Recovering from depression
Being in the middle of a depressive episode, whether it’s clinical depression or situational depression, is one of the loneliest, most painful things a person can experience. Depression manifests differently in each person. Some people I’ve worked with are very sad and cry often, others feel flat all the time and stop enjoying things that previously gave them pleasure, others find themselves irritable and short-tempered with family, friends and co-workers.
What can help?
When we feel depressed, it becomes difficult, sometimes impossible, to believe that we could ever feel better. Depression is actually one of my favorite things to help people with because acupuncture so often gives immediate relief. Why? One of the ways acupuncture works in the body is by releasing endorphins, both at the spine and in the brain. These feel good chemicals naturally lift a person’s mood, making it easier to re-engage with life. Acupuncture also helps calm the nervous system, which helps with anxious feelings and thoughts. The people I work with tell me that they feel less overwhelmed by life, that whatever they’re going through, while still hard, seems more manageable.
Acupuncture can also be a tool to help facilitate self-help work you do, either on your own or with a counselor, so that your depression gets better faster and is less likely to come back. In my own life, I’ve found the work of Dr. David Burns and TEAM-CBT (a particular type of cognitive behavioral therapy) to be effective and quick to show results. It also helps to permanently rewire the brain and make a person less prone to depression in the future. It’s been truly life-changing for me.
Let’s Reframe—Don’t skip this part
It might sound strange, but if you want to quickly stop feeling depressed, the very first thing you need to do is acknowledge all the ways your negative thoughts and feelings help you, as well as the awesome things they say about your value system. For example, feeling down and unhappy lets you know something isn’t right, it might show that you have high standards, or be appropriate if you’ve experienced loss, trauma or failure. Feeling worthless may show that you are humble and not arrogant, and that you have the integrity to admit when you’re falling short.
When I do a reframing exercise for myself, I try and think of at least four to six positive things my difficult thoughts and feelings do for me or the great things they show about me as a person, and then I write that down on a piece of paper.
Why is this part so important? Because most people want change, but resist it. Their unconscious mind believes that in letting go of the negative thoughts and feelings, they would lose the many ways those thoughts and feelings help. As an example, for a long time I had a tendency to hold onto grief. When I first did the reframing exercise, I realized that I had been unwilling to let go of my grief because it made me a more empathetic person, meant that I cared deeply about others, that I was aware of the fragility of life; in short, it made me a better a healer. I would never want to completely let go of that part of me.
Instead, I learned the “magic dial” technique. I imagine that I have a magic dial, and I tell my brain, “I am listening to you. I’m not going to completely stop feeling this grief, because I know its value. But, I’m going to dial this feeling down so that it can serve its purpose, but I can be happier. I will be a more effective healer, mother, wife and friend if I feel calm, relaxed and happy.”
Rewiring your brain
The brain is an incredible learning machine. When we learn something, a new pathway forms in our brain. I like to imagine that pathway as a barely visible trail in a forest. With repetition, that trail can become a dirt road, a paved street, a two lane highway, and eventually an Interstate.
Our ability to learn so effectively can sometimes work against us when we build up months or years of negative thought patterns. These thought patterns can distort our perception of reality, like moving through life wearing dark glasses. To learn more about how our thoughts shape our reality, check out this podcast from Dr. David Burns. The good news is, all you need to do to feel significantly better is take the glasses off. If that sounds too good to be true, please listen to this podcast from Dr. Burns on different techniques you can use to quickly and effectively address distorted thoughts.
Just as we can rewire our brain to learn a new skill, we can rewire our brain to make us less vulnerable to low moods, depression and irritability. The way to practice this skill is by filling out a daily mood log. Listen to this podcast for complete instructions on how to use a daily mood log. When I first started using mood logs, I would only fill one out when I wasn’t feeling well, and I would start to feel much better within ten minutes. After learning more about how our brains our wired and the importance of practice, I experimented by doing a mood log every day for a month. It had a huge impact on me, particularly doing the reframing exercise day after day.
While podcasts are great, I personally prefer reading. Dr. Burns latest books, Feeling Great, is an easy read, well-organized, and written in a workbook style. I’ve found it tremendously helpful, and have gone through the book multiple times.
We all need help
Sometimes we need extra help. Asking an expert for help is a great idea—another person’s presence keeps you accountable and their advice helps you make faster progress. Please contact me if you’d like a list of the therapists I refer to in the Fox Cities. I’m always looking to expand my network, so please let me know if you have a good resource as well.