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When most of us encounter situational depression, or depression that is triggered by a circumstance in our life - we pathologize it. We treat it as being psychologically unhealthy.
Our thoughts might be, “I’m too negative, not optimistic enough,” or, “What’s wrong with me anyway?” Then, we have emotions about being depressed such as fear, guilt, anger, or shame.
Our emotions about having depression create what empath Karla McLaren calls an emotional pile up.
We can avoid this pile up by realizing depression is a valid emotion. Each of our emotions, if addressed with empathy, helps us stay balanced and get our genuine needs met. We can address emotions, including depression, by asking specific questions that help us determine the emotion’s message for us.
If we investigate the message behind our depression and cannot find an answer, the depression may have a bio-chemical cause, such as a hormonal imbalance, and it is time to seek help. The depressive symptoms are the messengers in these cases, indicating something is physically amiss.
To investigate why situational depression has entered our experience we need to understand the basic purpose behind it.
Depression arises to stop us from continuing in an unhealthy direction. When it is unwise to continue forward on our current trajectory, depression acts as a stop sign. Most of us, when facing this sign ask questions such as, “Why am I such a failure, or so hopeless, or broken?” However, these questions exacerbate depression, and will not unlock it’s message.
To find the hidden gift in depressive symptoms it is helpful to ask, “Where has my energy gone, and why was it sent away?” Then, run through a mental inventory of the situations or events in your life and see whether anything pokes or tugs at you, or causes you to flinch. Ultimately, depression is asking you, “What do you really want?”
It may be you are not spending enough time doing an activity you love, you need to apologize for sharp words given to a co-worker, you are not facing the end of a relationship, you need more mental stimulation, more exercise, changes in your diet, to organize your closets, or adopt a dog.
Listening to and acting on the answer to our empathic question can release the drudge of depression—it has done its job and is free to mosey on.
Though depression is never pleasant, we do ourselves a disservice calling it abnormal. By facing the feeling with empathy we find it can be, like all emotions, our soul’s ally.
Should our depression be other than situational - chemically or hormonally based - the painful symptoms shout at us to seek help. Antidepressants, talk therapies, TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), diet changes, exercise, and a variety of alternative therapies can help us soften the symptoms while working to alleviate the underlying cause.
Source: McLaren, Karla, The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying To Tell You, 2010, Sounds True.
Photo credit: Matt McDaniel
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