Situational Depression Healing Strategies

Nobody likes pain. Most of us would avoid it if we could. When we get a headache, we take Advil or Tylenol. When our stomach feels upset, we take Pepto Bismol or Gravol. And when we feel sad, we take Prozac.

But antidepressants don't help people experiencing normal sadness. Studies have found that 30% to 50% of people prescribed antidepressants receive little or no benefit. Antidepressants only work for medical brain disorders. For sadness, medication causes emotional numbness at best and distressing side effects at worst.

There are exceptions, of course. Long-term unresolved situational depression can, in time, lead to enough chemical imbalances to benefit from a short-term course of medication while other therapies are used to address the root issues. Also, severe emotional shock or trauma can trigger rapid progression of depressive illness in someone with an already developing brain illness, such as major depressive disorder or bi-polar disorder.

In their book The Loss of Sadness, American psychiatrists Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield say doctors have been regularly labeling people as depressed when they are simply sad. Normal sadness, they say, tends to have an identifiable cause of some kind, particularly a loss, and is proportional in its intensity to the seriousness of that cause.

With many doctors and psychiatrists characterizing sadness as depression, and pharmaceutical companies bombarding us with TV ads that suggest feeling down and out of sorts might be a medical disorder – it’s no wonder western culture views sadness as an abnormal condition that needs to be treated.

That's not to imply medication is never warranted when depressed mood is caused by a painful life event. Unresolved emotional pain can, over an extended period of time, lead to enough chemical balance to benefit from a temporary course of medication. The medication can provide the mental clarity and emotional stability necessary for counseling, self-examination, and other therapies to assist in recovery. Also, emotional shock and trauma can trigger the rapid progression of an already developing depressive illness, especially major depressive disorder and bi-polar disorder.

Note: If your symptoms seriously impair your ability to function, or do not lessen over time, see your doctor for a complete medical exam to rule out clinical depression as well as other illnesses that affect mood. Only a medical doctor can diagnose clinical depression. If you are having suicidal thoughts, see your doctor immediately or go to the nearest hospital emergency ward.

Healing Strategies

Exercise & eat right
Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when you are depressed. But research shows that strenuous exercise can lessen depressed moods and sometimes completely eliminate non-clinical depression. Exercise increases blood flow to your brain and stimulates the production of "feel-good' endorphins that help stabilize moods.

Exercise and good nutrition will enhance every area of your health, including mental and emotional health. For more information about lifestyle changes that can stabilize moods, read Chronic Stress Healing Strategies.

Experience your feelings
If you have been hurt or suffered loss, feeling sad is normal and necessary. You may be tempted to suppress the pain. Or you may try numbing it with drugs and alcohol, or by filling your time with endless distractions and busyness. Blocking sadness never works. If you never grieve your losses, they will pile up upon one another and one day you will have a much bigger problem to deal with.

Give yourself permission to feel sad. Refuse self-judgment. Feeling the pain is a necessary part of the healing journey. Don’t fear the sadness. Embrace it by creating time in your schedule for solitary personal reflection.

Seek counseling
If you are still experiencing depressed mood a few weeks after a painful event, you may benefit from counseling. The two most common approaches are talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. When seeking a counselor, check their credentials. Education is important, but effective counseling requires more than degrees. Ask around for referrals.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, consider a grief counselor. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, consider a grief counselor. After losing my sister, Dianne, in a vehicle accident, I met a few times with a grief counselor. She was an immense help in my healing journey.

Join a support group
Support groups are one of the most effective therapies for recovering from major loss. For children, the Rainbows program (an international charity) has achieved great success in helping children navigate emotional loss from death, divorce or separation as well as other trauma such as incarceration of a parent.

Adults seeking a support group can ask their family doctor or a counselor for a list of local support groups. Many Christian churches offer support groups; check their websites or phone for information.

Faith & Prayer
Spirituality is at the core of our being and gives meaning and purpose to life. Prayer, reading and meditating on Bible verses and joining a faith community are powerful ways of growing your faith, building a support network, and giving you a sense of purpose. Read "Are you Living on Purpose, or Merely Living?"

A Note on Grief

Grief takes a terrible toll on the mind, body and emotions. This is especially true when the death is sudden or premature, such as a child dying of cancer, or a loved one dying in a car accident or by suicide. It's healthy, normal and essential to grieve after the death of someone you love. Grief takes much more time to process than most losses. While everyone navigates grief differently, everyone shares the need for time and support. Don't expect yourself to recover according to other people's timetable.

Talk about it
Surround yourself with family and/or friends who accept your grief and will listen to you, without trying to give advice. Telling your story is healing. It is even more necessary to tell your story if your loved one died suddenly and tragically. Telling your story helps you recover from the emotional shock. Avoid people who are uncomfortable discussing your loss, or who think you should just get over it.

Join a grief support group
In a grief support group, you can tell your story and freely express your feeling in an environment that is supportive, understanding, and non-judgmental. This helps you process your loss, come to terms with your feelings, and move forward on your healing journey.

Take care of yourself
Be kind to yourself. Don't be alarmed by your physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Give yourself time to recover. Get enough rest and eat regular meals. Keep exercising.

Stay busy
Take as much bereavement leave as you can. Then go back to work. As soon as possible, re-engage in some of your normal life activities. But keep in mind that you will tire easily, so be careful not to over-exert yourselves.

In you are still experiencing severe depression after six months, see your medical doctor. Emotional shock can trigger the rapid progression of an already existing depressive illness. If you have thoughts of suicide, see your doctor immediately, or proceed to the nearest hospital in your community.

Read more about clinical depression
Back to non-clinical depression introduction
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