Are you depressed?

There is a crucial difference between a low mood and true and debilitating depression that needs to be understood, both for treating depression effectively, and for harnessing the benefits of temporary dark clouds, says Homaira Kabir

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On World Health Day, understand that mental health is as important as physical health…

Periods of sadness are a natural part of life. The very fact that they exist means that they serve an adaptive purpose. Recent research points to the benefits of sadness and disappointment in helping us change our perspective on life, learn from experiences and embrace a deeper understanding of our place in the larger universe.

Depression, on the other hand, is an illness that needs to be treated, certainly with therapy, and sometimes with medication as well. We’re still unsure about what causes depression, and although it seems that the neurochemical serotonin plays some small, albeit not well understood role, depression is more than a chemical imbalance.

In fact, it is a psychological illness that needs the skills and guidance of a therapist or psychologist to help us build the inner resources to overcome it. At its core, depression is a set of beliefs that sees ourselves as unworthy, other people as better than us, and the world as a despairing place. And years of silent reconfirmation of these beliefs has strengthened the neural pathways that now run with little effort. It takes professional expertise to help us weaken these pathways and replace them with more empowering ones.

Here then are a few things you need to do if you’ve lost your energy for life and feel burdened under a deep heaviness that refuses to go away:

Know the Facts

Mental illness is the result of improper or inadequate neural wiring that affects our thoughts and perceptions. Unlike olden days when lack of brain studies led people to concoct all sorts of imagined reasons for mental illness, today we know that there are actual neurological reasons we feel the way we do.

Seek Help

In our day and age, there is no reason we need to hide behind our symptoms. There are evidence-based treatments available to help us out of our misery. We owe it to ourselves to seek help, not only to reclaim our own experience of life, but to honour the wellbeing of all those around us. Research shows that the brains of children of depressive mothers fail to grow fully and lack the neural fibers that allow them to regulate their own emotions and grow through hard times.

Build Inner Resources

Of all the strengths within us, gratitude is one that has the greatest impact on our mood. Keeping a Gratitude Journal, or writing about 3 Good Things that happened that day are excellent ways to take our attention away from the doom and gloom mindset that characterises depression.

Monitor Mood

When depressed, we often forget how good certain activities make us feel. Keeping a mood diary helps us track what we do and how it impacts our happiness levels. We can then purposefully build in more of the ‘happy moments’ back into our lives. This allows our behaviors to impact our feelings, rather than waiting for it to happen the other way around.

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Resist Rumination

As women, our biological wiring makes us prone to ruminating about negative events. Add to that the fact that society constantly compares us to unrealistic idealism, and no wonder we fall prey to feelings of low self-worth and depression. Holding a mental stop sign every time our mind wanders towards rumination or comparison is an effective strategy to maintain mental health and sanity.

Value your Worth

Since the psychological constructs of depression lie in low self-worth, appreciating who we are, the values we stand for and the strengths and passions that define us is critical to building an identity that is not contingent upon external demands. Doing so minimises the self-ideal gap where resentment, disappointment and depression grow untamed.

Connect with Compassion

Connecting with others is nature’s best-kept secret to fighting depression. Although the action tendency of depression urges us to close down and isolate ourselves, it is the company of close relationships that soothes us, calms our fears and opens our outlook on life from an ‘ego-system’ of depression to an ‘eco-system’ of connection.

Find Meaning

Depression has often been written about as a soul-sickness. This is because the deep inner hollow that engulfs us is a persistent reminder of the futility of our daily pursuits. Instead of mulling in this inner emptiness – which seems strangely self-soothing – it is crucial to seek the support that can help us connect to who we really are, reflect upon the meaning of life and find our ground again.

Life is about growth, and growth happens through our toughest moments. It takes internal and external resources to help us brave our way through deep and dark waters and surface back up again, a little stronger, a little wiser. As existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir once stated: “Life is occupied in both perpetuating itself and surpassing itself; if all it does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying.”