Depressed? Get a Grip!
(Please note: The essay is not intended to offer medical advice. I am not a psychiatrist, scientist/neurologist, psychologist or brain researcher. This essay is simply my own philosophical view, based on personal experience, observation and much reading on the subject .)
Over the past twenty years or so, there has been an alarming upsurge in the use of prescription anti-depressants. While these drugs can be a godsend for people with deep and debilitating mood disorders, they are not without risks and side effects. There are many studies and articles pointing to the dangers of long-term use. In the opinion of many scientists and doctors, they should be reserved for only the most dire cases, or for short-term use.
Our brains are awash in a complex sea of neurotransmitters which regulate mood, emotions and behavior. When the balance is off -- when they are absent or overabundant -- we may experience thoughts, emotions and behavior over which (it seems) we have no control.
In our society, we have become accustomed to the Quick Fix. Instead of developing natural and "philosophical" ways to deal with sadness, fear, stress and other unwelcome feelings, too many people take the short cut: they go to their doctor and ask for a pill. Psychiatrists are all too happy to comply. They are no longer in the business of helping patients work through their issues. They have become pill-pushers; second-tier dealers who work for their Big Pharma suppliers.
How much quicker and more expedient it is to give/take a pill than to learn/teach better ways of coping with these issues?
While it may be true that the chemical soup in our brain affects our moods, emotions, thoughts and behavior, it is also true that our moods, emotions, thoughts and behavior affect the chemical soup in our brains. Good habits, self-discipline and positive thinking, for example, are known to cause positive changes in the brain. Regular exercise, physical affection, having close friends, getting enough sleep, being grateful, eating the right foods, even owning a pet, all increase levels of serotonin in the brain.
It has also been my observation and my own experience, that in all but the most serious cases (which indeed may be chemical, biological and/or genetic in origin), people become depressed when they feel a loss of control over their lives (or at least over certain aspects of their lives.) One may feel rudderless due to a situation that is truly out of his or her control (i.e. death of a loved one; loss of a job) or it may be the result of one's inability to overcome real or imagined obstacles or deal with the inevitable stresses of life in a constructive way.
Unfortunately, none of us is ever the absolute master of his or her own destiny. No human is totally immune from every natural disaster, financial worry, health problem, disappointment, and/or personal tragedy. As the saying goes, "Shit happens."
The challenge is, how do we keep ourselves from spiraling down into depression when life throws us a curveball.which it inevitably will?
The key to good mental health is building strong "emotional muscle." This enables us to stand up, time and again, when life beats us down. It gives us the perspective to take a more philosophical view of our life instead of allowing the little things to eat away at our soul. It shows us how to productively process the life lessons which are inherent in all disappointment, pain and rejection, and use them to make us even stronger.
Building and stretching emotional muscle is like working any muscle in the body: it takes time and effort. The more you do it, the stronger and more flexible you get. And, like practicing perfection in anything, the more you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes.
Happiness is a state of mind, to which you can train yourself. This is not to say you will never feel sad or stressed, never experience pain or disappointment, but instead of being overwhelmed by the feelings, you will be able to experience and learn from them and let them go; confident that tomorrow will be better.