How to Heal Depression

Part Three:
Healing the Mind

Sixty-five: Positive Distractions

The instant you find yourself in a negative pattern, do something--anything--positive to break the pattern. Take a deep breath, look out a window, smell a flower, eat an apple, drink some water, read a joke, sing a song, write a poem, say a prayer--the list is endless.

It's sometimes difficult to "work through" a negative pattern while it's going on. So, interrupt the pattern with a positive distraction.

Make a list of your favorite positive distractions and memorize five that you can do practically anywhere. The next time you find yourself "stuck" in a negative pattern, immediately turn to one of your positive distractions. If one isn't distracting enough, try another, and another, and another.

"The hardest thing you can do," wrote Allen Klein, "is smile when you are ill, in pain, or depressed. But this no-cost remedy is a necessary first step if you are to start on the road to recovery."


Is there anything men take more pains about than to render themselves unhappy?


Sixty-six: Straighten Up! Head Up! Take a Deep Breath!

The classic "depressed stance" is stooped over, head down, shoulders round. With such posture depressed people seem to be, as they say in clich, "carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders."

Changing this posture can change the depressive mood. Head up, shoulders back, deep breath--and you tend to feel better.

It's very hard to breathe deeply all slouched over, which can cut oxygen intake, which itself contributes to depression. Learn to breathe deeply, expanding your lower abdomen as you do.

Experiment with different postures, ways of sitting, ways of walking, and so on, and see if some make you feel better than others.

This is my "depressed stance." When you're depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you'll start to feel better. If you're going to get any joy out of being depressed, you've got to stand like this.


Sixty-seven: Get Things Done or Let Them Go

Life is too short to stuff a muchroom.


Most people are overcommitted. There are books they plan to read, videotapes they plan to watch, dinners they plan to have, friends they plan to visit, closets they plan to clean (or come out of), classes they want to take, and on and on. If they added nothing to these "plans" and lived to be 302, they still wouldn't get them all done.

This backlog of "I've-been-meaning-to," can be depressing.

This is especially true when the things we mean to do are important--charitable works, exercise programs for health, quality time with loved ones, religious or spiritual practices, political causes, social change, and the like. Here, not only do we miss the satisfaction and enjoyment of doing them, we also feel guilty for not having done them.

There are two ways to effectively deal with such past commitments: do them, or be done with them. Get them done, or let them go.

To break the cycle of depression, reprioritize and then move.

Get those things done. Accomplish them.

Or, declare to yourself that you are no longer going to do them--at least not at this time. (Be reasonable about this--if you owe someone money, for example, you can't just "declare" it paid.) It's not that what you want to do is no longer important to you; it's just that your resources are otherwise engaged. "I can't do this," is seldom true. "I'd like to do this, but my resources are otherwise engaged," more often is.

It's a good idea to make a list of all the things you said--either to yourself or to others--you were going to do. (The listing of the things you said to yourself will probably be considerably longer than the list of commitments you made to others.) Then check off the ones associated with essentials (food, shelter, healing your depression) and notice how much time you have left for all the rest. Start checking off, one by one, what you still have time and resources to do.

At some point, as happens to us all, you will run out of time and resources.

Then, cross off the rest. As you cross each item off, say, "Yes, I'd like to do this, but my resources are otherwise engaged. For now, I declare it done." (When communicating with others, it's probably a good idea to leave off the "I declare it done" part.)

In doing this, you'll probably notice an increase in energy, a clarity of mind, and a stronger desire to accomplish the things you really do plan on doing.

And (need we point out?) be very watchful in making future commitments--to others, and especially to yourself.

Before I was married I was courting my wife ten years. Then I went round to see her father. And I looked straight at him. He said, "Hello." I said, "Hello." He said, "What do you want?" I said, "I've been courting your daughter for ten years." He said, "So?" I said, "I want to marry her." He said, "I thought you wanted a pension."


Sixty-eight: Affirmations and Visualizations

When there is no vision, people perish.


An affirmation is a tool used to make something firm.

We take something as ephemeral as a thought and make it firm--that is, real. (Reading this book began as a thought in your mind--an affirmation--and you repeated that thought often enough that it has now become a reality: you are reading this book.)

To visualize is to see in your imagination the affirmation taking place.

Don't be misled by the word visual: many people don't "see" a picture in their imagination--for some it's more feeling; for others it's more hearing.

Remember what a triangle looks like? A red apple? The Statue of Liberty? That's what your visualization is like. The way we remember the past is the way we "see" the future.

We use affirmations and visualizations all the time. It's how we human beings create. Our thoughts--which include our imagination--create emotions, biological reactions, physical actions, and we use these to gather to us people and things. Almost everyone uses the process of affirmation and visualization--usually unconsciously--in both positive and negative ways. We are, of course, suggesting that you use them in more positive ways. When people refer to affirmations and visualizations, they almost always mean positive affirmations and visualizations.

Affirmations are simply statements of what you want to be, do, and have. They are best stated in the present, as though you were already being, doing, and having them. Affirmations, then, usually begin with, "I am...." For example: "I am joyful and happy," "I am loving my life," "I am contented and grateful in this moment."

This naturally leads to visualizations--imagining yourself in happy and joyful situations, loving various aspects of your life, being contented and grateful in this moment.

Make a list of positive affirmations. Say them over and over, anywhere you are. Write them on cards and place the cards around as reminders: on the dashboard of your car, the mirror where you dress, the ceiling above your bed. Visualize what your life would be like if these affirmations were true.

Keep affirming and keep visualizing, and they will be true. As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explained, "That which we give attention to grows stronger in our lives."

Visualize yourself as sound, healthy and filled with the vitality and boundless life of your Creator. Look upon yourself as the unique individual that you are. Get in harmony with the creative, life-giving, health-maintaining forces of the universe. Affirm peace, wholeness, and good health-- and they will be yours.


Sixty-nine: Light and Meditation

Sadness flies on the wings of the morning and out of the heart of darkness comes the light.


Light is a concept that has permeated religious, spiritual, philosophical, and even scientific beliefs throughout history, from ancient civilizations to advanced quantum physics.

You may consider light as the light of God, the light of the Holy Spirit, the light of nature, the light of the sun, the light within us all, or the electromagnetic waves of energy that physicists tell us make up the entire known universe, visible and invisible, including the book you're holding, the light reflecting off the page that allows you to read the book, your hands that are holding the book, your eyes that are perceiving the reflected-light images, and your brain that is making sense of the whole thing; these, or any other concept of light you may have, are fine with us. (So who says we don't know how to write long sentences?)

Let us simply define light as the invisible message of goodness from the Divine.

You can use the light to surround, fill, and heal yourself. You can send it anywhere you like--even forward or backwards in time. You can breathe deeply of the light.

Whenever you use or send the light, it's a good idea to ask for it to go "for the highest good of all concerned." Don't use the light as a form of control. Let it be used as an affirmation of the statement, "Thy will be done."

As depression is so often associated with darkness, asking those dark parts of your life--both inside and outside yourself--to be filled with light can be profoundly uplifting.

A good way of doing this is through meditation.

During meditation, we can ask that any dark, heavy aspects of our lives--past, present, or future--be filled with light. We can imagine the darkness dissolving and the heaviness lightening.

Sometimes in meditation, we just want to listen--listen to ourselves, or to whatever or whomever we consider to be a source of Divine inspiration. Sometimes it's fun just to sit and listen to the mind chattering on.

Meditation can be used to contemplate an idea, thought, or even a physical object that you consider meaningful, profound, or beautiful. When you hear something nice and tell yourself, "I'll have to think about that," meditation is a good time to think about it.

There are so many forms of meditation (including the Transcendental Meditation Technique, which Harold has used and recommends), taught in so many ways: books, tapes, classes. It's a rich world to explore.

Meditation is a time you can spend with yourself, as well as with your self.

I have discovered that all man's unhappiness derives from only one source-- not being able to sit quietly in a room.


Seventy: Lighten Up--Life Is Funnier Than We Thought

Laughter is an amazingly rapid healer of depression. So is humor. Humor doesn't necessarily make you laugh, but it does make you smile inside.

We're going to step aside for a moment and hear from the experts:

This I conceive to be the chemical function of humor: to change the character of our thought.
--Lin Yutang

Laughter lets me relax. It's the equivalent of taking a deep breath, letting it out, and saying, "This too will pass."
--Odette Pollar

Not a shred of evidence occurs in favor of the idea that life is serious.
--Brendan Gill

WARNING: Humor may be hazardous to your illness.
--Ellie Katz

Happiness is no laughing matter.
--Archbishop Whately of Dublin

I'm all for rational enjoyment, and so forth, but I think a fellow makes himself conspicuous when he throws soft-boiled eggs at the electric fan.
--P. G. Wodehouse

We are all here for a spell; get all the good laughs you can.
--Will Rogers

Rent funny movies, buy funny cassettes, read funny books, watch funny shows or simply observe the absurdity of life.

Doctor's orders!

Laughter, n. An interior convulsion, producing a distortion of the features and accompanied by inarticulate noises. It is infectious and, though intermittent, incurable.


Seventy-one: Music

If, as William Congreve observed in 1697, "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, To soften rocks, or to bend a knotted oak," surely, then, it also has the charms to soothe and soften a savage depression.

Music you find soothing can make an excellent addition to meditation, or it can be a meditation in itself. Whether it's the second movement of Beethoven's Third Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, or the first twelve hours of Mantovani's Four-hundred-and-sixty-seventh Concerto for Elevator and Supermarket, whatever music you find soothing, put it on, close your eyes, and drift away.

Of course, music does more than just soothe; it can stimulate or enhance almost any activity, emotion, or mood--from crying, to dancing, to mystical visions. Music--carefully selected--is a way to elicit suppressed feelings in need of expression and catharsis.

The idea is not just to have background music, but to spend time with it; focus on it; relax into it. "Music heard so deeply," wrote T.S. Eliot, "That it is not heard at all, but you are the music / While the music lasts."

Thanks to today's technology, the music can last and last.

We are a spectacular, splendid manifestation of life. We have language. We have affection. We have genes for usefulness, and usefulness is about as close to a "common goal" of nature as I can guess at. And finally, and perhaps best of all, we have music.


Seventy-two: The Opposite of Depression Is Expression

What playful, creative things do you do--or want to do? Paint? Write? Sew? Dance? Cook? Garden? Sing? Act? Compose? Play (an instrument, a game, a sport)?

Well, do it!

Don't worry about being good at it, or making a living at it, or even sharing it with anybody else. Just have fun with it. Let yourself play.

We forget about play, we adults--especially we depressed adults. It's a contributing factor to depression. Too often, even when we're having fun, we do it passively--watching a movie, watching TV, watching sports. This is fine, but we're suggesting you also do something that gets you actively involved.

As the ultimate expert on life, Ward Cleaver, once put it: "You're never too old to do goofy stuff."

When you're depressed, the whole body is depressed, and it translates to the cellular level. The first objective is to get your energy up, and you can do it through play. It's one of the most powerful ways of breaking up hopelessness and bringing energy into the situation.


Seventy-three: Gratitude

We have so much to be grateful for. Alas, depression robs us of gratitude. Or is it that we fall into the painful habit of ingratitude, and depression results? One of the nicest ways out of depression is to have frequent gratitude breaks.

Look around. Be grateful for what you perceive. Actually say to yourself, "I am grateful for the lamp. I am grateful for my hands. I am grateful for the couch...." Let yourself feel a little gratitude before moving on to the next object. Don't forget to be grateful if you can see, hear, touch, taste, smell.

"Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can hear the music, the thunder of the wings," wrote Robinson Jeffers. "Love the wild swan."

Run out of things to be grateful for? Okay, try this: breathe out all your air. Hold it. Soon you'll be very grateful for your breath.

Share your gratitude with others: "That was beautiful," "You look lovely," "I appreciate what you did." There is no need for gushing sentimentality or false flattery. Simply express appreciation freely and appropriately.

In any moment, there's something to be grateful for. That we don't spontaneously focus on the good is merely a bad habit. Learn a new habit, a better habit: focus on the positive. More and more, you will have that great, full feeling.

You can't be depressed and grateful at the same time.


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Copyright © 1994-1996 Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D. 
& Peter McWilliams