On the bus recently I overheard a woman on her cellphone. “I’m so depressed,” she told the person on the receiving end. Later that day, I was on the receiving end as I listened to a friend from across the country explain that it’s been hard to get out of bed in the mornings. I knew what she meant. I, too, had been having a hard time getting and staying motivated and upbeat.
While the term “depression” might commonly be used as a general descriptor to convey, I feel bad emotionally and I don’t know how to relieve it, depression itself is not an emotion. “Depression actually occurs when we become stuck in a painful or uncomfortable emotion and we don’t know how to step out of its grip,” believes Joey Klein, a meditation and personal growth expert. “In overcoming depression, we must begin to feel the emotion that we are stuck in.” Harvard University has determined that the neurological lifespan of an emotion is 90 seconds. An emotion can only survive longer than 90 seconds if it is fed. The food that feeds and sustains emotion is our thoughts. Therefore, it is the way that we think that keeps an emotion alive beyond 90 seconds and keeps us stuck in a painful state.
“When it comes to emotions, there are no shortcuts,” says Klein. “We must allow ourselves to authentically feel the emotions we carry. Only then can we begin to shift and change our emotional state.” Klein offers the following tips to begin to become unstuck from depression:
• When you feel that pain or discomfort you label as “depression,” stop and acknowledge it directly: In that space, say to yourself, “In this moment, I feel _________”; identify the emotion that is present. Then silently affirm, “And that’s okay. It’s a natural human emotion.” If you don’t know what emotion is present, just give the emotion a name. The identity of the emotion is not what is important. What will shift your emotional state is tuning into whatever contracted fear-based experience is present for you and fully feeling that sensation without resistance.
• As the painful emotion comes up, remember that it is critical not to think about the emotion: When you think about the emotion, you feed it and the emotion will only grow stronger. Instead, focus on the emotion itself, fully experiencing the sensation that is present. If you find yourself thinking about the emotion, gently direct your focus back to feeling the emotion, as opposed to thinking about it.
• Breathe: As you get close to 90 seconds and the emotion begins to subside, begin to breathe what we call a four-sided breath. As you breathe, focus on a spot, deep in your abdomen, two inches below the belly button and an inch back towards the spine. This spot is your center. Inhale into this center point in the abdomen, breathing in and out through your nose. After you fully inhale, pause to hold your breath for a few seconds and then exhale deep into your center. Finally, pause and hold your breath again for a few seconds. Breathe two or three rounds of this deep four-sided breath. This breath will begin to force the body to shift its state.
• Next, consciously direct the mind to focus on all of the reasons you have to be grateful, peaceful and joyful in your life: For food, shelter and loved ones, you can create thoughts of gratitude. Even if you don’t believe those thoughts or you doubt them in the beginning, consciously direct your mind to create these higher thoughts anyway. By doing so, you are beginning to break the cycle of feeding the painful pattern. When the mind begins focusing on reasons for gratitude, peace and joy, the emotional state will follow. Although sometimes it takes a while, in most states, the shift comes quite quickly. Now you are consciously creating new emotional states and through this work, you are no longer stuck in “depression.”
The great news is that at any age, we can begin to rewire our brains through intentional practices and begin to expand our ability to regulate and express emotion. What we think of as depression need not be a permanent experience but instead, with the right training, in a relatively short period of time, it can become a distant memory.
Joey Klein is an internationally known personal development expert, martial arts champion, and author of the book The Inner Matrix: A Guide to Transforming Your Life and Awakening Your Spirit.