| Family Reflections |


We have what it takes to lift our mood



epression lowers one’s motivation levels, darkens one’s memory and vision, and saps one’s energy.

“What’s the point? No matter what I do, things don’t work out. My marriage, my kids, my business — nothing’s working. Talking to a therapist isn’t going to fix that, and I don’t believe that taking some pill is going to make things all rosy. So no, I don’t want any help, thanks.”

In cases of mild depression — and particularly in mild, chronic depression — a person might just get used to the way they feel. “I can’t be bothered. It’s good that I work at home because I don’t have to get dressed, put on makeup, and all that stuff. I’m not in the mood for ‘putting on a happy face.’ My energy is really low. Honestly, I have no enthusiasm for anything.”

While everyone has occasional low moods, depression is an illness that affects the entire body and mind. Symptoms vary in type and intensity, yielding different diagnostic varieties of the illness. Physical aches and pains, lethargy, loss of appetite, excessive appetite, inability to sleep, excessive sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness, despair, low self-worth or guilt, agitation, and other changes in mood and physical functioning, occur in groups of five or more when forming part of a diagnosis.

If and when a formal diagnosis of a depressive disorder occurs, it’s only the beginning of a journey. And when a person is trying to prevent falling into an actual disorder or when dealing with a low mood, they take a very similar journey.

Owning Depression

A depressed state of mind can become a way of life. Dysthymia (now called Persistent Depressive Disorder), for example, must last a minimum of two years in order to be diagnosed, and often lasts a lifetime. Depression isn’t something we want to “have.”

The good news is that we needn’t think of depressive states this way. We can think of them in much more active terms. After all, the truth is closer to “I’m doing depression right now” than to “I have depression.” Here’s why:

Thinking depressing or sad thoughts produces the chemistry of depression and promotes the activity of the “rest and recover” system (the dorsal vagal autonomic nervous system).

Failing to take action to prevent a difficult situation (by sleeping, resting, isolating, immobilizing, distancing, and withdrawing) does the same.

All of these activities produce the chemical imbalance we call “depression.” But because they’re activities, we can change them and do something else instead, something that would produce better chemistry, leading to a better mood and higher energy levels. For example, we can do any of the following:

Focus on positive memories, gratitude, things to look forward to, or the mindful experience of the present moment — all of which release “uppers” (chemistry that lands us firmly in the happy, calm, creative, and alert ventral vagal autonomic system).

Release sad feelings with the help of a mental health professional or self-help tools to lift our heavy internal burden.

Undertake regular aerobic exercise such as fast walking, jogging, swimming, sport activities, and so on in order to generate positive chemistry that boosts energy and mood.

Be with people (by shopping in a mall or by having coffee with a friend or by attending a class, and so on).

Engage in a pleasurable activity (do a craft, play music, learn something new).

All of these activities stimulate the brain centers that elevate mood.

If doing these things hasn’t helped, see a doctor or another professional healer to consider medical and alternative approaches that can give chemistry a head start.

There are more things a person can do to improve their state of mind — these are just some quick start ideas. The main point is not to sit around waiting for depression to lift on its own. First, it doesn’t always do so. Second, even when it does, it can take an unnecessarily long time. Third, in order to maintain a state of well-being, these lifestyle changes must be made anyway, so why not make them up front, so they can shorten the duration and intensity of a depressive state?

When depression makes it seem like it’s too much trouble to do these things or when it tells you nothing is going to help, it’s lying. For your sake and the sake of your family, do every bit of it. We have what it takes to lift our mood.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 837)

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