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Mindful : April 2015
of them, or you are not on antidepressants at all, cultivating natural antidepressants can support your ability to get better at overcoming the depressive cycles. Whatever your experience with depression has been—whether you just have the blues, you have chronic low-g rade unhappiness, or you’ve experi- enced one or more major depressive episodes—you have the power to change the way you feel. By getting help in understanding how depression works and making the choice to nurture your natural antidepressants, you can become stronger and more resilient. The Depression Loop I’ve found during my work with depression that it’s helpful to envision it as a kind of circular process: an automatic loop rather than a linear set of events. Clients find it useful to think of it as a cycle, a spiral, or even a traffic circle. If you live someplace where there are lots of traffic circles or if you have ever driven on one, you know how confusing and mad- dening they ca n be. You’re driving on a straight road, minding your own business, maybe humming along with a song on the radio, and suddenly a traffic circle looms ahead. It just kind of appears on the street ahead of you. Your mind instantly sta rts a nticipating entering the circle, how the cars may stream in, and how you’re going to exit. A feeling of fear or anxiety arises; your ha nds start to sweat and grip the steering wheel. As you enter, you search for a sign for a way out, and half way through the circle you realize that you have to switch la nes to jockey for a position so you’re ready for your exit. Mea nwhile, you drive by other entrance points that each admit streams of new cars into the circle. You see your exit, but you realize that you either have to speed up or slow down. If you miss your exit—which is so easy to do—you have no choice but to loop around again hoping that next time you’ll ma ke your way out. Falling into the depression loop is a lot like entering a traffic circle. You’re living your life, feeling fine, minding your own business, a nd all of a sudden you find depression looming. Maybe it’s just a feeling you wa ke up with, a moment when you suddenly fall prey to a shaming inner critic that says something like “there’s something wrong with me/ you,” or a response to hearing some negative news. Once you’re in it, you try valiantly to get out. But it’s so easy to get stuck. Just as va rious roads lead you into a traffic cir- cle, the depression loop has four entra nce points: thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors. Any one of these ca n lead you into the depression loop. Once you’re caught inside the loop, your mind goes around and around, struggling to get out. Streams Natural Antidepressants Mindfulness A flexible and unbiased state of mind where you are open and curious about what is present, have perspective, and are aware of choices. Self-compassion You understand your own suffering and use mindfulness, kindness, and openness to hold it nonjudgmentally and consider it par t of the human condition. Purpose You are actively engaged in living alongside your values, are inclined toward compassion for others, and possess an understanding of how your existence contributes value to the world. Play A flexible state of mind where you are engaged in some freely chosen and potentially purposeless activity that you find interesting, enjoyable, and satisfying. Mastery You feel a sense of personal control and confidence and are engaged in learning to get better and better at something that mat ters. of thoughts enter the loop as your brain struggles to figure out “What’s wrong with me?” As one of my students says, “The bloodhound is sniffing a round for the villain (and much a nalysis is required).” The brain anxiously defaults to reaching back into the past, referencing and rehashing negative events to try to figure it out. Simultaneously, the brain jumps into the future, planning, rehea rsing, and antici- pating some upcoming hopeless catastrophe. As all this happens, the brain pours stress into an already stressful situation. You may see an exit, but as you try to leave the loop, you find yourself blocked by more depressive thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors. Before you know it, the traffic gets even heavier with the addition of streams of fear and anxiety when you → April 2015 mindful 59