Stress is back under the spotlight this month with National Stress Awareness Day on Wednesday 6th November. At this time of the year stress levels typically rise, because although nature may be slowing down and encouraging us to rest and retreat, our modern lives and work schedules continue to demand constant activity and productivity.
Winter offers an invitation to turn inward and recuperate. When we override this seasonal rest cycle by forcing ourselves to race on without refueling we can begin to experience burnout. A common symptom of this is depression.
According to the World Health Organization more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from some form of depression. British workers are the most depressed in Europe according to the Impact of Depression in the Workplace in Europe Audit conducted last year. Depression is the persistent feeling of sadness, helplessness and lack, which is often accompanied by symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, low libido, poor concentration and physical aches and pains.
Many scientists believe that the experience of depression is compounded during the winter months due to the lack of light. Shorter daylight hours cause chemical changes in the body that stimulate the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This affects some people more than others and is thought to be the main cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as 'the winter blues'. According to Alison Kerry, from the mental health charity MIND, SAD sufferers "produce higher melatonin, causing lethargy and symptoms of depression."
A combination of both internal and external and factors appear to contribute to the onset of depression. In my work with people overcoming burnout I have met many individuals suffering from depression. Not everyone who experiences burnout experiences the same symptoms, so not everyone who burns out can relate to depression, but for many there can be sensations of persistent sadness or feelings of worthlessness and helplessness that are typically associated with depression.
What I have noticed in working with those reporting depression is that there is that common internal pressures include a struggle to please others, be successful, achieve and exceed expectations. External pressures are often experienced in the form of a personal or professional loss, or a major life change resulting increased physical, mental or emotional demands. There is often also a prolonged experience of feeling disconnected and unfulfilled in the workplace or home environment, or to quote several clients, a sensation of "living someone else's life".
For many people depression can be something that they are able to trace back to childhood. Dr Trisha Macnair suggests that the majority of adults experiencing depression remember having symptoms as a child. Scientists have recently discovered that how happy or sad we generally are is 50% influenced by our genetics, 40% by the thoughts and beliefs that form our daily habits, and 10% by our environment.
Many psychologists believe that in the very early months of a child's life his impression of himself and himself in relation to others begins to form, and by the end of the second or during the third year the child has already formed his conclusion about himself and others, what Harris (1995, I'm Ok, You're Ok) refers to as the child's 'life plan'. What we determine at this early stage in life also seems to affect how we continue to relate to ourselves and others right through our lives into adulthood (Stewart and Joines, 1987, TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis).
As Marci Shimoff points out in her fabulous best selling book Happy for No Reason, the aforementioned theory that 50% of our happiness level is determined by our DNA, means that he remaining 50% is NOT genetics and can therefore be changed. Not only that, but according to Shimoff, epigeneticists have found that in changing our habits we can change our genes. So, although genetics may play some part in our predisposed ability to cope with certain situations in life we have the power within us to positively influence our DNA and be happier as a result.
So, how can we rewrite our childhood scripts and increase our happiness setpoint? Jeff Foster, an author who himself experienced depression, points out that the verb has the similar phonetic sound as 'deep rest' . He believes that depression is a hidden opportunity to release the pressure of being someone you are not so that you can 'rest deeply in the core of who you are'. I heard a similar theory from a psychology professor many years ago who suggested that what you resist persists and that by listening to inner yearnings to retreat and go within we are able to reconnect with our true passions and purpose enabling us to birth ourselves anew.
As children, many of us mold who we think we should be, in order to fit in, keep up appearances and please our parents, teachers or care-givers. We therefore form a false sense of identity over time that can eventually become too much to bear and result in the experience of depression. However, if we listen to our bodies and accept the signs and symptoms of depression, they transform into a chance to rediscover ourselves, to accept all of the unique parts that make us whole, and to reinvent the way in which we choose to create our experience of life.
You can transform your experience of depression this winter into an opportunity for self-discovery and self-growth. Go within, de-stress, rest, rejuvenate and uncover a new you!
7 TIPS TO TRANSFORM DEPRESSION THIS WINTER
1. Listen - Allow the wisdom of your body to communicate with you by noticing the physical signs and symptoms it gives you rather than overriding them. Be kind to yourself. It is okay to feel low.
2. Pause - Give yourself permission to press pause, de-stress and take time out to rest.
3. Lighten Your Load - Let go of unnecessary commitments. Clear some space in your calendar so that you can slow down, indulge in some personal reflection and get more sleep.
4. Go Within - Use creative mediums like poetry, art, song, dance and body movement to explore and process your emotions, especially the ones you've felt unable to express in the past.
5. Remove the Mask - Make a list or draw pictures of all the things you pretend to be in your life. What are you putting up with? What are your frustrations? Where do you feel tension? By expressing these it becomes easier to go behind the mask you wear and rediscover who you truly are underneath.
6. Get Outside - Make an effort to get outside during the day and increase your exposure to daylight. This will help to boost your mood and is especially important during the winter months when there are shorter daylight hours.
7. Uncover Your Passions - Connect with your true interests to boost your sense of self-fulfillment and help overcome depression. Lacking inspiration? Remember some of the things you used to love to do as a child and reignite old hobbies or experiment by trying something new.
NB: If you think you may be suffering from prolonged stress, depression or SAD consult your GP for further advice and information.