Depression is a state of mind: A powerfully negative mood that interferes with your daily life. Depression is more than sadness. When you are depressed, you are sad, despondent, disinterested, lethargic. You feel hopeless or helpless. You may cry all the time or feel as if you absolutely cannot get out of bed in the morning. Depression affects your body as well as your mind. In a severe depression, you may feel as if nothing is pleasant and no one is loveable, least of all you. You may eat less or you may eat more, but less often. You may feel at night as if you are starting to snap out of it, only to awaken in the morning feeling worse. This state may have been brought on by an adversity in your life or it may seem to have settled in on its own, due to a change of seasons or a change of lifestyle or for no apparent reason at all.
Depression versus Sadness
All of us are sad at times, and most people are depressed at one time or another. The difference is that sadness is a normal response to a loss or non-preferable change of circumstance, while depression is an extreme response that makes it difficult for you to move beyond the difficulty with which you are confronted. For most people, depression lifts eventually. But sometimes it does not lift soon enough, and you need help to overcome it. There is research that helps to point you in the direction of effective help.
Disease or Dis-ease?
There are those who would call depression a disease. A mood is a mood, not a disease. There are more useful and comfortable and less useful and comfortable moods, but neither a terribly bad one nor a terribly good one is a disease, though it is certainly a serious problem to be dealt with. In fact, depression can be a life-threatening problem if the despondency leads one to feel suicidal. However serious it is, it is still a state of mind and body that can be altered with some hard work on your part, some new learning, and possibly sose professional help.
Modern sources from physicians to television ads tend to tell you that this disease of depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. There are a few things wrong with that statement. The first is that this implies that if your chemistry is out of balance, you must have a disease and that if this is the case, there is a pill to cure it and if that is the case, you must take the pill, as nothing else will do. There are several misleading aspects to this sequence. First, as a biological machine, you go into and out of balance of various sorts of chemicals all the time. Your body works to restore and maintain its equilibrium all day long. For example, when your body is short of fluids, a chemical signal heads to the brain to advise you that there is an imbalance, causing another signal to make you aware of feeling thirsty—but this is only after the imbalance has started the chain of chemical messengers into motion. This is a natural process that occurs frequently and is built in to your body’s natural mechanisms for establishing and maintaining balance. Thus, every imbalance is not a disease, though it is a need that should impel some action to correct it.
Neurotransmitters and Mood
Unlike thirst and fluid balance, depression is not a very clear-cut biological process. First, when it comes to your mood, there is no one chemical responsible. Regardless of what you see on television ads, there is no single neurotransmitter system in charge of whether you are depressed or euphoric. Second, even if there were only one, there is no evidence that it can be simply restored by the addition of a pill, as what a pill contains and how the mindbody system utilizes it are only loosely related. Third, all pills have many effects, not all of which are desireable--we call those side effects, and they come with the territory. Fourth, even if there were only one neurotransmitter system implicated in clinical depression, there are other ways to restore the equilibrium than pills. Research indicates that both psychotherapy and regular exercise are quite effective at lifting mood, in fact, with more long-lasting results than medications and better resistance to relapse! 1,2,3
Seasonal Mood Changes
Depression, from a biological standpoint, is a low energy state. The organism moves little, does little, and generally consumes little. It is much akin to an animal in hibernation—all the systems slow down, and responses are sluggish. Animals hibernate when it is not safe outside and the same can be said of humans becomign depressed--it feels unsafe to venture uot, so your system shuts itself down. SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a logical extrapolation of a pretty normal seasonal energy change—in times gone by there was less to do in winter; less light, less food, and less heat, so economizing on energy expenditure was sensible. In modern times, we have light and food and heat, so we technically could expend the same amount of energy in winter as in summer, but indeed, some folks’ systems do not see it that way and begin to hibernate, storing food, moving little, and doing little. It has long been known that exposure to full spectrum light in winter helps counteract SAD. So does increasing your activity levels and eating fresh foods. So does psychotherapy geared at changing the thought pattern that affirms that it indeed is too hard to activate your system in the cold, dark winter months. Thus, while SAD is essentially an extreme expression of a normal state of being, there are many ways to alter the negative mood and stuck feeling that results.
Rational Emotive Therapy for Depression
In other types of depression that are not seasonal, a variety of causes from having endured a personal tragedy or series of tragedies, to an abnormal hormonal reaction to childbirth, to brain damage caused by stroke can be responsible. The great news is that regardless of the cause of your depression, psychotherapy is a very effective method of overcoming it. In particular, the cognitive therapies that teach you to pinpoint your depressive thoughts and replace them with accurate thoughts are highly effective tools for altering a debilitating mood, regardless of cause.
Relapse-Proofing Your Euphoric Mood
However it begins, depression is kept in place with negative thinking. Depression can almost always be successfully alleviated by a single method or a combination of methods, notably some form of cognitive therapy and some imagery or relaxation work and an increase in activity levels. The various schools of cognitive therapy depend upon specific techniques directed at changing your inaccurate thoughts to create a lasting change in mood. Since, regardless of the cause of the depressed mood, it is always sustained and worsened by negative and unrealistic thoughts, a vital key to achieving a positive mood, or euphoria, lies in changing the thinking. The errors or distortions are identified, disputed rationally, and replaced with accurate assessments of your life situation. Not only does this technique affect mood enhancement, but it also helps you to become relapse-proof, having learned new ways of thinking and new coping skills that can provide lifelong protection against relapse. Unlike cognitive therapy, which has been shown repeatedly to have long-term effects at altering depressed mood, there is significant evidence that much of the relief obtained from antidepressant medications is due to placebo effect and the natural healing that takes place over time.4,5 Treatment enhancement is often obtained by teaching relaxation techniques or the use of clinical hypnosis or therapeutic imagery, with the goal of quieting the nervous system and healing past inner wounds.
Exprienced Professional Help
Dr. Carol B. Low, the psychologist at the Center for Conscious Living, has been trained in Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy, as well as clinical hypnosis, which form an effective combination of methods to rapidly alleviate even severe depressive symptoms, counteract biological factors that intervene in mood stability, and help you to learn how to avoid depression in the future. You can elevate your mood, discover and develop your inner strengths, build new coping skills, alter stuck thought patterns, and enhance your feelings of self-acceptance, self-efficacy, and self-confidence.
1) Butler, A. C., & Beck, J. S. (2000). Cognitive therapy outcomes: A review of meta-analyses. Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association, 37, 1-9.
2) Springen, K, (2004) The Serenity Workout: Regular exercise can strengthen the mind as well as the muscles, and studies show it improves mood, too. Newsweek, 9/27/04.
3) Blumenthal et al. (1999), "Effects of Exercise Training on Older Patients With Major Depression." Archives of Internal Medicine 159, 2349-56.)
4) Kirsch & Low, (2013)
Suggestion in the Treatment of Depression, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 55, 2221-229.
5) Kirsch & Sapirstein, (1998) Listening to Prozac but Hearing Placebo: A Meta-Analysis of Antidepressant Medication, Prevention & Treatment, 1998.
Breggin, Peter (2001) The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Luvox
Edelstein, Michael R. & Steele, David R. (1997) Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life
Ellis, Albert (2006) How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything: Yes, Anything
Hauck, Paul A.(1973) Overcoming Depression