of interest in your life and social life (missing work, school).
• loss of confidence and self-esteem.
• feeling helpless, guilt, worthless or hopeless.
• recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
• suicidal self-harming behaviour.
• out of character moodiness.
• no resilience.
• wreck less and risk taking.
• feelings of hollowness or emptiness inside.
• short temper.
• symptoms can be worse either early morning or evening.
• believing ‘I have failed in my life, I am a waste.’
• the gesture of the body is one that is ‘curled in’ and ‘contracted.’
• a negative evaluation of the self and future.
• a feeling of stuckness.
• increase in the taking of drugs and alcohol to numb out.
• recurring negative thoughts about your situation that keep you stuck in the same place.
• the past and future are absorbed entirely by the present.
• you can neither remember feeling better nor imagine that you will feel better.
• you have no point of view.
• unable to express how you feel to others.
Physical Symptoms of Depression:
• reduced energy or feeling tired all the time.
• reduced ability to think clearly and concentrate.
• difficulty in making decisions.
• loss of sex drive/libido.
• disturbed sleep, not enough, or poor quality.
• loss of appetite or eating too much.
• unexplained aches and pains in the body.
• physical agitation.
Types of Depression:
• Mild depression – life does not stop but everything seems harder to do and less worthwhile.
• Moderate depression – significant impact on everyday life with more severe symptoms.
• Severe depression – is ongoing and includes most of the physical and emotional symptoms listed above.
The Key Causes of Depression:
• It can be brought on by a trigger such as a stressful event that may involve some sort of loss e.g. a death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, etc. It can also involve a mix of recent life events and long-term and personal risk factors.
• Ongoing stress such as financial worries, stressful job, redundancy, fear of unemployment, long-term serious illness, etc.
• Some personalities are high-risk for depression these include – perfectionist, worrier, self-critical and negative, shy, anxious, low self-esteem, sensitive to personal criticism, socially anxious, unable to assist self.
• Inter-generational. Your family has a history of depression and you have the genetic disposition to it.
• As a child there was no space for it to carve itself, so it takes on the good boy/bad boy or good girl/bad girl role of pleasing others all the time. There is a lack of a strong presence, love and acceptance by the primary care givers, so the child behaves exceptionally well so that people will love and accept them or exceptionally bad to get the love through attention. No risk is taken to be themselves for fear of rejection.
• Exposure to early abuse (sexual/physical/verbal).
• Possibly connected to deep grief. Sometimes cumulative over many years.
• Unprocessed grief.
• Depression can be seen as a fixed behaviour. From (1) An early outside cause, since forgotten. (2) A response to that cause which is unhealthy and unexamined. (3) A long standing habit that becomes automatic.
• If you subject yourself to enough stress over a long period of time, depression will be the likely outcome. E.g. boring job, sour relationship, loneliness and social isolation, and chronic disease. A depressed person is reacting to bad circumstance either now or in the past.
• An outside cause cannot make you depressed unless you respond in a certain way. People who are depressed learnt a long time ago to have a skewed response i.e. it’s my fault, I’m not good enough, nothing will work out, I knew things would go wrong etc. Once you have a depressed response, it reinforces the next response when you face a new stress form the outside world.
• Once a person’s depression turns into a habit, which probably happened years earlier than their recognition of being sad and hopeless, it no longer needs an outside trigger. Depressed people get depressed about being depressed. This defeatists’ state tells us that the brain has formed fixed pathways and the person’s whole support system for creating his/her reality comes into play.
• When the depressed response is internalized it is like smouldering hot coals that will flame up only with a small stir. A minor incident such as a flat tire can leave the person no room to decided ‘is this a problem or not?’ Because the depressed response is already hard-wired in.
• Bad things are unavoidable, but some factors make them worse such as, the stress is repeated, the stress is unpredictable and you have no control over the stress.
• The dark night of the soul – The dark night of the soul can entail a collapse of a perceived meaning in life and an eruption of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The whole conceptual frame-work for your life and the meaning that your mind had given to it collapses. This puts you in a dark place.
• Once repressed emotions from various experiences become piled up within, it is close to impossible to distinguish one from another and trace each one back to their original. As a result, there is no identifiable root cause of our now unrelenting depression – and rightfully so, as there are many. When we go to a Dr, they help us to further gloss over uncomfortable feelings by placing us on psychiatric meditations such as anti-depressants. Anti-depressants take away our feelings of sadness but they also to some degree take away all feelings.
• When it comes down to it, the choice to escape darkness is at the same time the choice to escape light. To knowingly opt out of painful emotions is to unknowingly optout of pleasurable ones as well. Unfortunately, this numb state of existence promoted by modern day society is all too easy to fall victim too, especially when medical experts we trust with our lives tell us it is a corrective and healthy way of being, generously giving us substance to feed our desire to not feel pain of any sort.
• Subduing parts of ourselves by cutting off certain feelings and prohibiting emotions from arising past a certain level is the truly dangerous thing to do. It prevents us from fulfilling one of our primary obligations in life, to give birth to all parts of ourselves, to emerge into the world as beings alive in every sense of the word, and to then share with the world our unique gifts stemming from the deep sense of luminous and aliveness from within.
Tools to Help You Alleviate Depression
• Feeling our emotions. How do we go about allowing ourselves to feel our emotions in their entirety without letting ourselves become consumed by the negative energy of the most painful ones? We stop telling ourselves that feeling any emotion too intensely is wrong, because there is no such thing as feeling too intensely. There is only feeling something intensely and not knowing how to then work through those feelings. It is not the feelings themselves but our inability to deal with those feelings. There is no defined right or wrong way to feel, there is only feeling what it means to be alive in its entirety.
• Instead of ceasing to resist strong emotions out of fear. Surrendering to them will inevitably change us within on a deep level, as anything of depth in life always does. We must stop worrying that allowing profound changes within may cause others to no longer accept us. Any love with conditions is limiting and does not embody the true definition of love. Those who do not love us unconditionally and who hold a firm picture of how we should live our lives do not serve our true nature, and should not be allowed to influence who we are what we do or who we become.
• Once we stop the fear of allowing ourselves to fully feel and begin the process of feeling our emotions in their entirety and journeying deeper into our hearts, we run into the problem of fully engaging in the process because it is uncomfortable at times. It is important to understand at this stage that the only reason we feel this discomfort is because we have been conditioned to believe we should avoid discomfort and pain, much less take responsibility for working through our pain. We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. When we do this what happens is the feeling of uncomfortable begins to dissipate as we have given ourselves permission to feel and surrender to its existence, thus dissolving its power over us. No longer feeling uncomfortable over the act of feeling in itself, sends a signal to our subconscious minds that there are really no “good” or “bad” emotions, there are just emotions. We learn that “good” and “bad” are a matter of subjective perception. Most of our perceptions regarding good and bad are not our own that were born from our self-discovery and life lesson, but are ones that were instilled within us from a young age via condition from others. The feelings we once revered as “bad” are intended to deliver specific messages to us, signalling certain areas in our lives are not in alignment with the true nature of our souls.
• Beginning to work with our feelings rather than against them, and exploring them to unveil the message they are attempting to reveal, the process of working with our different ego state, to not dissolve them entirely but to transform them. The ultimate goal is to bring to the surface and heal the fragmented parts of ourselves we have repressed, and essentially reintegrate these parts of ourselves into the whole.
• From the dark night of the soul comes an emergence and a transformed state of consciousness. There is an awakening into something deeper, which is no longer based on concepts in your mind. There is a deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life that is not dependent on explanations or anything conceptual any longer. It’s a kind of re-birth. The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die. What dies is the egoic sense of self. Of course death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died – only the illusory identity with ego.
• The key is to get the stuck or imbalanced parts of your brain to move again. Acting as the leader of your brain you can actively reprogram your own neurochemistry and even genetic activity so that you are no longer indentured to mood disorders.
• Get the support you need through psychotherapy, counselling or psychiatry. It takes great courage to acknowledge that we need help. In seeking to understand our plight we attain great knowledge and wisdom that may not have been available to us.
• Stop exposing yourself to stresses that occur over and over e.g. a bad boss, abusive husband or any other stress reinforced every day.
• Avoid unpredictability of the stressful kind. Life is uncertain, but there is a limit to what uncertainties are acceptable.
• Increase predictable routines that help defend against stress. A good night’s sleep, regular exercise, a job you can count on, a steady relationship to name a few.
• Avoid making no decision. Deal with problems more promptly then you normally would because the longer you wait, the more change you give the depressed response a chance to set in.
• Depression makes you overly sensitive to small triggers, leading to a sense of helpless resignation, but if you act early before you reach this stage, you have room to manage everyday stress and the energy to carry out your decision to do so.
• It is much easier to learn the right response to stress than to unravel the wrong one. The right response involves emotional resilience, which allows you to let go of stress rather than to take it in.
• Changing your self-defeating beliefs can lead to recovery. Beliefs are like software programs that keep repeating the same commands, only beliefs dig in deeper with repetition.
• You must be flexible. The depressed response paints everything with the same brush. If your automatic reaction is associated with sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness, refuse to accept it. Give yourself a moment, take a deep breath, and find an alternative response. Find one that works. This takes time and effort but will pay off. Learning a new response forms new neural pathways in the brain and opens new doors. By introducing a new response, you resist the temptation to fall back on old, stale beliefs. Instead of being isolated, you realize that other people are good for you. Instead of being passive, you see that taking charge is good for you.
• Break down the stress response that feels so overwhelming by taking it one step at a time and choosing one piece of it that you feel ready to handle. Inertia is depression’s best friend. There is always a hump to get over but don’t turn it into a mountain. Pushing yourself over the smallest hump urges the brain to give up an old pattern for a new one.
• Behind the mask of depression, which is a fixed response, lies the real you, the core self, the “I AM” that can direct the healing process. The ‘I am’ is that part of yourself which comes from a deeper level than you and your story of the ‘one who is depressed’. You alone have the power to create your healing. Just finding a small opening will allow you to start to reclaim this power back. To get in touch with your “I am” start to meditate. Spend time going within to get in touch with who you truly are.
• Depression has an addictive side where sadness and hopelessness take charge.The secret to beating any fixed habit is to stop fighting with yourself, to find a place inside that is not at war. This is the ‘true self’ and meditation opens the way to reaching it. Four decades of brain research have proven that the brain is transformed by meditation. The right genes get switched on and the wrong genes get switched off.
• Become aware of your thought process, of the thought’s that arise instead of being completely identified with the thoughts. Notice how they rise and then pass. Thoughts are only thoughts. Thoughts are what trips the switch. Trying to get rid of them won’t work but having an awareness of them saps there power. You are much more than this.
• We focus more on taking care of our bodies and don’t bother with our minds. The result of this is imbalance which can eventually lead to mental disorders such as depression. Our thoughts and mind/consciousness is energy. It cannot be localised in the body. It cannot be touched and it has no form and does not travel in time and space. It cannot be touched or grasped. The view you have of yourself and of your environment are based on your own mind, all these are projections of your mind and therefore they are not reality. We are shaped by our thoughts, we become what we think. When the mind is clear joy follows and never leaves.
• Be present. Presence is being alert, aware, engaged, non-reactive, non-judgmental, loving and peaceful. Focus on growing this presence power. If you are present the thoughts cannot feed anymore on the negativity. You can simply observe them, be a witness, and create the space for it. Then gradually the energy will decrease.
• Get a phone ap that reminds you to be present. Set the alarm on it for every hour to go off.
• Hold onto the deeper knowing that ‘this too shall pass’, with each step that you are taking towards your healing and wellbeing. Set the intention to be committed to your healing. Intention coupled with will equals change. Sometimes transformation comes in waves. Some days the water is calm and not much is going on and on other days there are big waves with lots of healing going on.
• Stop watching or reading anything that contains violence or sadness. Just as what you eat affects your body so does what you watch and read. Instead, watch and listen to things that are uplifting.
• Have the courage to be grounded in your own truth. What is your truth? What part of yourself do you compromise or shut down for fear of being judged? When we shut these parts of ourselves down it is a contracted state the result of which leaves us feeling worthless. There are no two humans alike, that is how unique each of us is. We contain gifts that no one else has. What is your gift? Find it and share it. The world needs your gift and you!
• Take ownership for your attachment to your story of “I am depressed” and examine what do you get from it. Attention? A chance to not take responsibility for your life? Does it allow you to feel justified to hold on to anger about an injustice done to you, because to forgive would seem like the other person has won? What is the power the depression gives you? Recognize that you have the depression but it is NOT you.
• Forgive yourself and make peace with your past. If you do not you will continue to live from this place. Holding on past pain is a heavy burden to carry. Remember to err is human. We must take the lessons learnt and use them to become wise and to live more fulfilled lives. From a place of presence you can fully embrace your past.
• To challenge the depressed response, it is not sufficient to simply go inward. You must activate your ‘real self’ and bring it into the world. Breaking the habit of depression involves doing a combination of inner and outer work.
• Inner work:
– Meditate to improve your state of mind and bring balance and equilibrium.
– Examine your negative beliefs.
– Reject self-defeating reactions to life’s challenges.
– Learn new responses that are life-enhancing.
– Adopt a higer-vision of your life and live by it.
– Recognize self-judgment and reject it.
– Stop believing that fear is ok just because it feels more powerful.
– Don’t mistake your moods for reality.
• Outer work:
– Reduce stressful conditions.
– Find fulfilling work.
– Don’t associate with people who increase your depression.
– Find people who are close to who you want to be.
– Learn to give of yourself.
– Be generous in spirit.
– Adopt good sleep habits and exercise every day.
– Focus on relationships instead of distraction and endless consumerism.
– Learn to re-parent yourself by finding mature, emotionally healthy people who can love and who are accepting, and do not pass judgment.
• The real you isn’t depressed and never has been. By setting out on the path to find the real you, you will accomplish more than healing your depression. You will emerge into light and see life in new ways.
• Use positive affirmations instead of negative ones to re-condition your mind and recreate new neural networks.
• Try to help and do something for someone else, it takes the focus away from yourself and opens up the heart. Being self-absorbed has an immediate effect of narrowing one’s focus and blurring one’s vision. If on the other hand, you think more about others’ well-being, it immediately makes you feel more expansive, liberated and free.
• The self-absorbed, self-centred fascination with the ego and its agenda mind-set keeps you trapped in depression. It’s all about MY problems, MY depression, MY past, MY, MY, MY. This feeds into the ego indulging its whims and woes creating the feeling sorry for myself scenario. When you are in this state it is difficult to see it for what it is. You have to wake up to yourself. Use the depression like a bomb to destroy the wrong conception of the I.
• Focus on what is going on well in your life rather than what is not. Everyone has problems but over-emphasizing their importance leads us to thinking we are incapable and worthless. This self-hatred immobilizes us and prevents us from developing our good qualities and sharing them with others.
• Gratitude – Begin a gratitude box or journal. Every day write down one thing you are grateful for. Gratitude assist in opening up the heart.
• From a Buddhist perspective, suffering from depression can be a good thing because it allows you to easily see the pain of other people. By using your own experience of depression you can clearly feel the unbearable pain of many other people, animals or Mother Nature. Experiencing the depression on behalf of others can be used as a path of awakening, so that in time you can assist others overcome their depression.
• Physical Exercise – Research has shown the positive benefits of exercise on depression sufferers. Exercise enhances mind function and the emotional state, creating feelings of alertness and creativity, increased energy, reduction on muscle tension and enhanced sleep, feelings of mastery, control and self-efficacy are increased, concentration, self-image, reduction of anger, frustration and hostility, a time-out and distraction from the daily worries. Exercise releases positive thoughts and feelings and breaks the downward spiral. Endorphins that are produced from exercise create a euphoric mood. As you fitness level increases so does your psychological wellbeing. Exercise with a companion can get you out of isolation into more social contact. Start with at least three times a week for 20 mins. If you do not have the energy start with a gentle walk in the garden for five minutes every day.
• Routine and structured daily activity. Being more active and interested and putting yourself in different environments will help you to be less focused on your internal state.
• Sleep. It is also important to go to sleep and wake at the same time. If you have difficulty sleeping. Sit in a hot bath with Epsom salts for at least 20 mins. This will help to relax you.
• Breath work – If you have difficulty sleeping or wake up in the night with anxiety try this. Take your focus to the tip of your nose and follow your breath as it comes in and goes all the way to just below your navel, and then follow it back up. You can count the breaths to help you concentrate. One for inhalation, two for exhalation and so on and so forth up to ten. When you find that your mind has wandered off in thought bring your focus back to the tip of the nose and start counting the breaths. This is all you have to do.
• Enlist a good support network of friends, family, and professionals such as counsellors, psychotherapists, massage therapists, naturopaths, energy healers etc. There is not one person in this world who has not experienced some sort of sadness in their life and who can offer a bridge of connection and understanding that will support you on the way. Yes most of this journey is yours to take, but having a network of support will make the journey easier.
• Practise acceptance of what you are going through. With present awareness you will create the space for insight without letting it consume you. Presence breaks up the strength of the emotion and helps you to see more clearly.
• Practise this exercise to help you stay present. Say out loud. I am here, I am safe, I am ________ (your name). You can also use this when you have anxiety or feel afraid.
• Cultivate a routine spiritual practise such as meditation, ritual or time spent in spiritual communities. If you are not spiritual spend time in nature. Go to the beach and have a swim or go to where trees are. Nature has her own healing powers.
• Explore complimentary therapies such as naturopathy, Bach flower essence, acupuncture, massage, homeopathy, Johrei, Reiki etc.
• Engaging the “will”.
– Set small goals to work towards every day.
– Speak up making I statements.
– Invoke an archetype to draw strength from. Choose something or someone that symbolises a quality that you need. E.g. courage, peace, strength, love, happiness etc. Visualize them in front of you and start to breathe in the quality from it for a few minutes. Take it into every cell of your body. Now breathe in a colour that symbolises this quality and do the same. Now make a gesture with your arms of how this quality would look. Now say out loud a sound or a word for this quality. Do this as long as you need to. Get a large piece of paper and with crayons or paint, paint this quality. Do this exercise every day for at least two to three weeks.
• Create a vision board of your past achievements.
• Create a vision board of your dreams and goals.
• Food – Make sure that you are eating lots of whole foods and fresh vegetables and fruit. Drink plenty of water. Stay away from alcohol, drugs and foods that have preservatives.