From Depression

Mind-Body Medicine is “How to Heal Psychological Trauma”

Dear Friends,

On a recent trip to London, I was interviewed during Depression Awareness Week about my book Unstuck’s UK release by The Guardian newspaper. The reporter was particularly interested in CMBM’s Global Trauma Relief program and our work to bring population-wide psychological healing to places around the world that are afflicted by war and natural disaster. You can read the piece here:

THE GUARDIAN: How to Heal Psychological Trauma: From Haiti to Gaza, psychiatrist James Gordon counsels survivors of disasters around the world

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Labor Day Stress Relief

Dear friends,

I wanted to share with you an article I just published on Health News Digest. I hope you’ll find it useful going into the Labor Day weekend, and that you’ll share with friends and family who may be in need of some stress relief.

Labor Day Tips for Reducing Stress by James S. Gordon, M.D. (originally posted on Health News Digest: Original Article)

Labor Day is traditionally a time of rest before the renewed activity of fall. For tens of millions of Americans who are unemployed or underemployed it is a time of high stress, a time when anxiety caused by economic insecurity and foreclosures unsettles, agitates, and casts a shadow over the unemployed and their families.

Over the years, I have worked with thousands of people who have been made anxious and depressed by economic hardship. Here are five steps drawn from my most recent book, “Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression,” that people can take to address the pain and insecurity that may come with today’s economic uncertainty. All of them are free and all can be easily learned and done at home.

1. Begin a simple nondenominational meditation practice: Slow, deep breathing — in through the nose, out through the mouth, with the belly soft and relaxed and the eyes closed — is a sure antidote to the stress response that uncertainty provokes. To encourage relaxation you can say, “soft” as you breathe in and “belly” as you breathe out. Begin with five minutes, two to three times a day.

2. Move your body: Physical exercise may be the single best therapy for depression. It’s very good for anxiety as well. Find any kind of movement that suits you, jog, dance, swim, or walk, it all works. You’ll see and feel some benefits after 15-20 minutes.

3. Reach out to others: Human connection — to family, friends, co-workers in the same boat — is an antidote to the sense of aimlessness and isolation that may come from job loss or unexpected economic insecurity.

4. Find someone who will listen and help you take a realistic look at your situation: Allow a trusted friend or adviser to help you look for possible solutions for any stressful situations you may be experiencing. In addition to helping you unburden your mind, body and spirit, a trusted friend or advisor can often see solutions more clearly than you and can help you find ways to put these solutions to work.

5. Let your imagination help you find healing and new meaning and purpose: After breathing deeply and relaxing for a few minutes, imagine someplace safe and comfortable, it could be a place you know and love or one that comes to you. Make yourself at home there, notice what’s around you, breathe deeply and relax. My colleagues and I at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine have used this safe place imagery successfully with New York City fire fighters after 9/11, with U.S. troops going to or returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with families in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We teach it every day in our offices and like the other four steps, we use it ourselves.

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Depression’s Upside: A One-Sided View

Some thoughts on Jonah Lehrer’s article from The New York Times Magazine, February 25, 2010.

In his article on the possible evolutionary purpose of sadness, Jonah Lehrer, a talented writer and knowledgeable scientists confuses an adaptive mechanism –the capacity for greater focus that the rumination of depression may afford – with a therapeutic one.  Even more important, he does not address the causes of depression and, in accordance with his emphasis on enhanced problem solving, limits his discussion of therapeutic efforts to cognitive change.

Work with many hundreds of depressed people in my psychiatric practice and tens of thousands more in war, post-war and disaster situations around the world gives me a very different perspective and leads me to different conclusions.  So many of us are depressed because we are living at variance with both our genetic programming and our need for meaning and purpose.  We are affected so dramatically by losses of relationships, jobs, etc. because we are not sustained by the adequate social support that is a hallmark of traditional societies.  We are subject to an unprecedented level of stress and overstimulation in our environment, to toxic food, and sedentary ways of living that are anathema to our evolutionary development and detrimental to our mood.  Many of us lack a sense of purpose in our lives, a connection to something greater than ourselves that gives human life meaning, and can give us hope in difficult times.

The symptoms of depression – both the rumination on what went wrong and why that Lehrer focuses on, and the lethargy, hopelessness, decreased interest in sex and food that go along with it – are best understood and responded to not as an evolutionary advantage but as a wake-up call.  They let us know that it is time to address the conditions that are creating the imbalances in our lives; to use food and exercise, meditation and imagination to improve our biology and enlarge our perspective, and to reach out to others—therapists, clergy, family and friends—who can help us.  The true purpose and challenge of our depression is to wake us up to what is wrong in the way we live, to point us toward ways to become more fully human.

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