How Do You Create Emotional Change?
To work through depression, one must first recognize the signs: overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, irritability, fatigue, changes in appetite and loss of interest or pleasure in activities are some of the symptoms of depression. Stop for a moment and notice your emotions; rate their intensity. Can you identify multiple emotions? Once you have noticed and rated your emotions begin to move from awareness into acceptance. Did you try to make sense of your emotions or attach judgment? If you did that’s completely normal. We are wired to place judgment; it helps to keep us safe and prepared. Though judgments serve a purpose, our automatic patterns of thinking can contribute to keeping us stuck in our pain and prevent us from being fully present in the moment.
Emotions are neither good or bad, right or wrong. There may be times when accepting the sadness, anger or shame commonly associated with depression is helpful. Other times we may seek a break from a certain emotion and work to change it. Our bodies and minds are so closely connected that depression can result in physical pain. What is less known is that by changing our bodies we can change our mood. A change in your facial expression generates a change in your emotional state. A power stance can improve your confidence and raise self-esteem. When experiencing depression, our instinct is to conserve energy, withdraw, shrink away. Unfortunately, this behavior typically makes the problem worse and to work through the symptoms of depression we must work against these instincts. Being aware of the processes going on within us is the first step towards a more balanced way of living. The depression tells us to climb in bed; instead try increasing activity. Physical exercise, social interactions, exposure to sunlight, balanced nutrition and healthy sleep patterns are all protective factors for depression. If you are in pain and struggling to find joy reach out to someone, recovery is possible.
Creating Tranquility out of Chaos
A friend who works in mental health once said to me, “There are no depressed kindergarten teachers.” As questionable as it is to make a blanket statement on any subject, this observation has merit. Imagine spending one’s day surrounded by exuberant little explorers whose “job” it is to play? In Chinese Medicine, we describe life in terms of yin and yang; yin being darkness, substance, and stillness, while its counterpart, yang is light, movement, and expansion. Children are wonderful bundles of yang; their energy constantly moving, wiggling, playing, and through tactile experiences, they expand their knowledge. Children, while engaged in play, regulate themselves. Play is an effective way for children to have an in-body sensory experience allowing them to be engaged with others and alert to their surroundings. And while it may be exhausting at times for adults (who have become more yin-like with age) to spend long days with these power houses of constant, cheerful movement, rarely do playful children evoke depressive symptoms in adults.
Playing comes naturally to children and it is as much an education for them as learning standard subjects. Play could be considered a form of unstructured learning. Around the time students reach Middle School, children have less opportunity to engage in play as recess is replaced by greater emphasis on structured learning. By adulthood, we have found other ways to regulate our emotional states. We have forgotten how to create fun by engaging in unstructured learning, so we either participate in an activity with a purpose, such as an athletic endeavor, or we passively disengage, such as by watching television. Whether we get up and move to clear our minds or recline in a comfy chair at the end of the day, it is clear is that our emotional states are closely connected to our physical selves. Earlier, we discussed how changing our bodies can change our mood. What are the ways in which you can create emotional change?
When a patient comes to acupuncture seeking assistance with depression and anxiety, I will ask how that emotion manifests physically. Many patients who are new to acupuncture have a hard time answering this question never having considered how a condition of the brain could be closely connected to the body. Knowing how the emotional state affects the physical state gives the acupuncturist a clue as to the organ system that needs to be addressed. It is not uncommon to hear stories of episodic sharp pain originating at the base of the neck turning into a blinding headache among PTSD sufferers, nor is it uncommon to learn of debilitating loose stools experienced by patients with social phobia. What acupuncture can offer is a regulatory effect on the system similar to what children experience when playing. This effect is short term giving the patient temporary relief from the symptoms that have caused them to become isolated.
Becoming aware of one’s emotions is the first step in fostering change. Awareness leads to action which brings about change. When depression feels overwhelming and lying in bed seems like the only solution, try very simply to move your body. Can you turn your daily routine into a game of play like a child? Can you reach your arms up to the sky and take in a deep breath thus opening up your lungs and creating a pose of confidence? The gentle support of a mental health practitioner can help you create these strategies for conquering your emotional anchor. With the integration of acupuncture treatment along with therapy from a mental health clinician, the prognosis for patients with mental health conditions is much greater.
Jennifer Madore is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with a private practice in Waterboro Maine. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of New England. Jennifer specializes in working with adults and adolescents providing treatment through a variety of modalities including DBT and Narrative therapy. Jennifer is a member of Health Affiliates Maine and practices at Peck’s Family Acupuncture in Waterboro. She can be reached at 1-877-888-4304.
Jessica Peck-Lindsey is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Integrative Health and owner of Peck’s Family Acupuncture, LLC. in Waterboro, ME. Dr. Peck-Lindsey holds a Master’s of Science in Pain Research, Education, and Policy from Tufts School of Medicine and is Certified in Traumatic Stress Studies from the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute. With the aim of being able to better provide for patients living with pain and traumatic stress, Dr. Peck-Lindsey opened the Wellness Center at Peck’s Family Acupuncture integrating therapeutic movement, trauma-informed yoga, Reiki, Emotion Code, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and wellness coaching along with individualized acupuncture and massage therapy sessions. Dr. Peck-Lindsey can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.