For the last three weeks, I've explored various approaches to dealing with depression (and anxiety) besides pharmaceutical prescriptions. Week one focused on the similarities between sleep deprivation and depression. Week two we looked at how exercise and meditation create chemicals in the brain that make us feel good instead of blue. Week three examined the positive power that comes with giving, especially in yourself to something bigger than yourself when you volunteer for a cause.
This week, we'll talk about a tool called Killing the ANTs, and the power of faith.
Killing the ANTs is a technique proclaimed by Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the pioneers in studying the brain through SPECT scanning. ANTs stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts. It doesn't take work to get our brain to focus on the negative; it comes rather easily to most people. It takes a little more work for most people to focus on positive things. So this tool is simple, but not easy: make it your intention to become conscious of the negative thoughts as they pop up in your head through the day. As soon as one appears, choose to replace it instead of dwell on it.
For example, your boss seems to be picking on you. Instead of letting your mind sled down the snow-covered cliffs of stress and anger, choose to stop the thoughts of worry, fear or anger, and choose instead to pray for him or wish her well. Consider that perhaps s/he is going through some terrible circumstance of which you are entirely unaware. Perhaps your response can become compassion instead of stress.
Maybe your spouse is doing the same old thing that s/he has been doing for a decade, that you've been nagging him/her about for just as long. Instead of letting your head take this act as a diving board into an Olympic-sized cesspool of thoughts about the atrocities of that person, stop. Stop and try to think of just one really great thing about that person - past or present. Dwell on that thought instead. It may be hard. You'll want to dive into the cesspool. But letting your mind dwell on the good thing instead of the bad, may just be start of the salvation of your marriage.
Or maybe the thoughts are self-loathing. You're not good enough. You're not smart enough to get a job that pays enough to really do Christmas right. You're ugly. You're worthless ... STOP! Look up. Take a breath. Find something beautiful- anything - a Christmas ornament, your hand, a puffy cloud that looks like a horse, - and just stare. Take a moment to stare and breathe. With every breath, breathe in beauty and exhale negativity. Picture inhaling white light, and exhaling black smoke. Replace the negative thoughts of self-loathing with gratefulness ... if for nothing else, then gratefulness for that one ... beautiful ... thing.
THE POWER OF FAITH
Once upon a time, this time of year was highly focused on issues of faith. Over the last few decades it has shifted to a focus on commercialism where Santa is God. It would do us all well to return to a faith focus - whatever that faith may be. Many people experience religion as a list of moral rules and condemnations. But a life of faith is far different.
Whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or any other religion; there are many common facets that not only empower us in the fight against depression, but can change our lives for the better.
Similar to the act of volunteering or giving your self to a cause that is bigger than your own single life, when we dive into a faith we give ourselves to something far bigger than ourselves. We align ourselves with a group that wraps around the world. We discover that there is something to live for that is far bigger than our own well-being or desires list. We have something in which we can invest.
Also, in each religion, that "something bigger" reaches beyond this single life on earth. We can become one with God or a collective energy that promises ultimate peace and joy.
And, in most religions/faiths, there are excellent tools for living life successfully or 'to the fullest'. Some of these tools are moral sets, which keep us from harming our selves or others. But there is more.
Singing: In Judaism and Christianity, singing praise to God is a cornerstone of the faith experience. In Buddhism and other Eastern faiths, chanting is a cornerstone. Modern science has shown that singing can be a powerful tool for creating the 'happy chemicals' in our brains, and can actually strengthen the immune system! So go for it - sing along with the radio, belt out your favorite song in the shower, chant OM while you meditate, or sing hymns on Sunday at the top of your lungs. It's not just something "you're supposed to do" for your faith, it’s something that's GOOD for you!
Prayer: Not all faiths believe that you can talk to God. But for those that do, it is a beautiful power to be able to talk to the One who is ultimately in control. You can bring all of your concerns to 'him', and ask him to work even your pain out for good. Our neighborhood has a service called "Dial a prayer". Though it is a recording of prayer, it changes regularly. Perhaps you've never prayed before. You can call for a biblical encouragement and hear someone honestly praying that you can follow, yourself.
Community: A faith-based community can be a strong support system. Whether you find that support system in a synagogue (like Mishkam Shalom), a church (see the map for local congregations), a temple, or a 12-step meeting (like at Salvation Army), finding a safe place to be you, and to give back to can be a powerful step.
*If you are having suicidal thoughts, or desires to harm yourself or others, seek a medical professional (preferably a psychologist or psycho-pharmacologist) immediately to discuss medication options. If it feels like an emergency, please call the National Suiside Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255