What’s Up? Gratitude and Depression

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When first squashed by clinical depression years ago, some told me to think of all the things I had to be thankful for – as if this would cure my “blues.”

But I didn’t have the blues. I didn’t just feel “sad.”  I had an illness.  I had entered a long, dark tunnel.  I didn’t see a glimmer of light at the end of it.  I wandered in it for years before things got better.  At some point, I saw an end, of sorts, in sight.  I exited that tunnel and felt the warming sun of life reinvigorating my body. I knew I was going to be okay.

It was only after having exiting the tunnel that I was capable of even thinking about gratitude.  But now it’s an important part of my “Depression Toolkit”: things I do to keep what sufferer Winston Churchill called “the black dog” at bay.

Listen to the podcast of my interview with Rabbi Mark Gellman.  One of the ways he ministers to those who struggle with depression is to have them thing about all the terrible things in their lives that are causing their suffering – but only for five minutes.  He then asks them to meditate on all the goodness in their lives – but, again, only for five minutes. What he’s found is that our blessings always outweigh our afflictions – always.

When depressed, life feels meaningless, hopeless, and dead.  We can’t conjure up much joy.  And we can’t summon much hope.  We focus in on all the crummy stuff.  We get stuck in our pain.

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A practice of gratitude puts a salve on the wounds of depression.  It’s not a panacea.  Not by a long shot.  But, it’s part of a multi-faceted solution for what ails us.  It’s a way of taking back the steering wheel of our lives from depression.  We can choose to consciously ponder the good things in our lives.  It’s a choice.  It’s deliberate. And it’s empowering.

And this gratitude stuff isn’t just some “feel-good,” mumbo-jumbo. Good stuff is going on in our brains when we practice it.

Therese Borchard writes on her blog, Sanity Break:

“In his book “What Happy People Know,” Dan Baker argues that you can’t be in a state of appreciation and fear, or anxiety, at the same time. “During active appreciation,” Baker writes, “the threatening messages from your amygdala [fear center of the brain] and the anxious instincts of your brainstem are cut off, suddenly and surely, from access to your brain’s neocortex, where they can fester, replicate themselves, and turn your stream of thoughts into a cold river of dread. It is a fact of neurology that the brain cannot be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. The two states may alternate, but are mutually exclusive.”

This is important because many of us who struggle with depression, also get the double whammy of anxiety.  Recent studies of the brain show that the same areas of the brain implicated in depression are likewise affected by anxiety. Given this, when we practice gratitude we get a two-for-the-price-of-one in our craniums.  As we calm our brains with remembrance of a roof over our heads, accomplishments in our careers, and good friendships, we heal.

Melodie Bettie writes:

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

So, make gratitude a regular part of your life.  Savor the sweet moments.  Lean into the goodness of life.

See the big picture – and enjoy the feast.

Copyright, 2016 by Daniel T. Lukasik, Esq.

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “What’s Up? Gratitude and Depression

  1. How does a person feel gratitude when they are depressed?

    Recently I’ve heard this again and again from my wife, every time I bring up my work (granted, I haven’t said I’m depressed to her). “You should be grateful you have work” I’m hearing from her, because so many people are now out of work here. “No you don’t”, I hear from my adult son when I say “I hate the law. . . ” which I now do.

    I’m really in the pit of despair right now, and I know that I’ll climb out. But from down here, I’m not grateful. I don’t want this, and I don’t want my work which has driven me to it. I’m not ill, and should be grateful, but I’d take illness if it took me out of this. And I do have work, but I don’t want it but only keep on out of duty.

    Gratitude isn’t coming to me, even if I know I should be grateful.

  2. I like what you said: “But I didn’t have the blues. I didn’t just feel “sad.” I had an illness.”
    Your words take us all off the hook for not feeling instantly better when we try practicing gratitude.
    But I also like your quote: ” It is a fact of neurology that the brain cannot be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time.”
    I do practice gratitude. It always works in the short term, while I am doing, but at least it gives me a few moments getaway from my depression.
    I would recommend practicing gratitude to anyone…depressed or not.

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