Catriona Rogers shares ways to cultivate the positive
We regularly check the weather forecast. But do we check our personal emotional forecast? Is it uplifting sunshine of happiness and joy, or the rainclouds of depression? If the latter, do not despair - the clouds never obscure the sun forever!
Depression is the flipside of happiness. It hurts. It robs you of joy. Happiness eludes you. Your mind is unquiet as you lie awake at night. You feel not good enough, a failure. It pulls you into a quicksand and you struggle to get out. You try to get rid of your feelings by suppressing them. You dredge up past regrets and conjure up future worries. You compare where you are to where you want to be. You get lost in your head, trying out solutions that do not work. You withdraw, losing touch with the world, the people around you and those who love you most.
Does this sound familiar?
We all have patches of 'the blues' and feel depressed. Loss is an unavoidable part of the human condition and it tends to trigger sadness and depression, especially when loved ones die, or we lose our job, or our health, or we cannot find meaning at that point in our lives. If you have symptoms for more than a couple of weeks and it is preventing you from functioning, you need to take action and do something about it.
One approach is to cultivate happiness and joy to counterbalance the depression.
Symptoms of depression often involve a lack of positive emotion, lack of engagement, and lack of felt meaning. These may also be the cause of depression. Therefore, a new way to treat, alleviate and prevent depression is offered by counterbalancing these lacks by building positive emotion, engagement and meaning.
- Building positive emotion involves having a lot of positive emotion about the present, past and future: satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, pride and serenity about the past and hope, optimism, faith, trust and confidence about the future.
- Engagement in life is a life that pursues engagement, involvement and absorption in work, intimate relations and leisure. One way to enhance engagement is to identify your highest talents and strengths and find practical ways to use these more.
- The pursuit of meaning is to serve something bigger than your self and by finding ways to transform the perceptions of your circumstances from unfortunate to fortunate.
These all build a strong buffer against depression
Freeing Your Mind
Another approach to alleviate depression is to see that maybe what is making you more depressed is your own mind - your reaction to your downward spiraling mood. Your efforts to extricate yourself, instead of freeing you, actually keep you locked in the pain you are trying to escape. It is the obsessing over the state of your life, the self criticism for your weakness when you slip into sadness, and desperate attempts to talk your heart and body out of feeling the way you do, that leads you further down. These are all traps of the mind in which you get caught.
One vital resource we often ignore (whether depressed or not) is the body. We live in our heads, get lost in thoughts, and pay little attention to the physical sensations from our bodies. Yet they are what give us feedback on our emotional and mental state, and how to free ourselves from the vicious cycle of depression.
The way to pay attention is to be mindful, to be aware of what is going on, without judgment. You slow down your thoughts and turn within. You focus on your heart, not your head! You find compassion for yourself. This is what helps prevent the unhappiness you feel from the spiral into depression. It does so by getting you back in touch with your inner and outer resources for learning, growing and healing. It helps you make a radical shift in your relationship to negative thoughts and feelings. It empowers you to make different choices. Practicing mindful meditation over time leads not only to changes in the way you feel but, as modern science through fMRI scans show us, it changes your brain and its patterns of activity that underlie negative emotions.
Both these approaches to depression emphasise how important it is to focus on and cultivate the positive, and to develop attitudes of patience, compassion for yourself, open-mindedness and gentle persistence. When you water these seeds you build resiliency to downturns and challenges. And, you have many more moments of genuine happiness. You create your own sunshine!
This article is the fourth in a series in which we explore happiness and positive psychotherapeutic interventions.
Catriona Rogers works with clients and their issues using strengths based approaches such as Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Psychology and Mindfulness practices (MBCT).
Williams, Mark, Teasdale, John Segal, Zindal and Kabat-Zinn, Jon The Mindful Way Through Depression
Seligman, Martin, Rashid, Tayyab and Parks, Acacia Positive Psychotherapy