Rob Delaney wrote an interesting thoughtful piece on asking for help with depression. Another interesting piece on depression is this lecture on Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy by Dr. Stuart Eisendrath at the University of California - San Francisco. It’s an hour and a half, so this isn’t for a quick casual glance. But it’s a practical and informed look at how mindfulness can decrease stress and anxiety, keep depression at bay and improve general mental health.
He isn’t arguing against antidepressants, by the way. He’s in favor of them as a way to combat major depression. But he is exploring something that could be an alternative or a supplement and that in a significant number of cases had a palpable effect.
The word “meditation” brings to mind — or at least it used to bring to MY mind — images of vaguely Eastern philosophies, and vegan diets, and hugely long and somehow self-indulgent yoga sessions. But this guy’s lectures —- which are primarily scientific and medical and filled with stats —- convinced me that meditation can be more of simply practicing being still and without judgment as a way of training your brain to be … happier.
The things he says overlap, annoyingly, with a lot of “10 Things Happy People Do!” articles that you see on Internet clickbait sites. Don’t let that make you ignore his points.
Like one of the things he says that stuck with me is the idea that “thoughts are mental events, not facts.” Meaning that in depressive personalities, certain thoughts are recurring. Something like “I am unworthy of X” — just as a reflexive assessment. But just because that thought has occurred doesn’t mean it’s true, or even inspired by a clear piece of real evidence. Mindfulness is supposed to make you aware that that feeling is just a thought that popped up perhaps because of a poor mental habit or chemistry or who knows what — and it doesn’t need to be taken seriously. Stuff like that.
I like the way Dr. Eisndrath talks. He’s plain-spoken despite the technical subject. He sounds curious rather than proselytizing. He sounds like he’s thought a lot about what makes people depressed, what it means to be depressed, and what can truly change those habits.
There’s also a lot of scientific data and trials he talks about which are interesting. Like he has a list of the 30 most common depressive thoughts. There are surveys that can be used to try and give a quantitative measure to how much anxiety one is feeling. That’s interesting!
I’ve been clumsily trying to do minor meditation things for the past few months and I find it to be noticeably helpful when it comes to avoiding weird internal mental tailspins (the middle of the night anxieties, or even the middle of a crowded subway ride rage).
(EDITED TO ADD: I hesitate to make this more about me, but let me say this in case it compels someone else to watch the video: More than clumsily trying to do minor meditation, I’ve been overtly trying over the last few years especially the year year — to practice more healthy mental habits. I was finding myself in increasingly frequent and increasingly intense sprees of feeling very down. I never experienced something I’d describe as suicidal and saying “I was depressed” doesn’t sound right. It feels too self-important at the very least to make such declarations! But I saw bad habits picking up pace and wanted to overly change the momentum. From that mindset I found things like the above lecture. And the above lecture is one of the things that had a huge effect. )
For those who practice improv, it’s similar to the way scenes start to slow down once you do a lot of them — you’re no longer in such a hurry to jump in there because you can sort of FEEL the gaps and pauses that were always there in the scene. Yep, improv and meditation, I am talking about them together. I think Anthony Atamanuik has talked about this too in his classes.
Anyway, a lot of people who I follow on Tumblr talk about mental health, and general depression, and major clinical depression, or even just low level anxiety. If you’re interested in actually changing mental habits — I recommend listening to Dr. Eisendrath’s talk and considering it. Not as a replacement or a panacea — just as a humble informed view.