Treating Depression Holistically

Posted by on April 6, 2009

Depression is an all too common experience for us, even though we are loathe to admit it. When the blues set in (darker mood, low energy, hopelessness, sleep irregularity, changes in appetite, impatience, angry outbursts, emotional numbness, wanting release from all the pain, etc.), we know we’ve “got it.” For those suffering with more severe episodes, medical intervention may be necessary. For most of us, muddling through with support from family and friends is our choice–or for those determined independent types, muddling through alone.

Continuous depression creates a kind of brain-freeze, a mental blindness to the whole picture of things. The “joy factor” of life eludes us and our perspective becomes increasingly narrow. Since we seem to be created with a high joy and love requisite, ongoing grief, sorrow and depression can feel like the weight of the world. Furthermore, the world we see “out there” seems bleak beyond measure, reflecting our own lack of hope.

Many have found simple, effective tools for coping with depression, or releasing it altogether, which I want to share with you. So whether you are an old warrior or newbie in the dance with depression, here are some natural supports to experiment with on your journey of better mental and emotional health. We will divide them up into what to do and what not to do in order to truly lift life-sapping, depressive patterning.

What NOT to do:

1. Do NOT stay behind closed doors and in darkened rooms. This feeds depression, which you don’t need more of.

2. Do NOT watch violent, angry, hopeless TV programs and movies. Minimize exposure to negative media of all kinds, including video games and music–and the nightly news.

3. Do NOT believe anyone who conveys to you that your situation or diagnosis is irreversible or hopeless. Perhaps they don’t see a way through but that is simply a perspective offered. It is NOT the ultimate truth of you.

4. Do NOT limit your amazing possibilities to heal by believing your symptoms are “only” chemical imbalances or “only” mental/emotional inadequacies on your part. Why not experiment with a gamut of interesting, positive options, some of which may be just the ticket for you?

5. Do NOT get into the guilt/blame/shame game with yourself because you feel depressed. Talk about draining your own energies–guilt will do it!

6. Do NOT continue to be in negative vibe situations, wherever they may occur.

Things you can DO:

1. Check out your thyroid function. Imbalances in the thyroid gland create havoc with mood.

2. Jumpstart the “Joy Factor.” Yes! Give yourself full permission to feel that elusive thing called joy again. What does it for you? Can you recall? How about looking at the blue sky, walking along the river, holding a pet or your favorite baby? Maybe the smell of roses or fresh-baked bread gives you that “Ah-h-h….” Milk it for all it’s worth. This can change your brain chemistry! Even if it’s hard to get started, do it.

3. The Attitude of Gratitude. This goes hand in hand with the Joy Factor. What are you grateful for? The roof over your head? The fresh air in the morning? That you are, in fact, loved, whether you feel it or not? How about those moments of peace, the money you have, or your pet who never forsakes you? Say it. “I am so grateful for_____.” Gratitude opens our hearts. As the heart opens, love begins to flow and love is a wonderful brain-chemical stimulant! Be grateful to yourself as well. What are some of your own qualities that you appreciate?

4. Light & Color Therapy. This is fun and easy. Let the sun shine on your face every day. Tilt your face upward and drink in that light! The pineal gland lies deep in the brain and it is sensitive to light. Some sources say that it is the pituitary gland most affected by light. For our purposes, the following information is what counts. When this gland gets its requirement of light, it puts out “mood upper” hormones like serotonin and melatonin, which keep us light-hearted and in lighter moods. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) do better when they give themselves full-spectrum light treatments through the winter months of less sunlight. If you work inside all day, simply make certain that you go outside in the sun at lunchtime or sit in a sunny window regularly.

Color therapy can be simple and effective. What are colors that you enjoy, that you like to wear or be around? If you could breathe in a color that would make your nervous system feel particularly calm and relaxed, what would it be? What about a color that would give you jest and pep? Have fun imagining that color flowing through your body every day. Wear colors that appeal to your senses in a healing way.

5. Nature. We have all had the experience of being uplifted by the fresh air and beauty of nature. We are awed by our Colorado snowcapped peaks in winter, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean at sunset, the marvel of spring wildflowers after the thaw. Through these we somehow sense our “place in the family of things.” (from the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver) On a simpler note, your patio garden or backyard flowerbed can gift you with the same sense of connection to the whole–a bigger grace than shopping lists and errands. Scientists tell us that the frequency of the natural world and of our bodies is the same. To return to our innate healthy vibration, we would do well to spend time in undisturbed natural settings. Our innate nature is, well, like nature–beautiful, harmonious, creative and alive.
6. Movement. Depression can leave us feeling immobilized, trapped, helpless, uncreative. To counter these feelings, we can begin to move. Move the body. Get things moving inside and out with your exercise of choice. If you enjoy going to the gym, great. Just remember to also get your feet on the Earth and breathe fresh air. Your body and mood will improve.

Years ago one of my clients told me she had discovered something about movement and mood. She learned that if you move your legs you move depression; if you move your arms, you move anger. Try it and let me know how it works for you.

7. Nutritional Therapy. The brain and the body need high nutrition for optimum functioning. Sugar, caffeine and refined carbs aren’t high nutrition and if that’s your diet, your brain is probably starving! Sugar, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can be real mood downers in the end. Even though we may use them for relaxation or to increase our energy, the overall effect can be major mood swings. Then we need more and the cycle goes on. So cut back or cease and see how you feel.

When possible choose locally grown, organic, fresh foods. The closer food is to its original form, the better. Nutritional supplements are necessary due to the depletion of our soils and the stress levels we are experiencing. At a basic level, a powerful daily vitamin/mineral is essential, with plenty of calcium and other minerals, plus B Complex. For more refinement of your diet and naturally re-balancing of your brain chemistry, you might want to consult a nutritionist or naturopath. Please refer to the resource people listed at the close of this article for some of my favorite experts.

Becoming a “waterholic” is a simple habit to add to your toolbox. Sometimes all our other cravings are simply the body’s cry for pure water. What feels like hunger may actually be dehydration trying to get your attention. More water, more hydration, more release of toxins. It’s a simple but powerful tool for health.

8. Environmental Factors. Our environment may be such that it negatively affects our sense of well-being and mood. Here are some things to check out:

(a) Electromagnetic/radar/microwave/fluorescent light influences. Our bodies are impacted by the radiation from computers, cell phones, cell towers and other electronics and technology. If you aren’t balancing all that computer time with time outside on the Earth and looking at distant vistas, your body/brain isn’t happy. It’s a good idea to minimize cell phone and iPod use. Putting all that radiation directly into your brain for hours isn’t smart. Fluorescent lighting is not full spectrum lighting and the imbalance can drain our energy. Remember the pineal/pituitary glands we mentioned earlier. You need the sun!

(b) Environmental chemicals and toxins. Are you using chemicals in your work, gardening, farming? These pesticides and herbicides are toxic and over time do affect your health. Also check out the toxic cleaners in your home.

(c) Stressful environments. Is your work and home environment such that it is relatively free of conflict and negative stress? Constant stress without replenishing ourselves can lead to a breakdown of our mental and physical health. Consider these factors as you gauge your environment’s impact on your mood.

9. Mental Disciplines. Our thinking habits water our moods and we grow what we water. Double check yourself. Have you adopted a victim mentality? Have you taken on negative patterns of thinking such as “life sucks” or “you can’t win for losing” or “the world is going down the tubes” or “I’m no good and never will be” or “It hurts too much”, etc.? Negative thinking spirals us into whirlpools of hopelessness. We must honor and learn from those deep feelings of sorrow. However, if complaining or despair has become a habit, then it’s important to re-evaluate.

Before we proceed further, it is important to acknowledge the effect of a world in flux on our psyches. Our sense of well-being is influenced by change, difficulty, and negativity on the interpersonal and planetary levels. We hurt when we see that others are hurting. We hurt when our planet hurts. Depression can be a signal that we are overloaded with undifferentiated pain. It may not all be our own personal “stuff”. We get to step up to another level of discernment and choice. We can pray for the world and its people; we can meditate on peace within and without; but we may need to step back and create some boundaries so that our mental environment supports a better sense of personal well-being.
If we are grieving, we can know that grief is time-limited and is a reminder that we have experienced the gift of love. We can honor those deep feelings of sorrow, loss, and even hopelessness.

Whether grieving or in a deep funk, we eventually can graciously begin shifting our thinking into what it is we truly want and begin to speak as if we have it, even if we don’t, even if we don’t really believe it. We do it anyway. We choose to believe it’s possible to feel better, to feel hope, love and incentive. We can learn to speak with joy about what lightens our hearts. We change our thinking to “It’s all working out”, “I’m learning from this.”

Gregg Braden (Walking Between the Worlds: The Science of Compassion, preface, p. v) speaks eloquently of our powerful mental capacities when he says, “Shifting your body chemistry by shifting your viewpoint is perhaps the single most powerful tool that you have available to you for the remainder of this lifetime……New data now supports the idea that human emotion determines the actual patterning of DNA within the body.” In other words, shifting your viewpoint from hopelessness to believing that–under it all–you and I and this amazing planet are worthy of giving and receiving compassion, is a great mood enhancer.

10. Meaning within Suffering. When we address the idea of meaning, we move into the spiritual aspect of ourselves. This part of us longs to be integrated into daily life and contribute inspiration and deeper understanding to our experiences. You don’t have to be religious to embrace this wise inner self–just be open.

Some of the wisest sages speak of the place of suffering in our development as human beings. Once we have experienced the dark night of the soul, we are permanently changed. We have a choice as to how we integrate that; we can be bitter and resentful, or we can realize we now understand others in similar circumstances. Compassion, grace and fortitude are attributes we discover within ourselves. Our minds and hearts are open to the suffering in the world and we can choose to do our part in relieving suffering. Often this is when we touch the bones of who we are, finding our soul, our true nature rising from the shattered remains of our ego and social persona. In this way, depression can bring us home to a more compassionate self.

Whether you wish to work on your body, your thinking, your environment or spirit, these guidelines can be a starting point in your holistic treatment of depression. All that we do counts. It all matters in the journey of self-healing.

RESOURCES:

Nutritional Support for Depression
1. R. Wayne Davis, Naturopathic Doctor, 1401 N. Elizabeth, Suite C, Pueblo CO 719-248-4873 bewellnaturally@hotmail.com
2. Katherine Duboue’, Licensed Certified Nutritionist, Muscle Testing
4218 Astrozon Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO 719-574-7066 kduboue@msn.com

Trauma/Anxiety Release
1. William Settle, LCSW, LMT, Emotional Release Therapy, 6 Pineridge Ct., Pueblo, CO 719-544-4109 wmjsettle@msn.com
2. John Harder, LCSW, Emotional Release Therapy, 720 N. Main, Suite 335, Pueblo. CO 719-583-1462
3. Jo Ann Wiedman, Peace-Restoring Energy Work, Pueblo, CO 719-647-1443 joawiedman @ yahoo.com