Whatever treatment for depression you choose, hope amplifies it by fortifying your neurotransmitters. How? Hope actually reprograms your biology and keeps you positive. Being positive increases serotonin and reduces levels of stress hormones. With less stress, you’ll feel happier and generally function better.
Your autonomic nervous system, which regulates breathing, circulation, and digestion, is particularly responsive to positivity. Hope acts as a natural stress reducer, relaxing your gut, blood vessels, and bronchioles. Your system is peaceful, not constricted or tense. Plus, science suggests that hope lessens pain by increasing levels of endorphins, the “feel good” biochemicals.
In the spirit of hope, I advise practicing these suggestions from my book on emotional freedom to improve your emotional state and transform depression.
Emotional Action Step: Train Your Mind, Change Your Biology
1. Exercise, don’t ruminate. Rather than staying home with a head full of negative thoughts, get your body moving. There’s something magical about just putting one foot in front of the other. Besides sending yourself a message that you’re going forward, it increases serotonin, energy, self-image, and improves sleep.
Start with gentle walking. Don’t think you’re going too slow or doing too little. Even 10 minutes daily gets your body used to the idea that it’s coming alive again. When you’re ready, you can walk longer or expand your exercise routine.
2. Get sufficient sunlight. Evolutionarily we weren’t designed for a sedentary, indoor lifestyle. Don’t hole up in your office or home. Exposure to sunlight elevates your mood by stimulating your brain to produce serotonin. It also helps relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression that occurs during the fall and winter months.
Aside from natural sunlight, “phototherapy” can also treat SAD. It involves sitting across from a special box that emits full-spectrum light for 45 minutes each day. If you’re prone to depression, remember to maximize the natural antidepressant effect of sunlight.
3. Laughter is good medicine. Laughter is emotional freedom. It raises your spirits and endorphins, relieves pressure, reverses learned seriousness. Researchers have found that after people viewed funny videos, they were significantly more hopeful and less depressed than those who didn’t watch them. Humor seems to compete with negative thoughts by inserting positive ones. Try to surround yourself with humorous, upbeat people. Also, watch hilarious movies, comedy routines, or read books that make you smile. Laughter will take the bite out of depression.
When you’re feeling low, now you know what steps to take to galvanize your biology with hope. I have a friend, a nanotechnologist, who has the instruments in his lab to track the gossamer movements of atoms; he can actually see and hear them. If I’m depressed, I like to remember what he has observed: That each cell has a song. This makes me happy, that such minute particles in us are serenading life at all times. If I’m dejectedly slogging along, to imagine the music of our being inspires me to do what’s necessary to rise from the muck. It’s enormously empowering when you can intervene to reverse a physical turn towards depression. Often, even a little tweak here or there can make a big difference to your mood.