Des Moines Moms Blog is honored to feature a guest post from Sarah Morris Fleming, LICSW today:
One of the things I educate people the most about as a therapist is the reason for emotions. The majority of people I encounter don’t know why they have the feelings they do, and more so, what to do with them. Unfortunately, this part of our humanity isn’t touched on in most of its sectors, including schools, churches and homes. We tend to categorize feelings as good or bad, or right or wrong, and this misses the point of them entirely. Emotions can be sages to our spirit and we have them for a reason. Understanding emotions, rather than fighting them, can lead us to live aligned with our values. I believe emotions should not be put in charge or completely ignored, but rather when you know what you’re feeling and why, major change can start to occur.
Depression can result from life losses, un-managed stress, genetic predisposition, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, not eating right, lack of quality and supportive relationships, and wrong thinking about self and the self as it relates to the world. Lack of education, myths, shame, and stigmas keep people in isolation and away from seeking much-needed treatment. Women tend to struggle with depression two times more than men due to emotional needs, brain wiring, and hormones. With education, support, and some emotional savvy, many women are able to find ways to transform their depression into meaning and hope.
Depression can be scary, and hard to navigate. For people who have never experienced it, depression can take them by surprise. For others, depression is something they are familiar with, as it has been a part of their life story. If you have depression, the sun doesn’t seem to shine quite as brightly, or feel quite as warm on your face. Your spirit isn’t lifted as easily or your heart doesn’t fill with happiness like it once did. It might be harder to take care of responsibilities, invest in relationships, make decisions, or get out of bed. You might feel irritable, eat more or less than usual, cry easily or not at all. An interesting thing about depression is that you don’t often realize it’s depression you’re experiencing. You think it’s your actual reality and life. I sit with clients who are not able to see any truth about themselves or the goodness they bring to the world. They dwell only on what they haven’t accomplished, what they haven’t done right, and how they are a burden. They feel as if their “wrongness” has created the cloud of depression rather than the depression causing the cloud.
Sadness is a normal reaction to painful or difficult events in life. We get sad because something or someone of value was taken from us. Clinical depression is different, which is when this sad mood or loss of interest or pleasure continues for at least a two-week period, and your social or occupational functioning begins to be negatively impaired. Feelings of hopelessness may occur, or you may have thoughts or plans of hurting yourself. This is a major and serious red flag that it’s time to reach out for help, through supportive friends, anti-depressants, a professional counselor, or doctor.
Men and women’s brains are very different, and so are their emotional responses and needs. Women tend to rely on both hemispheres of their brain to process emotions, where men tend to do this in only one hemisphere. This makes it easier for men to escape or decrease the intensity of an emotion easier. Women also have a range of hormonal changes throughout their lives, especially in their childbearing years. The emotional, physical, and lifestyle changes can be incredibly overwhelming beginning with pregnancy. Postpartum depression can follow pregnancy, along with depression that can happen when women wean their children. Hormones are not only scattered and unruly during motherhood, but the pressure moms feel to do things “right” can take a toll. It’s much more common to post a picture on social media of you and your smiling baby than to reach out to say how much you’re actually struggling as a mom.
Understanding our emotions helps move us past fighting them into acceptance of them. Here are a few suggestions I offer clients:
- Honor and validation. Honor past, current, and potential future losses. As previously mentioned, depression is commonly related to feelings of loss, unresolved or unrecognized grief. When life events happen, it can mean a loss of a previous role, way of life, or dream. These losses can be common, such as admitting life has not turned out the way you thought it would, when you move, marry, graduate, end an addiction, come to a holiday, or experience health changes. Unresolved or unrecognized grief can be losses experienced early in life that have not been honored or taken seriously. If your parents didn’t take your feelings or your losses seriously, then you may not either.
- Some thoughts on thinking. Both depression and anxiety can be triggered and sustained by wrong thinking called cognitive distortions. A primary cause of spiraling toward depression is rumination, or thinking one or two thoughts over and over and over. Unfortunately these negative thought patterns are so familiar that we aren’t even aware of them. Mindfulness, or the art of paying attention in a particular way, helps us begin to “watch” what we are thinking from a distance. We begin to have a third eye or inner observer watching our thoughts, and in this way we begin to control our thoughts rather than our thoughts controlling us. Mindfulness is also the idea that you can experience a thought or feeling but that you don’t have to get caught up in it. We are often swept away on a roller coaster ride if our thoughts and feelings are in charge. Neuroplasticity means we can change our thoughts if they aren’t helpful.
- Create. Creating helps us not only focus on something other than our thoughts and feelings for a while, but it can give us a sense of accomplishment. Rearrange your house, your schedule, your driving route, take up crocheting or painting. Creating forces our brain to think differently and is one way to open up creative channels. When we open up creative channels, it can help us get out of the rutted and mundane feelings depression can cause.
- Become curious. One way to move out of depression is to cultivate a sense of curiosity (versus resistance) to our depressed feelings. If we imagine ourselves “sitting” with our depression and listening to it, it can often teach us that our hearts desire a change in the way we are living. In this way, depression can show us what is really important to us. The goal is to live in congruence with our personal values and beliefs, not someone else’s values, beliefs or the “shoulds” of society. Living from the inside out brings peace and rest that we are enough, just as we are.
Remember, you are not alone in this, even if the depression you’re feeling may tell you otherwise. There is hope and a life of happiness and healthiness that you are worthy of and capable of attaining. Why wait any longer? It might be the challenge of a lifetime to reach out to someone, but you and your life are worth it. It is the best gift you could ever give to yourself and those who love you.
Blog entry adapted from “Women and Depression” article at www.sarahflemingcounseling.com
Sarah Morris Fleming , LICSW has a private practice conducting online psychotherapy, and she is also part of a group private practice in the Boston area. She received her Master’s of Social Work and Family Therapy from University of Iowa and her areas of focus are anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, and spiritual growth. Sarah utilizes traditional talk therapy, along with expressive art modalities. Sarah takes a holistic approach to therapy, addressing the mind, body, spirit, social network, and emotions as equally integral components that profoundly affect one another.