Thursday, January 28, 2010

Writing, Depression and Healing

Writing Through the Darkness: Easing Your Depression with Paper and PenThere has been a significant amount of research indicating that writing promotes both emotional and physical healing.

In “Writing Through the Darkness: Easing your Depression with Paper and Pen,” author Elizabeth Maynard Schafer cites a number of studies which support that writing about traumatic events can ultimately improve mood, reduce blood pressure, increase immune system functioning, alter brain wave patterns, reduce pain, and more (pp. 36-38). Schafer also writes about her own struggles with depression and offers a number of approaches to writing as well as writing prompts, recommendations, resources, and suggestions for the creation and maintenance of a writing group for those with mood disorders. She also maintained a blog and while she is no longer updating it, it contains some wonderful writing prompts for use either individually and within a group. I’ll be using some her prompts during the 12 - week group that I plan on offering beginning in April for those who struggle with depression.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"My Stroke of Insight" and Dealing with Our Emotions

In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Harvard trained brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor shares significant insights about the brain and mind that she gained after experiencing and recovering from a stroke in 1996. While the book offers some fascinating information regarding how the right brain and left brain both differ and work together, what stroke victims experience, what they most need, and how we can very naturally attain a deep inner piece, I’d like to focus on one particular discovery – the power of our minds to alter our experiences.

Taylor points out that while “there are certain limbic system (emotional) programs that can be triggered automatically, it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream.” Our anger response is one of those emotional programs that can be triggered automatically. Once it’s triggered, certain chemicals are released by our brains and course through our bodies, creating an automatic physiological response. However, within 90 seconds the chemical component of our anger has completely dissipated from our bloodstream and our automatic response is over. If, on the other hand, we remain angry after the initial 90 seconds have passed, it’s because we’ve chosen to allow this circuit to keep running. Each moment, we make the choice to either tie into our neurocircuitry or shift back into the present moment, permitting our anger to dissolve as passing physiology. We unconsciously make decisions about how we’ll respond to situations that we find ourselves in all of the time. We can spiral into reactivity or consciously choose to respond by bringing our attention back to the present moment.

Taylor suggests that when our brains begin a loop that feels “harshly judgmental, counter-productive, or out of control,” we wait 90 seconds for the physiological/emotional process to dissipate and then inform our brains that while we appreciate its ability to feel feelings and think thoughts, we’re not interested in feeling these feelings or thinking these thoughts anymore. We then ask it to please stop bringing them to our attention. In making this request, we’re consciously asking our brains to stop getting stuck in unhelpful thought patterns. Another option is to use the thought stopping techniuqe or the five R’s technique (recognize, refuse, relax, reframe, resume)

Taylor writes, “I believe it is vital to our health that we pay very close attention to how much time we spend hooked into the circuitry of anger, or the depths of despair. Getting caught up in these emotionally charged loops for long periods of time can have devastating consequences on our physical and mental well-being because of the power they have over our emotional and physiological circuitry. However… it is equally important that we honor these emotions when they surge through us…The healthiest way I know how to move through an emotion effectively is to surrender completely to that emotion when its loop of physiology comes over me. I simply resign to the loop and let it run its course of 90 seconds. Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated. Over time, the intensity and frequency of these circuits usually abate.” She then makes a conscious choice to return her thoughts to the present moment.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Honoring our Clients

There is a Sanskrit blessing that has been so meaningful to me from the first time I read it. It speaks to honoring each person that we encounter. It says, “I honor the place in you where the universe resides. I honor the place in you of love, of light, or truth, of peace. I honor the place within you where if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me we are one.”

I am continually striving to do this...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Updates on the Treatment of Depression

There have been several studies recently published on the treatment of depression. Among the findings reported are:

According to an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, antidepressants, while still the best option in the treatment of major depression, appear to offer little benefit to those suffering from milder forms of depression.

Women are at greater risk of developing depression and face significant physical consequences including but not limited to compromised brain functioning, heart disease, and reduced bone density. You can read more here

The National Institute for Health and clinical Excellence recommneds mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for indiviudals who have experienced three or more episodes of depression. Mindfulness training reduced the relapse rate of those struggling with recurrent depression by half according to two clinical trials. You can read more here.

You can preview the book, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for Depression here

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When Questioning Everything

A man wrote me recently to let me know that he no longer felt the vigor of his youth, no longer felt motivated by the dreams that had sustained him for so long. He felt lost. He questioned everything and no longer trusted anything. He asked what was wrong with him, and why he should even “bother anymore.” He assured me that he wasn’t suicidal, just stuck in some “no man’s land.” Was he depressed? Perhaps. Was this a particular pathology or something more universal? Was it possible that the land he found himself stranded in was every man (and woman’s) land? Could be. If we’re blessed to live long enough, doesn't each of us eventually find ourselves mired in the murk of doubt and uncertainty for a time?

I struggled with how to respond to his question, “why bother?” for a time and then I recalled a quote in Sue Monk Kidds book, “When the Heart Waits” by Janice Brewi and Anne Brennan from their book, “Midlife.” The quote read:

“When, one day in mid-life one comes to doubt oneself- and all one’s relationships and commitments, and when the pain and anxiety of this dropping away of… energy from all that formerly was so life-giving begins to overwhelm, there surfaces the depth question: Why bother? Lucky the one who lets that question stand…That question is a prayer.”

"Why bother?" can become a sacred quest if asked with an open heart, one that widens our horizens, and seldom satisfied with easy answers, often calls us into a deeper more meaningful way of seeing and being.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The First Episode of "This Emotional Life" Airs Tonight

Tonight on PBS from at 8 pm eastern standard time the first of the three part series, "This Emotional Life" airs. The series is scheduled for January 4th through the 6th and will explore relationships and emotional health, negative emotions such as anger and fear, and how we develop resiliency and achieve happiness.

The PBS offers the following description:

"Harvard psychologist and best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness, Professor Daniel Gilbert, talks with experts about the latest science on what makes us “tick” and how we can find support for the emotional issues we all face.

Each episode weaves together the compelling personal stories of ordinary people and the latest scientific research along with revealing comments from celebrities like Chevy Chase, Larry David, Alanis Morissette, Robert Kennedy, Jr., and Richard Gere."

I'm looking forward to it!