Living with Depression: depression through the eyes of a psychotherapist

As a psychotherapist, I find the most useful way of helping the people I work with understand and manage depression is through the lens of the body – what is happening in terms of nervous system arousal, and also psychobiologically. Through this lens, depression is understood as being stuck in a pattern of parasympathetic (low) nervous system arousal. Also, called hypo-arousal.

Charlie Brown on Depression

This cute and informative cartoon on depression got me thinking...


How do you habitual hold yourself?

Sometimes I invite my psychotherapy and counselling clients to experiment with different body postures. Is is possible to feel depressed, whilst standing tall and proud? 

This cartoon got me thinking, not only about the way we hold our bodies, but also about the ways we move them – and how our movement flows on to effect our mood.

Is it possible to feel depressed when you're dancing or pedalling hard on the bike? 

I know that moving my body at the end of a hard day is usually enough to me out a funk. 

Movement is deeply therapeutic. Exercise is often prescribed by psychotherapists and health professionals, particularly for depression.

One way of understanding the therapeutic quality of movement is in terms of nervous system arousal. Movement helps to regulate arousal levels and enhances information processing across the right and left brain hemispheres. If depression is effectively being stuck in a pattern of low hypo-arousal, then movement is going to help.

I remember hearing a meditation teacher speaking at a mediation retreat. A student asked him a question about how to work with deep and prolonged states of depression. Much to the student's surprise, the meditation teacher told the student to start running.  Indeed, a recent study suggests that combining meditation with running could help reduce depression more than mindfulness meditation practice alone. 

Of course, the challenge when you're feeling depressed is in finding the mojo to put on your running (or dancing feet) in the first place – in which  the case, you could always try standing up a little straighter and see how this feels.