How Pervasive is Your Negativity?

If there’s one thing about the constant background noise of negativism, it’s how pervasive it can be in a person’s life without them really realizing it’s there.  Because it’s on all the time, it becomes part of the backdrop of their emotional life.  The person fails to realize its presence and power over how they interpret their circumstances.  Because they hear it all the time, they stop paying attention to what it’s really saying.  Because they hear it all the time, they stop hearing it.

I read a newspaper article about the tragic death of a teenager who failed to hear the train that killed her.  This young seventeen-year-old wasn’t deaf; in fact, she was talking on her cell phone when she died, run over by the train.  She was walking to have her nails done, crossing over the train tracks near her home.  According to the story in the Seattle Times, police said it appeared she “was engrossed in her phone conversation and failed to hear the approaching train or its whistle.  She lives near the tracks, and police suspect she may have become used to the house.” [1]  The noise of the oncoming train, the shrill warning of the whistle, even the honking of a nearby motorist didn’t break through to this young woman.  Familiarity with her surroundings obscured the danger.  The article went on to say that people who live around train tracks can simply become so used to the noise that they fail to notice it.  Said a police spokesperson, “After a while, that noise just doesn’t exist.” [2]

This teenager didn’t recognize the danger bearing down on her because of its utter familiarity.  It’s the same with the background noise of negativity that so many people have running inside their minds.  After a while, it becomes so familiar that they stop “hearing” it and fail to recognize the danger it presents to their lives and happiness.

So, how do you hear something you’re so used to that you’ve tuned it out?  The answer, I’ve found, is to turn up the volume.  Now, that may seem counterintuitive.  It seems like you should just turn it down so you really can’t hear it or turn it off completely.  The problem with this station, however, is no matter how low you think you have it, it’s still loud enough to cause problems, and unless you deal with the messages, you can’t turn it off.  The answer isn’t to minimize it or ignore it.  You have to turn up the volume so you can recognize what’s really being communicated.

Physical Motion and Depression

No matter what you call it, physical motion is vital to a healthy life.  It is also effective in relieving depression.  The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that walking thirty minutes each day alleviated symptoms of depression more quickly than many pharmaceutical antidepressants. [i]

Many of you may have difficulty imagining exercise as part of your life.  You may have visions of gigantic weight lifters or slender long-distance runners and conclude you were never meant to be an athlete.  Healthy movement is not defined merely by athletic competition.  Rather, it is starting from wherever you are and gradually adding more motion.  Keep in mind for the following principles:

  • Start Slow – By starting slow, you give your body a chance to catch up to your mental decision to begin moving more.
  • Pick Your Motion – Try walking, low-impact aerobics, swimming, or modifying a favorite activity, such as golf (choosing to walk part of the way instead of riding in the cart).
  • Maintain Consistency – Physical motion needs to become a life choice.  It’s not about the next few weeks, or the next few months, or the next few years.  It’s about establishing a routine, a ritual if you will, of being good to yourself through movement.
  • Find A Friend – If you find motivating yourself to exercise a challenge, ask someone to join you.  Personal interaction, as well as physical movement, is of tremendous value.  You may soon find that you are going farther and doing more than you ever imagined, because you are concentrating more on the other person than on the exercise.
  • Be Prepared For Aches – While it is important to start out slow, you don’t want to stay so slow that you’re not accomplishing anything physically.  Ideally, you want to be able to work into an exercise routine that will produce a light sweat.  Sweat is one of the main ways the body detoxifies itself.
  • Watch Out For Pain – While aches are to be tolerated, be aware of any pain.  Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong.  If it has been a while since you’ve engaged in any physical activity, consider going to your primary care physician and obtaining a physical examination.  Ask his or her guidance in planning the type, duration, and frequency of exercise.

To learn more about how nutritional support and hydration can impact depression, visit our previous blog post.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

[i] F. Dimeo, M. Bauer, I. Varahram, G. Proest, and U. Halter, “Benefits from Aerobic Exercise in Patients with Major Depression: A Pilot Study,” British Journal of Sports Medicine 35 (April 2001): 114 – 117.

Can Nutritional Support and Hydration Help with Depression?

As mentioned in our previous blog on healthy eating, I have been able to identify five lifestyle choices you can make that will dramatically improve your health.  Below, let’s discuss #2 and #3, nutritional support and proper hydration.

Eating healthy is a wonderful beginning, but overcoming depression will require the additional nutritional step of supplementation.  There are four categories of supplements important to good health in general, and also in overcoming depression specifically:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Amino acids
  • Essential fatty acids

Deficiencies in these substances have been clinically shown to produce symptoms of depression.  There are specific tests that can determine what your levels of various nutrients are.   These can be ordered through a certified nutritionist, registered dietitian, or physician.  Naturopathic physicians can be an excellent source of help because these doctors are specially trained to integrate nutritional strategies into wellness.

In addition to nutritional support, we must consider proper hydration.  Most people don’t drink enough water.  Experts disagree on what constitutes enough, but most of them agree, we’re not drinking as much water as we should.  Rather than try to nail down “enough” to a specific amount of water for every person, I tend to have people check their own bodies for adequate hydration.  How do you do that?  Check your urine.  If your urine is routinely dark yellow, you’re not drinking enough.  Your body is well hydrated when your urine is a light yellow or even clear.

I recommend keeping a BPA-free water bottle with you at all times.  If you find water boring, you can flavor your water with pieces of fruit.  Find the way you like you water best and keep at it, increasing your consumption by eight ounces at a time until your body says you’re getting enough.

A word of caution, however, is needed:  it is possible to drink too much water and dilute important nutrients in the body, like potassium.  If in doubt, check with your primary care physician about the range of hydration right for you.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

Healthy Eating and Depression

While the number of potential factors in physical depression is large, the good news is a small number of positive changes can bring about enormous benefit.

Over the years, I have been able to identify five lifestyle choices you can make that will dramatically improve your health.  They are not complicated and are based on age-old common sense.  Let’s first begin with health eating.

Healthy eating means choosing as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Dairy products (eggs, milk, butter, cream, cheese)
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes (beans)
  • Lean meats, fish, poultry
  • Nuts
  • Oils

Eating healthy is not only what and where you eat but also how you eat, so keep the following in mind as you make whole-food choices:

  • Don’t eat too much.  Stop eating before you actually feel full.  Intentionally start out with smaller portions and wait a few minutes before deciding if you need more.
  • Eat a variety of whole foods. Healthy eating is not limited eating; rather, it is intentional eating that encompasses a medley of choices.  Remember, produce is more than just apples and lettuce.  Many times our choices are dictated by what we are used to, what we grew up with.  Be adventurous and try different whole foods.
  • Choose a healthy ratio of food.  Eat more fruits and vegetables than breads.  Eat more breads than dairy products.  Eat more dairy products than meat and poultry.  Eat more meat and poultry than sugars and fats.  Choose healthy fats, such as those rich in omega-3s, and avoid trans fatty acids saturated fats.

Depressive thinking is tied to reactive thinking.  Eating patterns can also be reactive.  Just as recognizing, promoting, and sustaining optimism, hope, and joy are intentional choices, so is eating healthy.  One supports the other. It is empowering to know that you can choose everything you put in your mouth.  In overcoming depression, you want to make each bite count.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

Finding Truth in Your Anger

Every time you are treated unfairly, it hurts.  A part of you knows that isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  The pain can be deep and lasting.  The anger and resentment at this unfair treatment is real.

Each new instance of unfair treatment is compounds the one before it, until the weight of injustice in your life threatens to weigh you down. The only way to get out from under that burden is to take a look at each one, examine it honestly, and put it in its proper context.

First, I’d like you to think back over your life and pinpoint those times when the pain and unfair treatment was most intense.  I want you to identify specific instances.

I Was Treated Unfairly When…

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.
Next, I want you to go back over your list.  (You may have more or less than five, given your life experiences.  If you find you have trouble identifying specific instances, start as far back as you can remember and work forward.)  Whenever appropriate, I’d like you to identify specific people who are associated with your unfair treatment.

Often, you can feel that life in general treats you unfairly, but often this unfair treatment is associated with a specific person.  Whenever there is a person or people involved, write this down.

For each experiences you’ve written down, I would like you to answer the following question:

  • As I think back at what happened to me, was there anything I could have done to avoid or prevent it?

For those of you who were traumatized or abused, this is not an easy question.  Don’t necessarily accept the first answer that comes to mind.  This could be defensiveness or denial talking.  Be still for a while.  Set your anger aside.  Allow yourself to delve deeper and the truth to emerge out of your silence.  The truth is there; it often just gets drowned out.  If you say no, it means you must face the truth that you were truly powerless over what happened to you.  This sense of powerlessness is frightening.  If you say yes, you indict yourself for some of your own pain.

Whether you say yes or no, you must allow yourself to grieve for the pain you suffered.  Now ask yourself the next question:

  • Knowing what I know now, how will this knowledge affect my life and choices today?

Each circumstance can be redeemed through insight and wisdom gained.  Holding on to anger does not allow you to move into the processing stage, where what you’ve experienced becomes integrated into your life as a lesson learned and a source of growth.

Then, answer this third question:  

  • How has holding on to anger about this experience helped or harmed me?

It is possible for you to answer both “helped” and “harmed” from the same experience.  Anger is often an initial shield and protector in severe situations.  Its efficacy, however, fades with time, the more removed you are from the event.

In a search for honesty, don’t downplay either the “help” or “harm” aspect of your anger.  You can acknowledge the help while appreciating the harm, making it easier for you to ultimately release the anger.

Finish up with this question:

  • Based on what I’ve learned about myself through this experience, how will I use this knowledge positively going forward?

As I said before, what you’ve experienced in your life can be integrated as a lesson learned and source of growth.  What is past is past, but what you do with it today and tomorrow has yet to be written.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

Part 1: Intellectual Integrity and Depression Recovery

Consider a single trip to the grocery store.  On your list today is a new toothbrush, soda, sandwich bags, ground meat, milk, bread, eggs, and tissues.  Pretty standard.  Should be an easy trip, right?

  • There are 15 types of toothbrushes, all different colors, from extra soft to extra firm.  Which is the right one?
  • Regular or diet or caffeine-free soda — and which brand?
  • Sandwich bags come in 50 or 150 or 300, fold-top, single or double zipper-top.
  • Ground meat is available as extra lean, lean, or regular, in varying package sizes.
  • Milk can be whole, 2 percent, non-fat, skim, fat-free, enriched, in regular, soy or almond.
  • Bread in plain white or honey wheat or 7-gran or 12-grain or multigrain all in different brands.
  • Seven types of eggs – organic and how many do you need?
  • Tissues come in small square boxes or medium boxes or large rectangular ones.  They could be scented or non-scented, colored or not, with lotion or not, in 100-count or 200-count boxes.

Then when you’ve overcome all of those choices and make your way to the checkout, do you choose the regular line, express line, or the self-checkout line?  Paper or plastic or both?  Cash, credit, or debit?  Any coupons?  Cash back?  Need any help out?  Groceries in the front seat or trunk?

We live in a complex world that has the capacity not only to trigger our emotions but also to inundate our minds.  The more we feel compelled to do, the more energy our lives require.  A hurried, fast-paced life is draining.  Bit by bit, detail by detail, the sheer weight of our lives can wear us down, leaving us feeling inadequate and devastated.

The pace of life can be daunting, threatening to overwhelm even the resilient.  Keeping your emotional balance from jumping from task to task, demand to demand, can be acrobatic even for the resilient.  But what happens when you take a stressful life full of tasks and demands and add onto that a belief system that “knows” you’re not good enough, that “knows” you don’t deserve to be happy?  Or what happens when you take that stressful life and add onto it a belief system that says happiness can only be found when you’re in total control?

In order to recover from depression, understanding the role of emotions is vital, but you must also understand the role of the intellect, of the mind.  Recognizing what you feel is one step in the recovery process, but another step is recognizing what you know — what you believe to be true — because what you “know” may not, in fact, be the truth.

Let’s look at the example of a half-empty glass.  The truth is, yes, the glass is half empty, but is that all there is to it?  If the glass is half empty, isn’t it also half full?  The truth of a half empty glass is that the glass is also half full.  Those people who see a half empty glass actually see an empty glass because, to them, the glass should always be full to the brim.  If the glass is not brimming, then that glass is unsatisfactory; it will always contain emptiness and loss.

No one’s glass is ever truly filled all of the time.  Life simply doesn’t operate that way.  instead, the truth is even a half empty glass has fullness.  Those who are depressed don’t see half empty, they see completely empty.  Some will rage because the glass never seems to be full.  Others will despair because they are convinced they aren’t worthy of even a half empty glass.  Others will quietly accept the fact that the glass will never be full for them.  They look at the glass and see what isn’t there instead of what is.  They focus on the lack of what is absent instead of the presence of what is there.

To learn more about intellectual integrity, and how it assists in depression recovery, read Part 2 of this article.

If you are struggling with depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help.  Call us at 1-888-771-5166 to speak confidentially with a specialist.

The Effects of Emotional Abuse

Andrea couldn’t stand to be alone; she just didn’t know it.  At home by herself, usually at night, she would panic — heart racing, hyperventilating, sure she was having a heart attack.  The attacks would come upon her suddenly, in the middle of watching television or after cleaning up the kitchen.  Terrified, she tried to calm herself, but when that proved futile, the fear would accelerate as she convinced herself something was physically wrong.

After her third visit to the emergency room in as many weeks, a hospital caseworker suggested that her health difficulties might better be addressed by a therapist than a physician.  Andrea had never considered counseling before — it seemed to intrusive and personal — but she was desperate, unable to hold her debilitating fear at bay.

Even though desperate, Andrea arrived at The Center • A Place of HOPE guarded, wary, and on edge.  She just wanted something, anything, to stop the panic attacks.  She insisted that the only reason she had come in was because the hospital suggested it.  What she wanted was medication.  What she got was the truth about herself.

Andrea came to realize that because of emotional abuse she had endured as a child, she never felt truly comfortable with herself.  Instead, she derived her sense of self from other people.  Andrea strove to please those around her and to do the best job possible.  She was a perfectionist when it came to her job.  She was at her best in the midst of a busy, bustling office with a high level of demands.  When Andrea had something to do, she knew who she was.

Growing up, being busy meant being away from home, and that meant she was out of range of an unhappy, bitter mother and a demanding, capricious father.  If you weren’t busy, you were noticed.  If things were quiet, there was no place to hide.

Living in a household where an emotional attack was always a real possibility, Andrea grew up never feeling safe or being totally able to relax.  As long as people were surrounding her and things were going on, Andrea was able to divert her growing anxiety and panic into tasks and activity.  It was at home, in the quiet, that panic took the upper hand.  In order to heal, Andrea needed to learn to relax and be herself — something she had never had the luxury of doing while growing up and something she had never given herself permission to do as an adult.  Andrea needed to learn to like who she was, even with nobody else in the room.

Any kind of abuse, emotional abuse included, is an attack on a person’s sense of self.  It demeans and controls that person through words or actions, devaluing that person and ultimately elevating the abuser.  If you have suffered abuse in your past or are suffering in the present, it is not something to be ignored, denied, accepted, or perpetuated.  The damage it does to your sense of self is pervasive and destructive.

Over the course of my years of working with the abused and abusers, I have found several distinct negative effects to the sense of self associated with emotional abuse:

  • low self-esteem
  • lack of self-confidence
  • transfer of needs
  • acting out sexually
  • loneliness
  • failure syndrome
  • perfectionism
  • unrealistic guilt
  • crisis oriented
  • unresolved anger and resentments

Depending on your situation, you may find that one or more of these effects is true in your own life.  You may have been aware of these effects without understanding why they exist in your life.

If you are struggling with emotional abuse, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help.  Call us at 1-888-771-5166 to speak confidentially with a specialist.

Finding Relief by Writing Your Own Script

In the play As You Like It, William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”  Put another way, life is a drama.  Sure, there are light moments, but most of us don’t live within some sort of frivolous sitcom.  Each of us is called to deal with serious issues and handle difficult situations.  That’s just the way it is.

For too long, you’ve allowed your anxieties to set the stage of everything that happens to you.  For too long, you’ve allowed your fear to act as the director of your life, determining how you act and respond.  For too long, the producer of this play that is your life has produced little relief from the unending concerns and stress.  You’ve allowed yourself to be played, to be directed instead of insisting on taking charge yourself.  You must decide to write your own script and set your own stage.

As yourself, when you wake up in the morning, whose script you are following, whose stage you are walking on to?  Anxieties, fears, and worries set a dark and ominous stage with a script full of negatives.  That doesn’t have to be your life.  You can refuse to play along.

Every story is told from a particular point of view.  Each one of us has an attitude about life.  We’re either optimists or pessimists.  We expect either good things to happen or bad things to happen.  Now, you might say, aren’t there people who expect neither good things nor bad things?  What are they – optimists or pessimists?  The absence of expecting good things isn’t all that positive, so I would say those people are really not neutral; they are pessimists.

If you’re anxiety-driven about something, you’re a pessimist about it.  The more things that cause you anxiety, the more pessimistic you are about your life.  This is the script you’ve been operating from.  It’s time to fire those scriptwriters and take over yourself, switching from a negative, pessimistic worldview to a positive, optimistic one.

One of the best ways I know to reorient your attitude is to have a heart-to-heart with yourself.  Some people do this silently, inside their own minds, and others prefer to hold an audible conversation with themselves.  One woman I worked with would argue with herself like an opposing attorney, talking to herself out loud.   She said it helped to hear what she had to say out loud because she had an easier time detecting the emotions underlying the various arguments.  If something didn’t sound right, she would stop and repeat the statement to herself, working through it until it made more sense.  So she didn’t disturb other family members, she would often do this while taking a walk.

Another woman I know would hold her conversations with herself in front of a mirror, looking herself directly in the eye.  Other people, will have conversations privately, in the confines of their own minds.  There is something valuable in articulation, in requiring yourself to produce the reasons behind what you do and then making those reasons visible and examinable.  It’s not unlike what people do with their therapists, or when they talk with trusted friends.  All these dialogues can be extremely useful, but you have got to learn how to have these conversations with yourself.  Start building trust with yourself.

As you engage in inner dialogue, don’t forget to control the volume.  Pay attention to the volume of the negative and the positive.  Be aware of when you need to change the dials and allow in more positives.  This is especially true when problem-solving.  You’ll need to crank up optimism, hope, and joy so you can find the motivation and courage to find and implement a solution.

If you aren’t verbal and don’t process things in an auditory way, I encourage you to articulate how you feel through writing.  Many people find great freedom of expression through journaling.  This has an added benefit in that you have a written record of your inner discussions that you can review and refer back to.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

Physical Healing in Depression Recovery

Feeling depressed is not just a mental state.  Depression is a debilitating whole-body condition that must be addressed physically as well as mentally.  The whole-person approach accepts the body as a complex organism and looks for systemic reasons for depression.

As Dr. Robert A Anderson, founding president of the American Holistic Medical Association, says: “A definitive diagnosis of depression should not be made until physical conditions have been surveyed.” (1)

The body is not merely along for the ride into depression.  The body is an active participant, with the capacity to aggravate or improve symptoms of depression.  The first stop on the road to recovery from depression for many people is a physician’s office.  After all, they feel bad.  Whatever the factors leading to their depression, many will attempt to obtain a medical diagnosis for physical symptoms.

There are studies showing that addressing physical conditions can have a dramatic effect in overcoming depression.  Psychiatrist Richard Hall has found “evidence [of] dramatic and complete clearing of psychiatric symptoms when medical treatment for underlying physical disorders was instituted.” (2)

The body holds its own special key to overcoming depression.  Physical illnesses as well as physical conditions that may not be diagnosed or readily apparent can contribute to depression.  Yet even when blood work and medical examinations are done, the physical culprits involved in depression can be overlooked.  Like a detective, you need to be informed and persistent to discover the truth.  To begin, let’s examine several known contributors to depression.

Mental and Health Conditions:

  • Hypoglycemia.  This can cause weakness, mental dullness, confusion, and fatigue.  All of these symptoms, when taken together, can exacerbate depression.
  • Heart Disease.  Research has shown that one out of every five people who suffer a heart attack will become depressed.  Conversely, a link between depression and heart disease was found in a study at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, which reported that depressed people were four times more likely to have a heart attack than people who were not depressed.
  • Anemia.  This is a condition in which the blood lacks iron.  Symptoms of anemia, similar to depression, include fatigue, weakness, and lethargy.
  • Sleep Apnea.  This is a condition where the air passages in the throat close off during sleep.  The resulting symptoms are fatigue, mental confusion, and lethargy — all associated with a state of depression.
  • Diabetes.  This is the body’s inability to regulate its own blood sugar.  The constant up-and-down stress of elevated versus low blood-sugar levels can compromise the body’s ability to regulate important nutrient absorption and hormonal levels which provide protection from depressive mood swings.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  This depressive cycle — also known as the winter blues — is tied to the body’s secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s biological clock and coordinates the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Heredity.  Depression appears to run in families.  Educate yourself on the health background of your family, especially parents or siblings who have experienced depression, whether clinically diagnosed or not.
  • Dehydration.  Most people don’t drink enough water.  Dehydration impairs the body’s ability to perform vital functions, causing fatique, weakness, dizziness, and mental dullness.

For more information on mental and health conditions associated with depression, see Dr. Jantz’s new book, Five Keys to Dealing with Depression.

(1) Robert A. Anderson, Clinician’s Guide to Holistic Medicine (NY: MacGraw-Hill Publishing, 2001), 243.

(2) R.C.W. Hall, E.R. Gardner, M.K. Popkin, and S.K. Stickney, “Unrecognized Physical Illness Prompting Psychiatric Admission: A Prospective Study,” American Journal of Psychiatry 138, no. 5 (May 1981): 629-35

Being Intentional in Your Response to Depression

What do we do when life feels like it’s piling on top of us?  In depression, we bury our optimism, hope, and joy and react with anger, fear, or guilt, allowing overwhelming circumstances to knock us flat.  Emotional depression can become an automatic reaction to life’s trials.  Reactions are automatic, but responses need not be.  Depression does not have to be automatic.

Even if we may immediately react negatively, we can learn to intentionally reassert positive emotions.  This may not be our first reaction, but our first reaction doesn’t need to be our only response.  Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created.  You have to rise above it to the next level.”  Our reactions are on one level, but we can learn to take our responses to the next level.

The next level above automatic reaction is intentional response.  You need to be intentional in your response to life and its circumstances.  You need to deliberately recognize, promote, and sustain optimism, hope, and joy.  In the midst of depression, the thought of sustaining even a modicum of positive feelings may appear overwhelming, a burden too heavy to bear.  But aren’t you already carrying around the weight of emotional baggage?  Think how much energy it takes to carry around anger, fear, and guilt.  When you begin to put those emotions down, you will find strength for optimism, hope, and joy.

Negative emotions may be part of your personal landscape.  If that is the case, you’ll need to intentionally seek out and rediscover optimism, hope, and joy.  Optimism, hope, and joy are responses that come from within you and are not necessarily derived from your outside circumstances.  Regardless of the circumstances, you determine to remain optimistic; you decide to have hope; you derive joy.

Intentionally choosing how to respond to life is not a trivial matter; this attitude can save your life.  In his book Man’s Search of Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl set forth to answer the question why some people lived through the Nazi Germany concentration camps and some did not.  He found that it rarely had anything to do with their physical state.  Some prisoners who were extremely debilitated or ill continued to live, while some others who were in much better physical shape died.  The difference, he found, was in their attitude to life.

Frankl discovered that in the final analysis, strength for living is found in the ability to choose your attitude — your response — to any given situation.  The situations he and others dealt with on a daily basis were deprivation, starvation, physical disease, and beatings.  Yet in the midst of the hell of the concentration camp, he and others intentionally chose to respond with optimism and hope.

Frankl, who could find positives in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp, demonstrates that each of us has the opportunity to find positives in our own situations.  We will not always have control over our circumstances, but we can determine to hold on to optimism, hope, and joy — to recognize them, promote them, and sustain them.  This is the challenge for those who are depressed.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.