From Misery to Mastery .
Abraham was no stranger to depression. His melancholy tendencies combined with an impoverished childhood, failed businesses, and unfulfilled love seemed to point only to defeat. At one time he expressed, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on the earth.”
Winston came from a privileged home with every material benefit. However, his life was riddled with illness, accidents, poor grades, and lack of love. His indifferent father prophesied that W.C. would ultimately “degenerate into a shabby, unhappy, and futile existence.” In his own words, Winston battled the “demon of depression” for many years, and at times it seemed his father’s dire prediction would prevail.
Happily, depression does not have to be the end of any life story. Abraham, whose full name was Abraham Lincoln, overcame his depression and went on to become one of the most revered presidents in the history of the United States.
Winston’s battle with depression could have been the last chapter in one sad, obscure life. But Winston Churchill rose above circumstances, and as the prime minister of England during World War II, mastered his own internal challenges. Against formidable opposition, almost constant ridicule, and great odds he rallied the British troops to defeat the encroachments of the Third Reich in Europe. His famous motto became “Never, never, never, never—in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”[i]
These noble examples tell us a story—not just about singular people who overcame great odds, but about the awesome power of the human brain to retool and reshape itself according to what it learns and how it is cared for.
The Stats Tell the Story.
If you suffer from depression, you are not alone. Clinical depression is at an all-time high, afflicting more than 20 million adults and 3 million teens in the U.S. Milder forms are even more widespread, affecting all age groups.
Risk factors for depression include family history, medical or mental health conditions, unresolved guilt or anger, lack of purpose, social and environmental factors, and diet and lifestyle, to name a few.
Neal Nedley, MD, author of Depression: the Way Out states that it is important to find the cause or causes of your depression. Tackle as many changeable causes as possible by addressing nutrition, lifestyle, social factors, habits of thinking, and spiritual need. The importance of seeking qualified medical care for depression cannot be overstated. Adjusting and reducing medications must be supervised by a qualified health professional.
Feelings of emptiness, lack of motivation, fatigue, and depression can creep into the life of anyone. But prolonged, unrelenting depression is disabling. The good news is that even when people are prone to depression, there are many factors that are tunable, changeable, and controllable.
1. Diet and Depression.
Alcohol, smoking, and caffeine increase depression risk and symptoms. So does a diet high in refined fatty and sugary foods. Help is on the way with a diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains such as brown rice and oatmeal. Omega-3 containing walnuts and ground flax seed also improve brain health and mood. Drinking 8 glasses of water a day instead of sugary drinks is a money-saving, mood enhancing way to boost brain power. Low levels of vitamin B12 and D are linked to depression. You may want to get your levels checked by a simple blood test.
A nutritious diet improves brain chemistry, provides energy and stress-lowering compounds, and provides brain growth factors that increase brain nerve connections. This means a greater capacity for learning, meeting challenges, fighting depression, and solving problems.
2. Exercise—It Goes to Your Head.
Exercise is a major factor in relieving and preventing depression. It causes structural changes in the brain that improve brain function even in cases of serious clinical depression. Exercise relieves anxiety, improves focused attention, creativity, problem-solving, and lowers stress. A 10-minute brisk walk can elevate mood for an hour. Daily exercise has been dubbed the most potent anti-depressant agent known to man. New evidence has shown that exercise actually stimulates the production of new nerve cells in the brain.
3. The Attitude Factor.
Check those negative thoughts! To a large extent, we have the ability to choose how we think and feel about a situation. Make the choice to focus on solutions rather than problems. Look at difficulties as opportunities for gaining strength to meet challenges. Most important, cultivate thankfulness, optimism, and trust in God in the situations you can’t change.
4. The “Rest” of the Story.
Getting adequate rest and establishing a daily routine helps the brain and body to function harmoniously and lower stress. Cultivating social connections, taking time with God, and lifestyle habits including leisure and work habits all have an effect on the structure, function, and metabolism of our ever-changing brains.
The Living Word
Everyone faces turmoil, trouble, trials, uncertainty, and sorrow—but it doesn’t have to be the only part. The stories in the Bible show us that in the middle of difficult times, God is there to provide peace, comfort, and direction.
Stress. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”[ii]
Anxiety. “I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!”[iii]
Depression. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[iv]
God’s promises are sure. Check them out for yourself in His Word, the Bible. “Taste and see that the LORD is good; happy is the man who trusts in Him.”[v]
–Vicki Griffin & Evelyn Kissinger
Vicki Griffin is an author, speaker, and Director of the Lifestyle Matters Health Intervention series and the Fit and free! Building Brain and Body Health series. She is the editor of Balance magazine and Balanced Living tracts. Vicki has a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Cal State Fullerton. She is a member the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her special interest is in the area of nutrition and cognitive function, brain health, and addictions.
Evelyn Cole Kissinger is a lifestyle consultant, registered dietitian, and teacher. She received her Dietetics degree at the University of Tennessee and her Master of Science in Administration at Andrews University, where she later taught health education and wellness classes for the nutrition department. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
[i] Nedley N. Depression, the Way Out. Nedley Publications, 2008.
[ii] Psalm 61:2.
[iii] Psalm 27:13.
[iv] Matthew 11:28.
[v] Psalm 34:8.