The Power of Giving

Week three in a series on healthy habits to beat depression.

Depression and anxiety are becoming serious American realities. Commercials litter the T.V. singing the praises of anti-depressant medications. What was once thought taboo, is now common practice. More of your friends and neighbors are on anti-depression or anti-anxiety medications than ever. However, though pharmaceutical medication certainly has its place, the goal should be to achieve relief from depression or anxiety through natural, or non-medical means if at all possible, and use pharmaceuticals as a "last resort" **

In previous weeks I have examined on the brain - which are almost exactly the same as depression; and the .  

This week, I'll examine the power of giving.

One of the giant ironies of "The holiday season" is that although it centers on the act of giving, our focus on the gifts has made us a culture full of stressed out givers.  And, though many of us complain about the commercialization of the season, few of us rise above it.  

So, if you are depressed, stressed, or anxious, consider giving yourself to something bigger than yourself this winter: consider volunteering. Perhaps you can volunteer to serve dinner at a shelter; or organize a food drive at your work, school, or church on behalf of Philabundance or the Salvation Army; or volunteer in your child's school.  

There is a unique motivation for living that comes with becoming a part of something that is 'bigger than yourself'. Your reason for getting up in the morning becomes something greater than you. You discover that what you may have thought was a worthless life, now has positive effect in the world.  

There are plenty of ways to volunteer in the neighborhood.  Here are just a few:

  • Northern Home for Children has ways for individuals or groups to get involved. Individuals can tutor, menor, or teach a workshop.  You could organize a group to do a service project such as painting or light repairs.   
  • The Salvation Army   does far more than you probably realize.  Their program list is truly staggering.  Whether you want to invest your time mentoring teens, organizing a food pantry or dozens of other things, there is a way for just about anyone to volunteer with this worldwide organization.
  • Do you want to bring your new commitment to fitness together with a cause?  Bike and Build is a local non profit that combines biking with philanthropy.  Boost your endorphins though biking and your Oxytocin as you realize that every pedal is for a cause!
  • Inter Community Action (Interac) provides therapy (physical, mental, psychological) to people of all ages.   Recently, the program opened Journey's Way  which primarily focuses on needs of our neighborhood's growing Senior Citizen population.  There are a dozen ways to volunteer, including, "being a phone buddy, a program developer, a class instructor, a kitchen aide, a youth tutor, a publicity assistant, or an exercise leader, to name just a few. Also, alongside the direct-service volunteering in the center are "Neighbor to Neighbor" opportunities to help older adults in their homes in a variety of ways, from rides to chores to simply "friendly visits."

Perhaps you are now thinking, "But, I am too stressed to volunteer," or, "But what could I possibly have to give?  I'm a loser. I'm depressed. I'll just bring everyone else down." 

That is what we call a "negative thought."  Dr. Daniel Amen is a pioneer in a brain scanning technology called SPECT Scanning. He has scanned tens of thousands of brains, and has studied effects on the brain of everything from smoking and drugs, to nutrition, to sports injury. He has found patterns in how certain brain disfunctions manifest. As a result of all his research, he is a huge proponent of sleep, nutrition, and vitamin supplementaiton. He also has a toolbox of mental tools. One of his favorite "tools" is called "Killing the A.N.Ts” or Automatic Negative Thoughts.  This is a discipline that is well worth the effort to make into a habit.  

We will dive into this practice next week, but in essence, killing the ANTS means that when a negative thought pops into your head, choose to replace it with a positive one, instead of dwelling on the negative. This will be easier for some, and nearly impossible for others. But, if you make it your intention every day to be conscious of the negative thoughts as they show themselves, then the more you practice replacing them with positive thoughts, the easier it will become. 
Dr. Amen has amazing case studies where people put this action into practice, and the brain scans actually show the brain's improved health (over time).  It is a very powerful tool. 

Next week, we will apply this tool more in depth, and also talk about the transforming power of faith. 


**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

Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education December 14, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Spending time in nature has also been shown to have measurable positive effects on a person's mental and emotional well-being. Research shows that our brains need free time in green spaces, separate and beyond other types of outdoor activity, such as organized sports. If you need some time in nature, consider a walk on one of the Schuylkill Center's trails. They're right in the neighborhood.
Carol Haslam December 14, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Excellent point! I totally forgot to mention the Friends of the Wissahickon as an organization with which one could volunteer. http://www.fow.org/get.php Get all the positives of giving and the outdoors, all in one!


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