My intention with last month’s blog was to lay the foundation and open your mind to the concept of nurturing your natural antidepressants and to the power that lies within you to alleviate your very own suffering.
At the end of the blog I went so far as to challenge you to practice self-compassion instead of buying into your negative stories. So, I’m wondering, how did that work for you? Were you able to laugh at any of your stuff? Did you give yourself permission to take a self-compassion break and allow oxytocin, the hug hormone/cuddle chemical to flood your brain and bloodstream?Today, I would like to delve further into five of these natural antidepressants: (1) mindfulness, (2) self-compassion, (3) meaning, (4) play, and (5) mastery which are all presented in great detail in Elisha Goldstein’s book, Uncovering Happiness.
(1) Mindfulness: So many of us tend to move through our days on autopilot, which is essentially the opposite of mindfulness. We are hardwired for reactivity and spend most of our energy either rehashing the past or rehearsing the future—disconnected from the here and now.
You have the power to make another choice. You can choose to turn the autopilot switch off and mindfulness on. Mindfulness is a skill that can be learned. It’s about redirecting your focus and paying attention to the present moment—with acceptance—and without judgment. The one-word guide to the practice is: breathe.
Formally, it means sitting down for a period of time and being mindful as you inhale and exhale. Informally, it means paying attention throughout your day when you’re eating, taking a shower, stuck in traffic, or in the middle of an argument. It’s about noticing and using your breath as an anchor to the present moment.
I suggest to you that you begin this practice with awareness:
- Try to notice when you’re thinking about the past or pondering the future.
- Catch yourself when you’re multi-tasking.
- Listen to how often you’re judging, criticizing, or attaching to your thoughts and stories, which only pull you out of the present moment.
- Simply observe and accept what is—be with whatever is happening, without becoming all consumed by it.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation allows you to rewire neurons and create new neural pathways, thereby training your brain to have a new default. It is one of the ways that you can take advantage of the brain’s plasticity and has been used with great success to help people with depression, anxiety, addictive behavior, stress, and chronic pain. It is probably the most important natural antidepressant to nurture.
But here’s what I consider to be the most beneficial aspect of the practice: If you are aware of your circumstances, both internally and externally, then you can make the best possible choices and have the best possible outcomes.
Your see, learning how to punctuate your day with pauses and awareness slows down the moments, ever so slightly, but just enough to offer greater discernment. And with a more accurate perception of what is actually happening, you can better determine the best way to intervene and move forward. Without awareness and presence, life just happens, and choice-points get diminished.
(2) Self-compassion is the experience of acknowledging pain and suffering and then supporting ourselves as we feel it. Considering the brain’s negativity bias, the fact that it’s wired to cling like Velcro to the negative and act like Teflon for the positive, self-compassion does NOT come naturally to us.
However, you can learn how to turn this bias into a great teacher and nurture this natural antidepressant. When negative thoughts and emotions arise, you have an opportunity to practice self-compassion, recognizing that to be human is to be flawed, imperfect, and vulnerable.
Self-compassion is a kind of self-soothing and it begins with self-acceptance. That’s a lot of self-stuff—reinforcing the fact that all nurturing must begin within you. The main antidepressant element here is the power to soothe yourself in the face of suffering. Research studies suggest that the act of self-compassion stimulates oxytocin release in our bodies, which is associated with feelings of trust, safety, calm, and love.
Science is now revealing that taking self-compassion breaks changes your brain chemistry and is essential for decreasing anxious and depressive symptoms. Hug someone and then linger in it until both bodies relax. Speak to yourself compassionately using kinder stories and filters, and you can also take advantage of the brain’s plasticity. Write a letter of encouragement to yourself when you’re feeling well, and have it handy so that you can read it and tap into that voice, as needed.
The point is this: Mindfulness and self-compassion are not things you can buy—nor are they pills you can take—they are daily practices, that if consistently applied, can nurture the release of your body’s very own natural antidepressants. What a powerful and incredible gift you can give to yourself!
(3) Meaning: We can also train our brains by finding meaning and purpose. It is a natural antidepressant that we can develop in our own minds—we get a natural boost by connecting to the world in a meaningful way. Decide what really matters to you—assess your core values and commit to honoring them, and you will reduce your suffering and rediscover joy.
(4) Play is also a powerful antidepressant. What are your toys, and who are your playmates? Keep an eye out for novel ways to play—novelty is essential to enhancing neuroplasticity. Do laughter yoga, meet new people, cook new foods, and you’re activating new neurons—lighting up new brain pathways.
(5) Mastery is the process of growing and learning how to get continuously better at something. Get curious about a talent you would like to revisit—a skill you would like to master.
These are more practices that nurture your natural antidepressants—so schedule them into your day. Create time and space for self-care and you will reap the benefits of your neuroplastic brain. And guess what the side effects will be? Happiness, joy, connection, fulfillment, stress-free living, and the list goes on.
I know what most of you will say—that you simply don’t have the time. You’re too busy to add things into your already hectic schedules. So here’s my answer to that: For some of these practices you need not carve out any extra time, simply add them into whatever you’re already doing.
Here are some real-life examples: Become mindful of the miracle of your body while taking a shower. Notice, enjoy, and savor the foods that go into your mouth—appreciating the different tastes and textures. Give yourself a hug and chuckle when you make a mistake. Smile for no particular reason and say hello to a stranger. Perform small, random acts of kindness—and observe how they make you feel. Pay attention to some of the ordinary blessings that are scattered throughout your day.
I commend those of you who are already applying these invaluable practices. And for those of you who are not, for whatever reason, I suggest that you consider trying them so that you too can reap the benefits of your neuroplastic brain. Experiment by nurturing some of your natural antidepressants and see for yourself just how powerful this work can be.