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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is most likely caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
We know for certain that depression is a disorder of the brain. What mental health scientists have trouble proving is that depression is caused by an imbalance of the chemicals which our brain cells use to communicate, those chemicals are known as neurotransmitters.
If it has been difficult to prove that an imbalance of neurotransmitters is the cause of depression, then why are anti-depressants the fail safe for treating it?
The mechanism of action (how anti-depressants work) still remains a mystery. There jury is out as to whether or not the benefits of taking anti-depressants outweigh the risks.
As reported in the Washington Post on May 7, 2002, clinical trials found placebo sugar pills work just as effectively as anti-depressants. Unfortunately, there can be dangerous and undesirable side effects to taking anti-depressants such as sexual problems, daytime drowsiness and insomnia.
As an acupuncturist in Manhattan, I regularly see depressed and anxious patients. Some patients are medicated, some are not. Many who take anti-depressants seek my help in getting off of them.
I am thrilled whenever I successfully help people manage their symptoms of depression and anxiety with safety and efficacy through a holistic approach. But just as prescription drugs have their limitations, so too, does acupuncture.
My knowledge of treating mental health has been shaped by the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), clinical experience, and a keen interest in reading the works of well established mental health professionals, like Dr. Martin Seligman.
Acupuncture is a wonderful method to prevent disease, depression included. But all the needles in the world will do little to help root out the true culprit in making depression manifest: un-met expectations.
Here’s how it goes:
You set expectations for yourself in the form of personal achievement.
You set expectations of another person and how they ought to relate or respond to you.
You expect your body to be whole, healthy and free from pain or disease.
You expect an outcome for a situation or set of circumstances like what marriage should be like or how financially stable you thought you would be by 40.
All too often depression circles back to disappointment with ourselves and failure to live up to our own beliefs, assumptions and predictions of what life should feel and be like.
Perhaps you expected to feel a certain way about yourself and you don’t; like confident, in control, balanced, purposeful, motivated, fulfilled etc.
Maybe you expected to find the love of your life and haven’t yet or that your marriage would somehow feel more magical than the current reality.
You have created these expectations based on past experiences and beliefs established early in life. The beliefs of your parents became a part of your own beliefs about the future and what to expect. Beliefs about money, gender rolls, work ethic, self image, self worth, religion, sexuality and what is possible or what is not.
What happens if that which was true for your parents or the rest of society is not necessarily true for you? Do you create new patterns of thought, reorganize expectations and or do you cling to them as if they were your salvation in the face of repeated disappointment?
Unmet expectations leads to disappointment.
Disappointment leads to frustration.
Frustration leads to anger.
Repressed anger is the bubbling soup of disappointment made manifest, otherwise known as depression.
Depression is the product of weeks, months and even years of expectations which go un-met. It is the culmination of feeling hurt, sad, empty, disconnect, unloved, unworthy and ultimately wrong about your assumptions.
The root of it all was simply setting an expectation based on a belief or notion of how something should be and it’s not.
If you are looking to experience the breadth of life without the side effects and muffled view, there are many ways of coming to terms with your depression which will no doubt require deep work and a willingness to make changes.
If you are ready to prevent episodes of depression in the future, here are just a few ways to create new beliefs and manage expectations:
1. Self-love. When you love and accept yourself fully, you cease to be the source of your own frustration. Begin by believing you are enough just as you are. Don’t fall for the trap of comparing yourself to others. These comparisons will only result in feelings of inadequacy, and ultimately un-met expectations of who, what or how you should be.
2. Shift perspective: Are you seeing outside influences as out of your control, or do you see everything in your life as a product of your own creation? Can your circumstances offer an opportunity for learning and inner growth? Or are you the victim of your situation and there is nothing you can do to improve the outcome?
3. Acts of kindness. Doing favors for other people will give you a sense of purpose or at the very least, a sense of usefulness. The next time you are having a bad day or are stuck in a cycle of depression, try offering your help and time to someone in need.
4. Gratitude. Write a gratitude journal every day and list all of the positive things that happened to you that day, regardless of how mundane they may be. Research has proven a gratitude journal alone can help people pull from a severe state of depression to a moderate or mild state of depression.
This is about shifting perspective. All too often we get trapped in the cycle of only seeing the negative events of our lives and fail to appreciate the positive events. Negative thinking begets negative thinking. No matter how dire your situation, appreciate what is good in your life and put energy into begetting more good.