Every life has a measure of sorrow, and sometimes this is what awakens us
— Steven Tyler
Depression comes in many forms: numb apathy, overwhelming fatigue, restless irritability, and enduring grayness. However it comes, depression is one of the most miserable states that we are prone to. So the questions arise, why do we all feel it at times, and what can we do about it?
Emmy Gut, a Swedish psychologist, suggests that we are hardwired to feel “productive depression,” which arises when some part of our life is amiss. By encouraging us to slow down, focus on problems, and ponder life, productive depression draws our attention to problems beneath our conscious awareness. In contrast, unproductive depression arises when this same hardwired system over-functions, paralyzing and overwhelming us, and ultimately shutting life down.
When a person comes to me with depression, I begin by listening, as together we learn what the person’s unique mood symptoms might be expressing and might be caused by, and then we collaboratively decide on a treatment approach. We may focus on easing their symptoms as quickly as possible, drawing upon research supported techniques such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Behavioral Activation. We may also focus on understanding and addressing the underlying causes and meaning of the depression, exploring questions such as, “What might this depression signal?” and “What life changes are being called for at this time?” Together we work with depression, not as the enemy, but a messenger that we will hear out and send upon its way.
After depression fades, the final challenge is preventing its return. Mindfulness, and specifically Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, offers a potent way to stay well. It helps us to recognize depression’s subtle precursors and frees us from the dark rumination that so often feeds depression. Learning to “be with” sad feelings without fighting them or fearing them, allows those feelings to naturally subside or transform into lighter emotions. Finally, mindfulness prevents the relapse of depression by nurturing a life of vitality and presence.