Category Archives: Overcoming Depression

Depression in the Workplace

UnknownAlthough we’ve come a long way with brain science and we can now see the difference in a brain scan between a depressed person and a not depressed person, we have a long way to go. How does depression really manifest in different people? What does the depressed person act like? Why do we so often miss the signs in others and lose so many to suicide? I ponder these questions each time I realize that although I know myself, I know I suffer from seasonal depression, I know it’s winter and the light is low in my part of the world, I miss the fact that I’m depressed. If I miss it in myself, how likely is it that you’ll be looking for it in others? Until I find myself repeating the phrase “I hate my life” with my head in my hands, I often am clueless.  Why doesn’t it occur to me sooner? Why am I so surprised? But this is classic depression. The brain is still functioning but my heart has sunk a little deeper into my chest and the shades are drawn. It’s little wonder that the image above shows so much darkness in the depressed brain.

Apparently, emotions and logic are located on opposite sides of the brain which explains irrational behavior – emotions have taken over. As the human brain developed, survival depended on switching off one side of the brain (think emergency) in order for the other half of the brain to lead.

“So when we become caught up in our emotions, we actually become very stupid. We have lost the ability to step back and look at all the options and every thing is seen in black or white terms. Either everything is alright or everything is all wrong! This is a clear explanation for depression, which is a huge emotion. It also explains anxiety and panic attacks where the fight or flight system becomes permanently switched on. It also explains obsessions and compulsions like self harm, where the arousal and expectation produce adrenaline and other emotion-related hormones and chemicals, which feel as though they can only be dissipated by performing the ritual.” Frances Masters, BACP accredited psychotherapist 

So often, we humans have 20/20 vision when it comes to those around us yet we can’t ‘see the forest for the trees’ in our own life. You probably recognize when those around you are out of sorts, difficult to be around, but does it occur to you that they may be generally depressed? Instead of writing this off as a difficult co-worker, an over-stressed parent, or an impossible boss, a quiet lunch where compassionate concern is expressed may be all that’s needed to help them recognize that they need help.

So what are symptoms of depression?

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. …
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. …
  • Appetite or weight changes. …
  • Sleep changes. …
  • Anger or irritability. …
  • Loss of energy. …
  • Self-loathing. …
  • Reckless behavior

More importantly, for the purpose of this article, what does depression look like at work?

  • Uncooperative…
  • Unmotivated…
  • Bad attitude…
  • Low productivity..

…just to name a few. I want to suggest that everything you read about toxic co-workers is probably also what depression looks like at work. Untreated depression in an empowered person is hell – many of us know that scenario SOO well! But I want to suggest here that you can be some help. Just a concerned acknowledgement may be all that’s necessary to help an adult recognize the demon and take steps to get back to a better place. And since I am not an advocate of pharmaceuticals myself and have relied for years on safer alternatives, there are tools for everyone in this scenario. But recognition is the first step and all of us can be active participants!

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When Form and Function Merge

thW20GIA1ZEveryday we are faced with choices. What to eat, what to purchase, how to move between activities. We consciously or unconsciously decide how the world views us and where to put our energy. Seeing these decisions as opportunities to not only satisfy function but to feed you aesthetically can make the difference between a life filled with stuff and a lifestyle designed to support what you want.  A lifestyle filled with beauty is yours for the taking. It’s simply a perspective change.

Whether we realize it or not, most of us like to surround ourselves with not only physical elements that support our work and lifestyle but that make us feel good at the same time.  A blanket keeps us warm but we may have the good fortune to choose not only a warm blanket but one that is beautiful as well. A piece of music can fill the air but a beautiful piece of music supports us emotionally as well. There are a million pants in the world – which ones have you chosen that tell the world who you are?

Perhaps you’ve never thought of yourself as a terribly creative person. Maybe you’ve talked yourself into the mindset that none of this matters. But this is like saying your life lived in a grey box would be the same as one filled with sunsets and a pet. Take an inventory. You, equipped with an education and the prosperity to own a computer, can change any aspect of who you are and what the world thinks of you. All the obstacles are simply in your mind.

The choice is always ours – you are leading the life you want whether you realize it or not. Your form is dictated by how you choose to function.

Not Fitting In

imagesSome of my earliest memories include wanting to ‘be like everyone else’. Like all children, I wanted to belong. Short of that, I simply wanted to be – be comfortable with who I was, be like the popular kids, and feel good about the way I looked. Even then, I wanted to be at peace. It seemed I was desperate to fit in. If only my clothes were cool, my parents were hip, my brothers were handsome, and our car wasn’t a station wagon. As I grew older, conforming to society’s standards just didn’t seem to be in the cards for me even though I continued to try.  Try as I might, I couldn’t believe everything I heard or keep up with the current fads. I couldn’t sit through hours of mass on Sunday when all they talked about was ‘him’. It wasn’t happening. I was the square peg and I wasn’t fitting into any round holes.

Ironically, our society pays lip service to being unique. Industry urges creative problem solvers to apply immediately.  Institutions of higher learning agree that they’re looking for ‘tomorrow’s leaders’. Fashionistas maintain they want to look original. Every focus group I’ve ever participated in encouraged fresh ideas. But where is all this outside the box thinking?  We say we want creative ideas but do we? Education simply recycles the same model used for years. Politicians are ousted and ridiculed for suggesting new approaches. In so many ways, we all want to hide behind ‘normal’ in order to not stick out and not draw attention to ourselves. It can be heart-breaking to feel alone. After all, it’s no guarantee that we’ll be a beautiful swan someday.

For many with social anxiety, I realize this is a painful and not just uncomfortable issue. We tend to over exaggerate how comfortable anyone is in social situations, especially amongst strangers. And we over analyze why we don’t fit in and how much others notice our discomfort. But I finally came to the conclusion, for myself anyway, that I was overthinking ‘what others thought’. images-1I’ve seen a few cartoons that remind me that most of the time, what I think is going on isn’t. Don’t believe everything your mind thinks is one of my favorite bumper stickers. Cliques and social groups will be everywhere, all your life. That high-school mentality is not one you want to allow yourself to get sucked into and whether you share the same interests or not, it’s OK to be unique. But if practice is something you think would improve your social skills, there are plenty of lonely people in the world – the sick, the disenfranchised, the homeless. I know every one of them would hang on your every word! So getting outside yourself might be a good start. In spite of the heartache this has undoubtably caused you, reaching out to others is never a bad idea!

For me, once I had children and had others to think of more than myself, I didn’t have time to dissect social situations or care too much about those that seemed to have everything. I can’t speak for those that do fit in. I know so few of them although my health club seems filled with them and my neighborhood suggests that their lives are a lot more beautiful than mine. I can only surmise however that their lives aren’t as simple as it sounds on paper. I worked for a woman who was perfect in all those ways – beautiful, wealthy, well-connected, smart, and popular in all social situations. She was also a neurotic, obsessive compulsive with passive aggressive tendencies who thought everyone was after her money. Those years taught me that we all create our own beautiful lives – or not. The grass only appears greener from the other side.

Now I am finally learning to embrace my distinctive qualities and hopefully have the courage to not only think outside the box but feel good about it as well. Now, as an older person, I realize I am hardly alone  AND that I don’t want to follow what society dictates as ‘normal’, hip, cool, and trend making. I know now that I never really wanted that anyway. I worried needlessly and pitied myself because what I thought I wanted. It was a waste of time, really.

 

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Good News and Depression

Admittedly, I am a brain nerd. Me and many other far more brilliant stars out there. And I am always thrilled to report there is more good news for those of us who struggle with depression. The brain has been studied so intensely that some of the mysteries about this organ are being revealed for the common man to understand. Best of all, there are ways to change the ways the brain functions without the use of pills, electrical stimulation, or other scary sounding tools.

I’m pretty impressed with Henry Emmons’ 2006 book, The Chemistry of Joy, where he outlines a three-step program for overcoming depression with the best of both Eastern and Western wisdom. And more recently, I read Laurel Mellin’s Wired for Joy – A Revolutionary Method for Creating Happiness from Within. In laymen’s terms, both of these books give hope to those who suffer from depression, whatever it’s underlying causes are. And since I am a big fan of Byron Katie, I will mention her first book, Loving What Is as yet one more excellent example of how humans have learned that we can change our life by changing our behavior.

Wired for Joy encourages us to use EBT- emotional brain training – which helps redirect the emotional brain from states of anxiety and depression to states of joy. This process is enabled by the brain’s neuroplasticity, meaning the brain has the ability to change it’s patterns, and uses the thinking portion of the brain (neocortex) to influence the emotional part of the brain (limbic). Balancing the emotional brain brings stability to our moods, relationships, health, and behavior.

In simplified terms, EBT and its broad network of online professional support help the average person like you and I to identify an emotion, apply some consciousness to what’s happening to you, and correct your thinking which alleviates stress. And the more you are able to consciously use these tools, the more the brain changes the patterns developed that don’t serve you, or your depression and anxiety, well.

“In EBT, you stop giving your power to the problems, and instead focus on how many moments of joy you experienced that day. How many times did you switch your brain to joy to break those errant wires that are messing with your life? And when you change your focus, those wires that ramp up problems change. You are weakening them. You ar breaking them. One by one most stress symptoms fade. Medications, devices, and procedures? You begin to need fewer of them. You stop thinking of yourself in terms of problems. Instead, you think about the abundance of joy in your life.”

IMG_2005Byron Katie’s work has been copied numerous times so you may have come across these tools if you frequent consciousness raising websites. I’m sure she considers this a supreme compliment and would encourage the dissemination of her work in whatever form you can find it, but in all fairness, she is the brilliant one. In this approach, which she calls ‘the work’,  she provides 4 simple questions you apply to your theories of why you are unhappy. Next, you turn it around.

Take a simple example of your own such as: “My husband should pay more attention to me.” Ask yourself the following and consider all your answers from the heart, not the logical mind:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you think that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

Now turn your question around so it becomes a series of statements such as “I should pay more attention to my husband”,  and/or “I should pay more attention to myself”. Here, you are trying to work through the brain’s resistance to change and find new neural pathways, fueled by the heart, to consider.  By considering these new questions, enlightenment often appears.

“When you can honestly look forward to experiences that have been uncomfortable, there is no longer anything to fear in life – you see everything as a gift that can bring you self-realization.”

In The Chemistry of Joy, Emmons discusses the necessity of feeding your brain nothing short of the very best foods which are widely available in the United States as well as many other places in the world. He discusses Ayurvedic medicine and correlates western ‘labels’ with eastern doshas. Finally, he interjects a third viewpoint, your Buddhist emotional type to further enable you to understand your own personal tendencies and work with them to alleviate stress.

So here we are again…hhmmmm… right back to mindfulness. All three of these wonderful approaches (something for everyone) implore us to become more conscious and aware in order to change the habituated patterns which then create stress and unhappiness and ultimately, depression. It may be my journey but everywhere I turn, the answer seems to be mindfulness. I don’t even realize it myself until I get to the end of yet another piece and realize – “O wow! The solution is always the same”!! It does make me wonder why mindfulness isn’t in the curriculum of every elementary school in this country.

So none of these tools are complicated to use and EBT is also available in online support groups. I always find that change is so much easier when you aren’t alone. I know it isn’t an option for everyone to approach this with a buddy but being human, we’re social creatures. Reach out! It can change your mind and your life.