Being depressed can feel like being stuck in a bleak, hopeless loop. No matter what you try, you can’t convince your brain to reengage with life. By understanding the neuroscience of depression, we can rewire our brains to free ourselves from the depression loop and clear the way for enduring happiness.
How to Boost Your Brain’s Resiliency
Studies reveal that the brains of depressed individuals have significantly more activity in the right prefrontal cortex (PFC) than in the left PFC. The right and left PFC are connected to different emotional states and qualities. One key quality connected to the left PFC is resiliency – the ability to recover from disruptive change or misfortune. To navigate life’s challenges without becoming overwhelmed by challenging emotions like sadness … guilt … or fear … you must have a strong, resilient brain.
You can boost your resiliency by sparking activity in your left PFC. Two simple and effective ways to do this are to practice mindfulness and self-compassion.
How Mindfulness Shifts Your Perspective on Your Entire Life
A wealth of research shows that mindfulness can be an effective treatment for depression and numerous other conditions. Mindfulness is a form of Buddhist meditation practiced by fixing your attention on the present moment. This deceptively simple task benefits your brain in profound ways. One method you can use to focus your attention on the here and now is to concentrate on your inhalations and exhalations. When your thoughts wander—which they will!—acknowledge that, then redirect your attention back to your breath.
Mindfulness extends beyond the practice of meditation to influence the way you experience all aspects of your life. It asks you to approach events and interactions with others non-judgmentally, naming your feelings and releasing them without becoming mired in the moment that spurred the emotions. Over time, this approach to life will help you redirect negative thoughts so your default mode of being is one of calm contentment.
To try mindfulness for yourself, set aside 5 to 10 minutes of your day to sit quietly. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Commit to doing this each day for at least two weeks. There’s no need to make your mindfulness practice overly complicated, simply focus on the ins and outs of your breath. You may be surprised by how quickly you notice the effects!
Developing the Skill of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is intrinsic to mindfulness. It allows us to name and experience negative emotions without passing judgement on ourselves. If you struggle with depression and negative thought cycles, it’s likely that you often fail to exercise self-compassion. Therefore, it can be helpful to focus on this skill as a complement to your mindfulness practice.
When we practice self-compassion, pull the plug on spiraling ruminations and activate the self-soothing areas of our brains. This can generate feelings of safety…bravery…and the all-important resilience we’re using these techniques to build. Individuals who practice self-compassion regularly also report feeling more…
To establish a self-compassion practice, you can use the acronym SAFE which stand for Soften … Allow … Feel … Expand. This four-step technique will help you move your brain away from anxiety and disinterest and into ease and engagement with life.
Begin by softening into whatever emotion feeling. Gently recognize the feeling, and name it if doing so feels helpful. Allow this emotion to be as it is, without attempting to change it or gripping on to it. Feel into this emotion with kind attention – ask what the emotion indicates about your current needs and desires. For instance, you might discover that the emotion grew from a need to be loved and supported. You can then send yourself feelings of love and support, even saying “May I feel love,” “May I feel supported,” if you would like. Finally, expand your attention to all the people who also experience this emotion. Understand that you are not alone, and send the feelings you gave to yourself out into the world. By doing so, you reinforce your connection to humanity.