Depression is like a big, black cloud that sucks our vitality and joy. Popping a pill or a combination of pills does not make depression go away. Sure, they do help in minimizing the pain but in the long run, they make you feel numb and zombie-like.
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Thankfully now, more and more medical professionals are beginning to acknowledge that, in most cases, mental illnesses are not caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains. Rather it is the outcome of negative environmental conditions, personal losses, unsupportive relationships or simply an existential crisis.
No Magic Pill
Prozac was once touted as the magic pill that would change the world. Big Pharma pushed the idea that poping one of the many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of drugs, designed to target serotonin, a neurotransmitter in our brain would instantaneously make us happy and upbeat. We know now that is one big lie.
Today, despite vast choices of psychiatric drugs available suicide rates, anxiety levels have gone up. In fact, there have been cases of people becoming suicidal after taking SSRIs.
So what is the cure? How does one heal the misery of trying to pull oneself out of that engulfing blackhole, where one just cannot bear to even get out of bed.
According to Neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, using our hands engage neurological circuitry in the brain that offsets symptoms of depression. When we engage in fine motor movements involving our hands larger areas of the cortex are activated, when compared to when moving other parts of the body such as our legs or back muscles.
She identifies a circuit in the human brain—connecting movement, feeling, and cognition—that is responsible for symptoms of depression and shows that when we knit a sweater, prepare a meal, or simply repair a lamp, we’re actually bathing our brain in “feel-good” chemical – dopamine. This has a cascading effect on the release of the other neurochemicals which modulate our mood.
I still cannot understand how modern science only focusses mainly on one neurotransmitter, serotonin as a treatment for depression. When it is basically the interconnection of all neurochemicals. When we feel unloved, oxytocin levels are affected, which in turn affects the serotonin, the confidence chemical– makes us feel the world is a good and safe place. However, when we don’t feel okay our motivation gets affected – that is is our dopamine levels go plummeting. We just don’t bloody have the energy to get out of bed.
Motivating yourself is difficult when you have depression. That’s why we need to start with small things that bring us joy.
Studies show you can trick your brain into increasing dopamine levels by setting and achieving micro-goals. You start by doing small tasks, do things that give you some pleasure, even if it for a short time.
Motivation happens when your dopamine spikes because you anticipate something important is about to happen. And wham, suddenly you feel your mood lift.
Busy Hands, Calm Minds
When we focus intently on doing things with our hands we are in a state of deep mindfulness. The repetitive and complex actions activate our brain’s neurons to focus on the present task at hand. Just 10-20 seconds shifts in our thought process have been scientifically proven to create new neural pathways.
Recently, I discovered the fun activity of food-foraging. While searching for fruits and wild veggies. I am totally in the NOW. Those intrusive thoughts are pushed out by the thrill of the present moment.
Our brain is designed for action, the hand-eye coordination movement activates our own effort-driven reward circuitry, it squirts a cocktail of feel-good neurotransmitters, including dopamine (the “reward” chemical), endorphins (released with exercise), and serotonin (secreted during repetitive movement).
Small Actions, Lasting Impact
Depression makes us lethargic and drains our motivation. However, by doing something that you like and enjoy can slowly change things. Ask yourself what do I like to do, and do it. It may be tough to start but gradually, as you enjoy the process you will begin feeling better.
Start by picking up the brush and painting one flower. Maybe write down a few lines about you felt hurt. Or maybe bake that cake you wanted to eat. Plant that seed you had saved after eating that juicy peach. How about cleaning your room Marie Kondō style.
Start today, repeat tomorrow and then the day after. Believe me, small actions can have a lasting impact. You just don’t know where and what they may lead to.
A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan
The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness with Your Own Two Hands – Carrie and Alton Barron
Knit for Health & Wellness: How to knit a flexible mind & more… – Betsan Corkhill
Painting Your Way Out of a Corner: The Art of Getting Unstuck – Barbara Diane Barry