In my role as a therapist I’ve regularly worked with people suffering depression. Therapies like Bioenergetics and Emotional Expression attract people struggling with depression because I think, intuitively, many sufferers understand that one opposite of “depression” is “expression.”
I don’t consider that learning to express your feelings, as opposed to repressing (or “depressing”) them is some kind of panacea for depression. Likewise, learning to release the charge of “stuck emotionality” inside, as we do with Bioenergetics, can be useful but also is no magic bullet.
What I have learned is that depression is complex.
Reductionist vs Systemic
Complex? Reductive? Systemic? These terms are from mathematics. And one might say, not unreasonably, what has math got to do with health and wellness? Well, in this situation, I figure quite a bit.
When we pan back and look at our last century of medical breakthroughs, what we see is that the conditions that we have overcome with medical science are mostly those where a simple cause can be found and treated. They are conditions for which reductionist methods work, because they have a simple cause and once this is found, we can work on finding a solution.
Over the same time-frame, there are also conditions where we are not making so much progress, things like Depression, Cancer, Chronic Fatigue or Anxiety. The issue is invariably that no simple cause can be found.
Medical science proceeds by assuming there’s a simple cause and looking for it. Sometimes it thinks it’s found it, but then treating that apparent cause is found not to resolve the issue, or to lead to other issues. At some point, a consensus begins to build that the condition is more complex and systemic.
Reductionist research into possible causes still continues, which is right and proper because, who knows, maybe there really is a single cause out there somewhere. But, at the same time, there’s a growing acceptance that maybe the reductive approach might not work here.
One consequence of this approach is that, over time, our society becomes increasingly filled with people suffering conditions for which no single cause can be found.
Multiple Baseline Approach
Now that both regular medicine and complementary medicine have had some decades of trying to treat systemic conditions, a useful approach has begun to emerge - that of “multiple baselines.”
In this approach, we isolate a list of factors, or areas, which may be significant and see how an individual is doing on each of them. Also, we keep a look out if there’s one or more areas where the individual feels motivated to step up.
With depression, I’m aware of 9 areas where a lack may be significant or where a change might make all the difference. These are:
Cold water exposure
I will now go through these 9, focussing on those where my own work has given me some level of knowledge, and not trying to pretend I know something about those that I don’t.
Nutrition is actually something I know very little about, so this I’m going to leave.
Wisdom these days accrues around the notion that sleep is very important but, curiously, missing sleep has been found to be an effective, though hugely impractical, means of treating depression.
Studies have found that depriving people with depression of sleep for up to 72 hours appears to completely break their depression. But, unfortunately, it returns once they do go to sleep. Apparently, this may have something to do with how synapses - connections between neurons - are formed and maintained.
Look online for more information if you’re intrigued.
For decades, psychiatrists and psychologists believed that if one could investigate and treat unresolved dynamics from our childhoods, then depression would not persist. Whilst it’s great to do this work, I think it’s fair to say that it’s not common for it to be highly effective for depression.
Working with Reichian therapeutic techniques has made me understand that there is one common Reichian Character Type which is prone to depression - the Oral type.
Oral types did not experience adequate felt connection with the mother in the first year of infancy. She may not have been in any way abusive, simply they didn’t feel enough of the connection. This causes the infant to grow up into an adult who struggles to hold good boundaries with others because subconsciously they are always seeking to merge - to experience the sense of boundary-less bliss that they didn’t get as a baby.
This unhealthy level of near-constant psychological opening means they also struggle to “hold energy.” Even when they do something which energises them, and which would keep another charged up for the rest of the day, they find themselves quickly deplete again. They might even be full of great ideas of things they could do, projects they could get involved in, but the lack of inner drive means that they simply find themselves apparently unable to begin.
In terms of our body psychology, boundaries are naturally held at the level of our belly. Thus, Oral characters who also tend towards depression need to work with therapeutic exercises that give them more feeling in the belly area. In terms of emotions, Orals need to work with expressing anger.
It’s true that the opposite of depression might legitimately be considered to be expression. Developing a familiarity or fluidity with feelings will in my opinion be useful when seeking to overcome depression.
There are three emotions that, as humans, it’s great to be able to feel, to share and to express. These are anger, pain and love. How it generally works is that people who are confident to feel, share and express anger and pain (emotional pain) usually have more access to an inner sense of love.
Undertaking therapeutic work to learn how to express anger and how to allow vulnerability - the two are anyway interlinked - can be useful when seeking to overcome depression.
Another one that I’m really no expert on. It is however well recognised that many suffer depression only when they’re access to sunlight, on a daily basis, is below a certain level.
Also not something I consider myself super-knowledgeable about. But there is no doubt in my mind that some people are able to get themselves out of depression, and stay out, purely through committing to regular gym workouts or jogging. The brain chemicals that these activities cause to flow make all the difference. Some, more enlightened national health services will even offer you free gym membership to support you to take action against depression.
Cold Water Exposure
Spending 10 minutes daily in water below 10 deg Celsius (50 deg F) is increasingly recognised as having considerable mental health benefits. There appears to be some type of “regeneration” effect that happens with testosterone, likewise something with dopamine. People report better sleep and better mood. Right now there’s a lack of scientific evidence, in part I imagine because there’s little commercial potential in cold water exposure. But, if you’re interested, and if you’re prone to depression, it could really be in your interest to check this out.
Most humans breathe “vertically.” That’s to say, to inhale they unconsciously draw their diaphragm up, pulling air into the top of the lungs. This perpetual shallow breathing is not healthy. And it may finally be found to be the cause for numerous ailments further down the line.
Good breathing is “horizontal.” We do it by pushing our abdominals out to inhale, drawing air deeper into the lungs. The diaphragm widens and compresses slightly. It does not move upwards. The intercostal muscles stretch our chest slightly wider. We should feel it in our pelvic floor. The shoulders should not move at all.
If you’re intrigued by this, it can easily be practised whilst sitting down and then tried whilst standing and then walking. Look for “horizontal breathing” online for more information and guidance. Practising for 10 minutes at a time, several times a day, could potentially change your relationship with depression permanently. Read my piece about breathing better here.
Thank you for reading.