Connection and Depression, Part 1

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and hormone that is involved in the functioning of multiple organ systems in the body. Commonly, it is known as the happy chemical. There is a strong correlation between low levels of serotonin and depression. This is a simple enough explanation and if that is in fact the case, then medication should do the trick. And indeed, medication can help ease the most severe symptoms of depression such as fatigue, decreased concentration and focus, sadness, feeling as if one is in a fog, and general apathy. Notice that I used the word “ease” when explaining how anti-depressant medication can address symptoms of depression. I use this word because anti-depressants are not a cure-all and because depression is a complicated condition. We know that serotonin is implicated in depression, but it is a chicken or the egg argument. Does depression happen because of an insufficient amount of serotonin, or is the production of serotonin impacted by depression?This is an important question because it tells us that managing depression requires a multi-modal approach. Think about it. If you are someone reading this blog right now that has suffered from depression, whether it is infrequent or chronic, what things made it bearable? Was it the great feeling you got from exercise? Or a lovely lunch with a dear friend? A successful presentation at work? Or being selected for a prized opportunity at school? And maybe it was as simple as a walk or eating your favorite ice cream. These events create pleasure,contentment, or a sense of accomplishment which in turn boosts our mood. And those momentary feelings are just that, momentary, when you have depression. Why is that? There are a couple of explanations. One being that people who are depressed are often extrinsically motivated. One who is extrinsically motivated seeks affirmation and approval from the outside world. Success and happiness are determined by the approval of others whether that is in the form of  praise, admiration, or the number of followers/likes/retweets on social media. On the other hand, a person who is intrinsically motivated experiences satisfaction with knowing they have done a good job or are a good person without lots of validation from the outside world.By itself, there is nothing wrong with being extrinsically motivated. Nor is it necessarily sufficient to only be intrinsically motivated. The reality is we need both. We need to know our worth without excessive amounts of validation, and yet it sure is nice when someone notices when we have done a good job. In my opinion, it all comes down to connection. Real, meaningful, life giving connection to others and to a life with purpose. People are healthiest when they know they matter and that what they do matters. People are healthiest when they enjoy relationships where they can be themselves in all of their multifaceted and complex wonderfulness. Do you have people in your life that help you to know you matter and are you engaged in activities or work that give you a sense of purpose? If the answer is no, and you are feeling depressed or anxious, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate and seek new experiences and relationships. Psychotherapy is a great place to begin that exploration and uncover what might be holding you back. More to come on the relationship between connection, depression, and anxiety.

Coping with Grief and Loss

When you hear the word ‘grief’, what word or image comes to mind? Maybe death and tears? Or a funeral and a black suit/dress? While these images may pertain to the death of a loved one, grief and loss are more than just a one time/one-hour event. Grief and loss can occur from a fire or other natural disaster, the loss of a home or job, a car wreck or a medical diagnosis, a family cut-off or an abusive situation, divorce or break-up. It could come from realizing you’re not as close or in tune with your partner as you had hoped. Infertility and/or miscarriage can be a big source of grief and loss. In our society a miscarriage is not seen or treated as a death. There is no funeral or time off work. It’s one of the major silent and isolated sources of grief.There is one theme that coincides with all these areas of grief/loss: unmet expectations. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! My life was supposed to look like___!” But you’re here. Amid your pain, this is the journey you are on, and, comparable to life, grief is a journey! It is a present continuous verb that doesn’t stop. Unfortunately, grief is not something that can be checked off the ‘To Do’ list. Unaddressed emotions and unattended grief can lead to self-damaging/neglectful behaviors, additional stress and depression.Finding a supportive community to walk with you in your grief is essential. However, sometimes the best intentions or ‘advice’ from friends can leave one feeling even more isolated and/or alone if their words are demeaning to your grief. Here are somethings you can do in the midst of your grief to begin the healing process:

  • Begin to listen to your body and emotions. Recognize your breathing, stress levels, and temperament.
  • Ask for help. If going to the grocery store or running a certain errand is too overwhelming, ask a friend. Surround yourself with helpful and compassionate people who are not afraid to sit with you in silence or who will watch your child(ren) while you and your partner take time to spend time together to listen and talk with one another.
  • Be patient with yourself. Give yourself grace and permission for the grieving process. Grief manifests itself in many ways and can appear out of nowhere. Seeking a professional therapist who will help you work through your loss is a great place to begin healing. As you work through your loss, you can gain acceptance and resolution. Having an empathetic person joining with you in your grief can bring a sense of purpose and meaning again.

What do I value the most?

Personal values (i.e. love and honor) not only help us to navigate the world, they also help us to relate to people around us, especially in our interpersonal relationships.  Have you recently taken the time to evaluate what your personal values are?  What values are essential to you and support a healthy life?  Moreover, have you recently taken the time to consider what values are negotiable to you when in a relationship versus the values that are non-negotiable?I enjoy helping clients process their personal and interpersonal experiences in order to understand themselves more deeply and really get a sense of what their personal values are, both presently and moving forward in their lives.  I believe that through collaboration and exploration of personal identity and values, I can help clients add meaning in their life in order to have quality, enriching relationships.Through self-exploration, I believe that clients can increase their overall confidence.  With knowledge of communication skills, increased confidence, and a true sense of self-discovery, clients will have a good foundation of who they are in order to have flourishing relationships.Take the time to reflect on the following questions:

  • What do I truly value in life?
  • What do I value most right now?
  • Do I see any patterns in my life?
  • Are there any conflicts among the patterns in my life and my values, especially in my relationships?