Mind Body Connection: Depression Hacks

If you deal with depression, sporadically or regularly, please read.

I’ve dealt with depression in varying degrees for decades.  It’s not pleasant but a reality for many of us.

Recently I’ve been learning new things about the connection between one’s physiology and the thoughts in the mind.  When you experience depression, so much of it manifesting in an array of unpleasant thoughts (“you’re a failure” “things can’t get better” “life sucks” etc.) and brooding dismal feelings, it’s very difficult to make the connection to your body.  Your physiology—the way your body functions—has a lot to do with your encounter with depression.  More than you know.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor so this is not to be taken as professional advice from one trained in medicine.  If you suffer from more than mild depression, please seek help from someone trained in medicine and psychotherapy and psychopharmacology.

I’ve learned a few things that help.  Here they are and the cost is zero or minimal:

  • Get into the sunlight. Exposure to sunlight, without sunglasses, is helpful for increasing your levels of serotonin, which is indispensable for dealing with depression.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that gives you the feeling of well-being.  You’ll need to do this for more than a few minutes.  I know two people, one of whom is a child of mine, who moved from the cold, wintry region of northern New York (with very long, cold and dark winters) to Southern California.  When they either returned to northern New York or reflected on their lives there, they remarked at how little sun there is and how a lot of sun affected their sense of happiness and joie de vivre.  No surprise that in areas where there is a lot of precipitation and darkness, the rates of alcohol consumption and other addictions go up.  They’ve even taken steps—via sun lamps—in Scandinavian countries to counteract this.  SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a very real phenomenon
  • Exercise regularly.  Do cardio—whether gym, walking, or workouts in your own home.  I love weight lifting.  Exercise boosts helpful endorphins.  We were made to move, not sit.  The reality of sedentary occupations and lifestyles in our time means we have to be intentional about this.
  • Listen to jazz or rock and roll in the dark and cold months. I learned this on my own.  For example, I love film scores.  But during the dark and cool months, it’s best for me to listen to music that lifts me, energizes me and gives a sense of play and rowdiness.  Heavily emotive music is best for those months with lots of sunshine.  So the score to Schindler’s List is better at other times, as much as I love it.
  • Get with people, especially those who love you. There’s nothing like good friends and family to quash monsters of the mind.  Isolation only makes things bleaker.

We’ll explore this more in future posts.  This is something many of us endure and deal with.  So any helps here will improve our quality of life.


Suggested Resources:


Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (David D. Burns)

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time (Alex Korb & Daniel J. Siegel)


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Sharpen Your Tools…and Avoid Injury

Sharpen Your ToolsIn early Autumn, 1994, I hired on as an apprentice carpenter for a company that built staircases and hung trim.  Thus began, for me, a lifelong enjoyment for working with wood, especially hardwoods like red oak and poplar.  I was privileged to learn how to build curved staircases and these now fill quite a few houses in lower Michigan, where we lived at the time.

A carpenter learns very quickly that it is critical to keep his tools in good repair in order to do fine woodwork.  Chiefly, this means sharpening cutting implements regularly.  You may be surprised to find that dull tools—saws, chisels, router bits, etc.—not only do inferior work, marring the wood, but they are also dangerous.  You risk injury using chisels with dull blades.  A sharp saw does the work quickly, effectively, and safely.

In life, we have tools that we use to mold our lives and become effective and reach our potential.  Like planes and gouges, they must be kept sharp to be effective.  Here are a few:

  • Vocational Skills – What talents and acuities do you have that you can sharpen now and in the days ahead?  I work in Information Technology and am a musician.  I try to read up on the latest technological innovations as well as become more proficient with the software apps I use in my work.  And with my instruments, I practice and learn new stuff.  Do you have a plan for skills development?
  • Relationships – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn)  What kinds of relationships do you cultivate to 1) add value to others and 2) help in your own development?  If you walk with wise and ambitious people, you fuel your passion to grow and develop.  But if you make a practice of hanging with people who are pessimistic and complacent, like it or not, it will affect you.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  So is discouragement and criticism.  Choose wisely.
  • Reading ­– That readers are leaders is axiomatic.  And you are called to lead.  What kinds of books do you plan on reading or listening over the next year?  Here’s a good place to start: The Magic of Thinking Big (David Schwartz); How To Read A Book (Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren); Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders); Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman); Talent Is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).  Possibilities are endless, but whatever you do, develop a reading plan for the next year.
  • Physical Fitness – Your effectiveness is charged or limited by your physical fitness—or lack of it.  Regular cardiovascular exercise 1) improves your focus, 2) makes you feel better because of endorphins and 3) increases your longevity.  Also, there are numerous other benefits to staying fit, fighting the national epidemic of obesity.  Your career and its growth are one of these. As some have said, “Your shape will shape your future.”

Now go sharpen your tools and build.  You will be astounded at what they produce.

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Learn To Laugh At Yourself

LightenUpThe best advice I ever received came from an eighty-four year old spitfire named Helen Easterly.  I met her in the summer of 1987.  We worked together amongst the Cree people of Northern Ontario.

Grandma Easterly—as she became known to me after she “adopted” me—had terminal cancer at the time.  Yet, she had more energy than gals sixty years her junior as she worked amongst the Cree children.  She had lived an adventurous life working all over the world as a missionary to kids.  She was vibrant, humorous and kinetic as she stared death in the face.

Some months later, I was about to get married.  Grandma Easterly sent Kath and I a very nice card with this advice:

“Don’t take yourselves too seriously.  Learn to laugh at yourselves.”

I have my share of faults and idiosyncrasies, just like you.  One of them is I tend to be way too serious.  About everything.  (Kath doesn’t have this problem.) Those who know me well are no doubt chuckling, You’re just now figuring that out?

Easy now.  Some of us are slow.

And thick.

So I thought I’d pass on a few tips to help my friends who slip on the same banana peel:

  • Listen to jazz.  Really.  Leonard Bernstein once said, “Jazz is real play.”  When I listen to jazz, I chill out. Always. Music affects the mood more than you can imagine.
  • Realize that you alone can’t fix the world.  You’re one in about seven billion inhabitants on this planet.  Do what you can where you can and then let it be.  If everybody just did a little in their own orbits, things would be a lot better in the world.
  • Exercise.  Free and legal high.  Endorphins.  You will feel better.  Trust me on this.
  • Watch films with Robin Williams or Bill Murray in them.  For tougher cases, break out the Three Stooges.
  • Read Dilbert.  Just do it.
  • Smile.  It’s proven that deliberately smiling makes you feel better, not just those who look at your mug.

Now lighten up!

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Save the Frosting For Last

Chocolate-Mousse-Cake-13When you eat a piece of cake, do you eat the cake first or the frosting?

One of the most helpful problem-solving strategies I’ve ever learned comes from M. Scott Peck in his now classic book The Road Less Traveled.  It is the discipline of delayed gratification.  Peck writes that delayed gratification “is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with…It is the only decent way to live.”

Procrastination is the art of putting off any necessary but unpleasant task.  And every day we encounter those kinds of things.  Returning phone calls.  A potentially painful conversation.  Balancing the checkbook.  Running on the treadmill.  It comes easy to most of us.

When I was a child, we never got dessert before dinner.  “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.”  Life is like that.  So is Pink Floyd (if you’re older than forty-five, you don’t need an explanation).

So, what to do?

The secret is this: Do it now.  Instead of making plans and preparing to get up earlier to have time to write or pray or work out, just get up.  It’s that simple.  Do it now.  It’s a whole lot more fun when you get the unpleasantness out of the way.  Then you no longer have the unfinished task hovering over you like the Sword of Damocles, spoiling your fun.  As kids, we did our homework first so we could go out and play the rest of the day.

“It’s the only decent way to live.”

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