Let me first say that everyone’s experience of depression is different. Nevertheless there are themes that I see emerging again and again that I hope will be helpful to explore and describe.
Theme One: You’re Exhausted
From a holistic (Chinese Medicine) perspective, depression is the symptom that arises when the body’s nervous system has become overwhelmed with exhaustion. Normally when you’re exhausted you rest (and recuperate) but the cruel part about depression is that you get stuck in a limbo land where you’re unable to access true rest. Instead you find yourself in a state of agitation where you’re unable to switch off mentally and emotionally and, as a consequence, even if physically you’re quite sedentary and it looks like you’re not doing much you are still burning up tremendous amounts of nervous energy. You’ll find yourself going over things again and again in your head, thereby perpetuating a state of agitation and exhaustion.
Theme Two: How It Started
Well for some people it’s pretty obvious, symptoms first appeared after a traumatic event: the death of a loved one, a motor vehicle accident, being bullied at work or the ending of a relationship. The event didn't cause the depression but it created the conditions where the nervous system was stretch beyond its capacity for too long.
For others, they have always had the tendency to be depressed and traditional medicine calls this a ‘constitutional’ condition, modern medicine calls it genetic. Either way it means that ‘the way you are wired’ predisposes you towards depression. That doesn’t mean you just have to put up with it. However, you will need to become an expert in managing your mind and emotions to stay on top of it.
Theme Three: Toxic Emotions
Whether initiated by a trauma or whether you’re just predisposed to depression you’re likely to be suffering from an overload of toxic emotions. Whilst some people don't seem to notice much that goes on around them, people with depression are highly attuned to their surroundings and to other people (or started out that way until they got exhausted). This state of hyper-vigilance leaves them vulnerable to having their emotional circuits constantly jammed up. Once you’re in a perpetual state of overload the effect becomes toxic. Like a compost bin that is overflowing with food scraps, it needs to be emptied otherwise it turns putrid.
Theme Four: You’ve lost Your Way
The other theme with depression is feeling lost and loosing connection with your passion and purpose in life. Of course if you’re exhausted, in mental limbo and suffering from emotional overwhelm it’s impossible to connect with what brings you peace and a sense of purpose. Rather than thinking “once I figure out what I want to do in life I’ll feel better” the opposite is true. Once you feel better, it will be much more clear in what direction you should move.
How to get out of the Maze
From a Chinese Medicine Perspective it’s a pretty simple process.
Step One: Emotional Detox
The first step is to clear the backlog of emotional clutter and toxicity. Without removing the clutter, it’s almost impossible to move forward. From my experience, I’ve found acupuncture to be the key treatment to clear away the clutter and create some momentum. Other therapies that can be supportive include herbal medicine, exercise and dietary changes.
Step Two: Retrain Your Nervous System
It’s crucial to regain the ability to switch off mentally and emotionally, in order to access deep states of rest and peace. When you do, you truly begin to heal the exhaustion that underpins depression. Additionally, when you access deep states of peace you also declutter your mind and emotions which buffers you from going into emotional overload and rebuilds your residence for the inevitable stressful events that will come your way.
Again, I’ve found acupuncture excels at retraining your mind and nervous system to access states of deep peace. Who would have thought sticking pins in the body would be super relaxing but it is! I often describe acupuncture being like training wheels for your nervous system, giving the feeling of what it’s like to deeply relax. After a while you can find your balance on your own and don't need to rely on the treatment/training wheels.
Step Three: Practice Makes Perfect
Once you've got your equilibrium back, simple relaxation and meditation tools will enable you to stay feeling buoyant. The key is you need to do something that enables you to switch off EVERY DAY. Your body and mind’s need for relaxation is a bit like the need to brush our teeth. If you miss a day your mouth starts to feel a bit fuzzy and uncomfortable. It’s the same with the mind, if you don't do something that allows your mind to access rest and peace you are allowing clutter to build up and are sowing the seeds for future discomfort and distress. Meditation (and other deep relaxation practices) clear away the clutter and leave you feeling buoyant and resilient.
Please feel free to contact Live Well if you’d like further insights into how holistic approaches can help with depression.
Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stress, anxiety and depression.
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupuncture, herbal medicine and meditation.