Depression and anxiety are becoming serious American realities. Commercials litter the TV singing the praises of anti-depressant medications. What was once thought taboo, is now common practice. More of your friends and neighbors are on anti-depression or anti-anxiety medications than ever. However, though pharmaceutical medication certainly has its place, the goal should be to achieve relief from depression or anxiety through natural, or non-medical means if at all possible, and use pharmaceuticals as a "last resort".
In previous weeks we have examined on the brain—which are almost exactly the same as depression—and the .
This week, we'll examine the power of giving.
One of the giant ironies of "The Holiday Season" is that although it centers on the act of giving, our focus on the gifts has made us a culture full of stressed out givers. And, though many of us complain about the commercialization of the season, few of us rise above it.
So, if you are depressed, stressed, or anxious, consider giving yourself to something bigger than yourself this winter: consider volunteering. Perhaps you can volunteer to serve dinner at a shelter; or organize a food drive at your work, school, or church on behalf of Philabundance or the Salvation Army; or volunteer in your child's school.
There is a unique motivation for living that comes with becoming a part of something that is 'bigger than yourself'. Your reason for getting up in the morning becomes something greater than you. You discover that what you may have thought was a worthless life, now has positive effect in the world.
There are plenty of ways to volunteer in the neighborhood. Here are just a few:
- Philadelphia Children's Foundation works with kids from K-12 in attempts to, "help children of all ages find their passion, develop needed skills, and make positive career and life decisions to achieve a successful future."
- Perhaps you are now thinking, "But, I am too stressed to volunteer," or, "But what could *I* possible have to give? I'm a loser. I'm depressed. I'll just bring everyone else down." Ground yourself in nature while doing good! The Wissahickon Trail is an extensive portion of Fairmount Park, and is always in need of upkeep. Join others who love nature to preserve and maintain it with The Friends of the Wissachickon
- Do you love animals? Clinical studies have shown that owning an animal can decrease depression. Sometimes, what's even better is saving one. The Montgomery County SPCA is always looking for volunteers. Do good for animals, and feel good too!
- Just over the bridge in Manayunk, Northern Home for Children has ways for individuals or groups to get involved. Individuals can tutor, menor, or teach a workshop. You could organize a group to do a service project such as painting or light repairs.
- Churches and your child's school usually also have ways to volunteer. Never underestimate the power of volunteering in your child's school. Whether its teaching a club, tutoring, or office work, it will always be making a difference.
That is what we call a "Negative Thought." Dr. Daniel Amen is a pioneer in a brain scanning technology called SPECT Scanning. He has scanned tens of thousands of brains, and has studied effects on the brain of everything from smoking and drugs, to nutrition, to sports injury. He has found patterns in how certain brain disfunctions manifest. As a result of all his research, he is a huge propundant for sleep, nutrition, and vitamin supplementaiton. He also has a toolbox of mental tools. One of his favorite "tools" is called "Killing the A.N.Ts” or Automatic Negative Thoughts. This is a discipline that is well worth the effort to make into a habit.
We will dive into this practice next week, but in essence, Killing the ANTS means that when a negative thought pops into your head, choose to replace it with a positive one, instead of dwelling on the negative. This will be easier for some, and nearly impossible for others. But, if you make it your intention every day to be conscious of the negative thoughts as they show themselves, then the more you practice replacing them with positive thoughts, the easier it will become.
Dr. Amen has amazing case studies where people put this action into practice, and the brain scans actually show the brain's improved health (over time). It is a very powerful tool.
Next week, we will apply this tool more in depth, and also talk about the transforming power of Faith.
**If you are having suicidal thoughts, or desires to harm yourself or others, seek a medical professional (preferably a psychologist or psycho-pharmacologist) immediately to discuss medication options. If it feels like an emergency, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.