As much as I am convinced of my calling as author, speaker, and coach, I too believe wholeheartedly in my roles as teacher and mental health advocate. Anyone who knows me well enough has heard me speak of my deep desire to transform the educational system and to shift the human experience by teaching the most important concepts of emotional intelligence and psychological well-being.
Every day I set the intention to open a mind—to transform a life—by shifting a perspective and using curiosity to find possibility. As a matter of fact, I am devoting this new chapter of my life, as an empty nester, to teaching emotional literacy and mental well-being, which is the essence of my current curriculum.My intuition is telling me that people have just about had enough of chronic stress and psychological suffering—that they are ready for something new, and that’s not only within the political realm.
It’s a fact of life that we all suffer, and that suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s also a fact that all suffering needs to be addressed and not repressed—it needs to be dealt with in the best way possible so as to alleviate its oftentimes debilitating symptoms.
Now the question arises: what is the best way to deal with emotional pain and suffering? Of course, that varies depending on the individual circumstances. And according to the most recent statistics, medication seems to be the chosen or preferred path. Not necessarily because it’s the best path, but because it has proven to be the easiest and least vulnerable course of action—people are scared of the “alternative.”
Now, I will not for a moment dispute the fact that medications are oftentimes necessary and helpful. However, it is a known fact that they are overprescribed and thus overused. For this reason, I would like to offer an alternative. Current research suggests there is a more natural, readily available, and user-friendly remedy.
As you read this blog, I ask you to please dispense of all diagnostic labels as we don’t necessarily need to “medicalize” our symptoms and attach them to a specific disorder, such as depression or anxiety, to make them real. Let’s trust that we are all living with the normal ups and downs of life, and sometimes with profound and even chronic unhappiness, littered with stress, worry, and discontent.
In his book, Rethinking Depression, Eric Maisel says, “It’s a grave mistake to make every unwanted aspect of life a symptom of a mental disorder.”
I say, whatever we are experiencing, let’s accept it as a natural part of life. Let’s accept ourselves as imperfect humans, acknowledge that at times we all need support, and that there are an abundance of tools available that are accessible to all of us.
My advice to you is that you build your toolkit now, and not wait first for the difficult chapters to arise. And once you have done so, seek out the most actionable items for you to integrate into your life. Whatever the symptoms: mild unhappiness/sadness, chronic unhappiness/discontent, or even severe unhappiness, which may or may not have been diagnosed as depression, we could all benefit from what I am about to share.
Science is now showing that we all have natural antidepressants within our brain. By developing these natural antidepressants and nurturing them, we can strengthen our brain’s ability to act as its own antidepressant and thereby uncover happiness and a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
The problem with current pharmaceutical treatments is that, unfortunately, they haven’t caught up with recent discoveries in neuroscience, which is the study of the nervous system, a field that integrates the disciplines of psychology and science.
In 2000, the Nobel Prize in physiology was awarded for demonstrating that as learning occurs, the connections among nerve cells change. Scientists discovered that through learning, training, and experiencing, we can rewire, modify, and reshape the brain. This has been referred to as self-directed neuroplasticity.
It is this concept that feeds directly into this topic of nurturing your natural antidepressants. Five of these: mindfulness, self-compassion, meaning, play, and mastery are presented in great detail in Elisha Goldstein’s book, Uncovering Happiness.
Research has proven that by practicing mindfulness and self-compassion, by finding greater meaning and purpose, by seeking out play and mastery we can create new neural pathways in our brains and thus reap the benefits of neuroplasticity.
The implication here is huge: The power lies within you to alleviate your suffering by using your very own mind and brain to shift your chemistry and physiology—taking advantage of the power of neuroplastic transformation.
In part two of this two-part series, which will be posted in my November blog, I will delve deeper into each of these five natural antidepressants, giving you practical examples and personal experiences. For the purpose of this blog, I simply wanted to lay the foundation, open your mind, and perhaps even plant a seed or two.
Please allow me to use one of the practices of self-compassion and leave you with the following challenge:
The next time your inner critic begins to self-attack, self-sabotage, or even self-loathe, practice taking a self-compassion break instead of buying into the negative story, and see how different you can feel.
Whatever you may be feeling: hurt, fearful, ashamed, alone—instead of beating yourself up even further and increasing your feelings of I’m not good enough, try any one of these: Ask someone close by to hold you and give you a hug, imagine giving/receiving a hug, or simply give yourself a hug. Each of these changes your brain chemistry by releasing oxytocin, the hormone of love and bonding.
Or try this: pretend to laugh a little, even at yourself, in a kind and gentle way. Adding laughter to your day, as a physical exercise, can be a wonderful self-compassion break. Google laughter yoga and you’ll see just how contagious it can be. Not only do you release feel-good hormones into your bloodstream, but also, when you can accept, befriend, celebrate, and even giggle about your own stuff, that means you are ready to own it. This is oftentimes the first step to letting it go.
The alternative is listening to your ego and buying into the negative self-talk, which is usually based on false thoughts and belief systems. In this case the body responds to the mind by feeling stressed and releasing cortisol, the ultimately destructive stress hormone.
These are but a few examples of the many practices, strategies, and tools that can be taught, nurtured, and integrated into your life. I have a three-part curriculum that I teach in lecture, workshop, or coaching format, and part two is devoted entirely to this inner work—to this natural and scientifically proven remedy.
There is nothing more empowering than knowing that you are capable of all of this:
- Changing your mind
- Reshaping your brain
- Transforming your life
- Rewriting your story—redefining your hero’s journey
- And recreating your one and only legacy
I challenge you to begin to reap the benefits of neuroplastic transformation by beginning to understand and integrate this process. You may not consider yourself to be depressed, but I’m sure you would agree that there’s a big difference between feeling not depressed and feeling happy and fulfilled. Choose to change some of your unhealthy habits and take full advantage of the power that lies within you—don’t shy away from that power!