In my experience the fine line between sadness and depression isn’t understood very well. Really the two are close in nature, but show quite different symptoms. Some people may describe sadness as a less extreme form of depression, when really some sadness can be more extreme than other people’s depressions. It is important to see them as two very different animals.
In Chinese Medicine sadness is associated with the Lungs. Even crying in general is associated with the lungs. When you think about this type of sadness it is helpful to think of it as a very pure emotion. Sadness or weepiness can be linked with other emotions, but is usually the foundation for all the others. In the way that the grieving process involves other emotions but is about a great loss and a deep irreparable sadness. Lung sadness is like that. There is a simplicity to it. This type of sadness regardless of how intense, is about loss. When we think about old couples who die within months of each other after living for 90 years side by side, we are almost always talking about a depletion of the Lungs due to sadness.
In Chinese Medicine and in Western Medicine it is known that depression can take many forms. There is depression mixed nicely with anxiety that produces a disoriented mania that befuddles the patient and makes them feel out of control. There is the sleepy type of depression that just slows life down and causes immense fatigue and a complete lack of will power. And there is the low level banality type of depression when the joy just disappears out of life even though the patient continues living within their colorless world. There are other types, tons of them I’m sure. But those are the three I want to look at more closely.
Blood and Qi deficiency: According to Chinese Medicine the blood is the material make up for the brain. When someone becomes blood deficient the memory weakens and the brain functions are scattered and unclear. This choppiness of the mind that many people associate with depression is suggestive of blood deficiency depression. With this type of depression there is also a lack of energy, as the body doesn’t have enough qi to digest food, or exercise or even participate in fun activities. The lack of energy is worsened by blood deficiency insomnia. As the blood cools the body, if there isn’t enough to cool the body at night we run hot and are wired instead of tired. Poor sleep just weakens the qi and blood making the depression worse.
Yang Deficiency: Yang is the driving force behind the qi and the heat which helps our body metabolize. Without it everything inside of us slows way down. A person with Yang deficient depression can’t get out of bed and is frozen all the way down to the bone. Loose stools, low energy, constant chills, weight gain, low back pain, knee pain, lack of will power, poor digestion and a cloudy brain are all signs that the body is calling out for the fire of life.
Qi Stagnation: Qi stagnation is the easiest to treat and the hardest to diagnose because it messes up the whole body and creates lots of complicated symptoms. Just imagine that a roadblock started in one area of the body and slowly, the traffic piles up behind it until the whole body just stops going about its business. This type of depression makes people not want to move. They don’t really feel anything at all other than disgust. They are grumpy and irritable and probably have low or high levels of pain in numerous areas of the body. Every once in a while they get to the gym or a yoga class and they feel fabulous because they get the qi moving again. Then the stress comes back and slows the qi down and the pile up occurs all over again.
When is Sadness or Depression a Problem?
The easiest way to answer this question is to ask yourself if there is a reason for your depression. Are you in a job/relationship/living condition that you hate? Have you recently lost someone you love? Have you recently experienced a strong, disturbing trauma? Are you overworked? If any of those circumstances sound true for you, it is worth evaluating if you have the will power and body support to make the changes necessary to improve your quality of life. If you don’t than the sadness or depression is a problem. If this is simply a matter of time passing and/or accepting the life that you do live then this is a temporary experience.
When is the Problem Serious?
If you don’t hate some large part of your life and you have a good support system and a pretty good life and you still feel hopeless than you have a medical condition worth examining.
Warning signs that depression is serious
- It is affecting your sleep (either too much or too little)
- It is affecting your work
- It prevents you from enjoying aspects of you life that used to bring you joy
- You find yourself hiding the truth about your health from loved ones
- You notice a significant negative streak that isn’t like you
- Social interactions are becoming increasingly difficult
- You are worried about harming yourself or someone else
Depression and Shame
More than any other emotion sadness and depression are seen as signs of weakness. So many people in our society believe that depression wouldn’t happen if people just sucked it up, went to work and stopped wallowing in their own emotions. The fact is that hard work while good for some forms of depression would be dangerous for other types and would only exacerbate symptoms. Depression is an illness just as much as the stomach flu. Those who experience it would prefer a good headache or stomach flu over depression any day of the week. It is important to think of this type of mental illness as a physical illness. It has bodily symptoms as well as emotional and affects all aspects of life just the way physical pain or illness would.
Strategies for Breaking through the Darkness
One of the first things worth doing when you understand that you have a problem with depression or sadness is to make a list of the times in your life you were happiest. List off the activities, foods, and people that used to fill you with joy and use that list as a gauge of your progress. Then find a great therapist, get some acupuncture, start an exercise regimen, change your diet, get outdoors—take whatever little steps feel manageable but start working towards that list of joys and delight. We so often live in a place of withholding of delights. Think about the easiest, cheapest ways to make you happy and start there.
Please write in and comment on fun, easy strategies you have to fight anything from the winter blues to serious clinical depression.
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