“If you are in a bad mood go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood go for another walk.” – Hippocrates
Depression is often referred to as “the common cold of mental health issues.” Instances of clinical depression are increasing at the rate of 20% per year and it has a ripple effect across all aspects of a person’s physical, as well as mental, well-being. It has been linked to obesity, heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, and just about any other problem that a human can have. It is often accompanied by anxiety, a mental health issue that one third of Americans report dealing with on a regular basis. Despite the advances in medical treatment in the 21st century, depression and anxiety are increasing at a faster rate than any time in human history. It is more prominent in developed nations than in Third World countries, with one third of the population of the Western world meeting the criteria for major depressive disorder at least once during their lifetime. Many do not seek treatment, despite the fact that 60 to 80% of cases of anxiety and depression can be effectively treated with brief and structured forms of psychotherapy and medication. Researchers are beginning to realize that it is even more preventable than it is curable.
Depression is often accompanied by feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, hopelessness, and a feeling of being powerless. It is a mind-body experience where an individual’s total sense of being and self perception are profoundly impacted. Mind and body work together to not only create the depressive symptoms, but work in tandem to keep an individual in the depressed condition for as long as possible. Once a person becomes overwhelmed by depression, it has to be worked through at a rate that varies from person to person. Many do not seek treatment and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 34. From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among American ages 35 to 64 increased nearly 30 percent. The largest increases were among men in their fifties, with rates rising nearly 50 percent, to 30 per 100,000. It appears that the more advanced our society becomes, the greater the instances of depression. Declining emotional wellness and depression related deaths are becoming the silent epidemic of 21st century life. Why? How is this possible that with all this knowledge, technology, and creature comforts?
The answer may well be it is because of all this technology and creature comfort. Mankind has lived a very different lifestyle since the latter part of the 20th century. Walking, for example, is no longer a method of transportation, it is a form of exercise. We have become anesthetized to events such as the beginning of life, death, terminal illness, and the procurement of food, as we have allowed other institutions and corporations to handle these difficult things for us. We don’t do a lot of our own chores anymore, in fact the activity of mowing your lawn one day a week is considered a big deal. We are less involved in the activities of life and are often spectators in activities that our ancestors had to do for themselves. We watch a genre of entertainment called “Reality TV,” in which we revel in the routine activities of other people. In short, we don’t move, we are less active, less involved, and have become spectators and observers of our own lives.
Your great grandparents were not immune to depression, in fact depression in their day was quite serious. Fewer people suffered from depression, but when they did it was far more debilitating and dangerous. The modern irony is that depression is more treatable and preventable than ever, yet a greater percentage of people are suffering from it at any time in human history. And, when depression hits, most look for a quick fix in the form of a medication from their primary care doctor, receiving temporary relief that is not a permanent solution.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”-Benjamin Franklin
So, what are some ways to prevent depression?
- MOVE! Modern man does not move anywhere near enough to enhanced physical or mental well-being. The modern solution to this is to drive in a vehicle to a gym, sit on machines or exercise bikes for less than 30 minutes of actual physical activity, and return home to a sedentary lifestyle.
- Use activity to prevent, cope with, and keep at bay symptoms of depression. When a person is depressed, the natural tendency is to become less active and withdraw into the internal world of thoughts rather than the external world of action. A person tells themselves stories, mostly negative, which soon take on a life of their own. These negative stories tell a person why they are feeling like they do, and the depressed feelings reaffirm a negative reality. For many, the negative reality created in their mind becomes their “truth,” shaping their view of the world and their very existence.
- Understand that human beings are evolutionarily programmed to be physical beings and that lack of movement and exercise in our daily lives are invitations for symptoms of depression. The more active the lifestyle, the less the tendency towards depression. An active lifestyle does not only mean formal exercise, but it can be things that you “have to do,” such as housework, laundry, mowing your lawn, working around your house or apartment, or preparing your own meals. These kinds of activities of daily living, when done yourself, create a sense of control, purpose, and efficacy that is hard to match with an exercise session with your personal trainer. By all means do that formal exercise, but don’t define your physicality merely by that.
- Have a eat, sleep, and movement, routines. Waking and sleeping at regular times gives your mind and body a sense of control and self-mastery, feelings that are inconsistent with the symptoms of depression.
- Have a movement practice that you engage in daily. It doesn’t have to be the same activity every day, but something needs to be done daily. Simple activities like walking your dog, stretching on the floor, making your bed, or cleaning the kitchen can be mindful and purposeful activities in the prevention of depression. Supplementing these simple things with formal movement practices such as yoga, martial arts, tai chi, or dance can keep you feeling more physically capable of movement. Depression hates a moving target and if you feel capable of motion you are a little ahead of the game.
- Become aware of your own, personal, depression patterns. We all have them, but we don’t always recognize them. Dwelling on thoughts that are depressing, negative people or situations, or even time of year or seasons, can trigger an episode of depression. Prevention, for all its hopefulness, cannot deter depression. It can make an episode of depression less debilitating and shorter in duration. I often remind my clients to “Get out of your head and into your body.” Movement can be grounding for those that are anxious and empowering to those who are slipping into depression.
- Don’t hesitate to seek professional help when needed. When needed, counseling should be your first choice, rather than seeing your primary care physician. Your PCP is going to talk to you for approximately 20 minutes-if you’re lucky-and is likely to prescribe a medication and nothing else. The medication will work in the short term, but depression will soon return as your lifestyle and coping skills have not improved. With serious depression the most effective treatment is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy supplemented with medication if necessary. I’ve written a number of QuickStart Guides on cognitive behavioral therapy that are available for instant download on Amazon.com:https://www.amazon.com/John-Sannicandro/e/B00LRJF0W6/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1474195380&sr=1-1 CBT can be both curative and preventive. It should be a life skill for anyone who hopes to prevent depression.
Remember the connection between inertia, negative thinking, and depression. We all have a tendency when depressed to be less physically active and more engrossed in our own thinking. We spend more time in our heads recollecting what we think happened, should have happened, and might happen. These kind of thinking patterns and personalization make depression our fault, often accompanied by feelings such as “I am a bad person,” or “my life is worthless and not living.” Deeply negative feelings are nurtured from the sense of powerlessness that inactivity creates. While the negative story may not entirely go away, it just may be something that you can learn to cope with.
Depression is much like the Buddhist tale of the Second Arrow. Life is the first arrow. We all will feel it’s sting from time to time. The first principle of Buddhism is that life is painful, and this pain is unavoidable, no one gets out alive. We are all going to suffer and feel bad from time to time. Depression is analogies to being struck by life’s second arrow. We feel bad about feeling bad, allowing ourselves to be struck by that second arrow of depression. While we may be struck by that second arrow, it need not be fatal.
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again.” – L.R. Knost
Remember to keep moving.
P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org