I just finished a remarkable book entitled "The Upward Spiral," by Alex Korb. Alex is a Neuroscientist, Coach, Contributor to Psychology Today, and has studied the brain for over seventeen years.
This book discusses how to reverse the course of depression by using Neuroscience. It's written in a very practical and humorous way, and takes a relatively complex topic and makes it easy to understand.
Here are a few facts that you might find interesting:
1. "People often think depression is just being sad all the time, but it's far more than that. In fact, people with depression do not necessarily feel sad - they often feel numb, like an emptiness where emotion should be."
2. "Depression is a very stable state - your brain tends to think and act in ways that keep you depressed...your mood becomes like a marble sitting at the bottom of a bowl: whichever way you push it, it always rolls back down." (The irony of this is that all the things that could help like exercising, being social, or getting a good night's sleep -- all seem like too much of a struggle when you're depressed).
3. "Worrying and anxiety are distinct but related concepts...Worrying is mostly thought based, where anxiety has more to do with physical components like bodily sensations (such as an upset stomach) or associated actions (like avoiding a situation)...In Essence, worrying is thinking about a potential problem, and anxiety is feeling it."
Okay, so onto the good stuff...how to combat depression. Just as there is a downward spiral into depression, there is an upward spiral as well that requires relatively small steps to get the ball rolling.
The following is a list of eight scientifically proven ways to reverse the course of depression:
1. Exercise ("Exercise changes electrical activity in your brain to help you sleep better, which then reduces anxiety, improves mood, and gives you more energy to exercise");
2. Decision Making (ANY decision - even if it's wrong is better than no decision at all...seriously!) Making decisions actually gives you a "perceived" sense of control, which makes everything more manageable.
3. Sleep (Eight hours is ideal. Dr. Korb discusses the specifics of the circadian rhythm, the process of emptying brain "garbage," etc.);
4. Habit (This is a biggie. Did you know that it's easier to replace a bad habit with a good habit rather than going cold turkey?);
5. Biofeedback (Our brain controls our body - especially when it comes to emotions. Simple actions like changing your posture or breathing can have profound effects. He explains the importance of awareness, and learning to understand and control these biofeedback signals is a key factor in the upward spiral);
6. Gratitude (Probably the most simple of all the steps. While you're thinking about something you're grateful for -- your brain can't hold onto a negative thought, which can disengage your negative thought process and help you start the upward spiral);
7. Social Support (A lot of people suffering from depression tend to isolate themselves, while interacting socially would actually decrease their depression);
8. Professional Help (Last but not least, there are a myriad of benefits to seeking professional help. Psychotherapy provides social support, helps people deal with rather than to suppress their emotions, etc. In addition, BAT (Behavioral Activation Therapy), Mindfulness, medications in certain cases, etc. can also be useful tools in combating depression)
"The Upward Spiral" is a fascinating and fun read. We've all struggled with depression at one time or another. Wouldn't it be great to be able to identify your triggers, have access to the tools necessary to prevent you from hitting rock bottom, and begin the upward spiral towards living a happier and healthier life?
If you're interested in learning more about this topic, here's a link to Alex's incredible book, "The Upward Spiral."