Sunday, August 25, 2013

Common Sense Comes to the Help of Those Depressed

If you keep examining your mind, you'll come to see that thoughts of who you are and how it all is are creating the reality you're experiencing.
Baba Ram Dass

Albert Ellis, who developed Rational Emotive Therapy, recognised that much mental and emotional anguish was caused by thinking that simply wasn't useful, nor a common sense approach to reality. His approach was to challenge the mindsets by which a patient was directing their life, basically replacing unhelpful irrational thinking with thoughts that were more grounded in how life actually operated. He had excellent success in helping his patients remove depressive episodes from their lives, simply by addressing the way in which they viewed their inner or outer realities.

When Aaron (Tim) Beck developed Cognitive Therapy as a way to help people with depression or anxiety, he stumbled upon the means by which to improve the lives of virtually everyone, because all of us need to bring additional common sense to the way in which we are living our lives. Beck was prepared to step out of the theoretical mould into which he had been cast, and postulate a difference genesis to the origin of depression. He argued that the theories of the time, which varied from imbalance in brain chemistry to the Freudian thesis that anger had been turned in on itself, had missed the point. To make matters worse, patients at that time were led to believe that only a health professional could cure them, as if the active involvement of the patient was superfluous to the healing process. Beck wanted to empower his patients to work with their thinking. He, like Ellis, saw depression as a cognitive disorder, involving errors in the common sense use of the mind. Cognitive therapy, because it can succeed in helping those who are depressing or angsting to see their world differently, has become the therapy of choice for this very disabling disorder.

We can each take charge of our minds
Beck commented that "the troubled person is led to believe that he can't help himself and must seek out a professional healer when confronted with distress related to everyday problems of living. His confidence in using the 'obvious' techniques he has customarily used in solving his problems is eroded because he accepts the view that emotional disturbances arise from forces beyond his grasp. He can't hope to understand himself through his own efforts, because his own notions are dismissed as shallow and unsubstantial. By debasing the value of common sense, this subtle indoctrination inhibits him from using his own judgment in analysing and solving his problems." Beck determined to hand power back to his patients so they could learn to live their life a different way, a way that worked for them. Those with excellent mental health simply think differently to those who struggle.

Joseph Wolpe's contribution to the mix was to show that thoughts have a direct impact on emotional experience. If we think "I may not make enough money over the next few weeks", then we succeed in generating anxiety. If we think about a recent loved one who passed away, in seconds we can generate tears. The way we think, can create bedlam in our lives if we allow the mind to run amok in unhelpful ways.

The way we use our mind has a big impact on our feelings of well-being.

We can easily get depresed or anxious by that which isn't important
Sometimes the unhelpful thinking can be over trivial matters which are blown out of all proportion in the mind. Of course, 'trivial' is a definition that one might apply to an experience someone else may define as 'hell on fire'. What is significant, though, is that there is a vast array of perspectives and beliefs about the world and self that we can choose to adopt to make ourselves feel either low, or elated. The bottom line doesn't change though; it's all in the mind. And its about choice. Even though certain mindsets may be well entrenched, and may even be challenging to shift, none are stuck to the mind with superglue.

Sometimes that disturbing mental state has been prevalent since infancy, while for others it began when the marriage split up or redundancy arrived. No matter when it began, the thinking pattern once identified can be transformed. Step one, then, is to notice what pattern(s) of thinking, most likely beliefs, are causing the dis-stress. As we investigate style(s) of thinking, be aware that the mental patterns causing depression can be in regards to many different things. People can think depressively about themselves (often the case), the direction of their life, their relationships, their career, their finances -almost anything at all. However, the biggees are the approaches taken towards self, significant others, and the meaning and purpose of one's own life. It is therefore not difficult to see why loneliness is a significant factor leading to depression in older people, aged 65 to 89 years, given the lack of interpersonal connection, meaning, personal power and hope of an enjoyable life many in this age group face. Lifestyle and lifestage, then, are going to be factors affecting our thinking, and perhaps predisposing us towards doomy and gloomy or anxious perspectives.

Flush out beliefs and mindsets no longer useful
Some of our most consistent and unhelpful perspectives, especially those that have been around since childhood, develop into belief systems. It was Jeffery Young who contributed substantially to an appreciation of the way in which our thinking about self and the world is caused by some 'hard wiring' in the mind, and he showed that if we can learn about, and then change, the neural wiring that has developed as a result of these embedded but misguided beliefs, then the underlying support for the faulty thinking will be undermined at source. The human mind processes information and experience in packages which then become the filters of subsequent experience. These core beliefs about the way the world is determine what we look at, what we look for, and what we conclude as a result of those experiences. Therefore, by identifying and altering these mindsets, we can change the way in which we experience our life.

All of these methods are getting people to rewire their neurology, and create circuits with the brain that serve them better, and view themselves and their world more constructively. When I work with depressed or anxious people, I encourage them to diary their unhelpful thinking. Just tracking - I call it stalking - unhelpful thinking can be enough to raise our awareness of what is happening, and make us aware that we have a choice. I have written before of the key strategies we can implement to distract our mind from the same old worries and doubts. Don't allow unhelpful thinking to continue. Distract, replace or ignore thoughts that erroneously claim there is impending doom, or everlasting gloom.

Good mental health creates good mental wealth. Happy people bring common sense to what they allow their minds to dwell on.

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