How to Beat the Blues! Get Your Body Involved

Good Morning!  I hope had an incredibly wonderful weekend!

Today’s post is inspired by the books Spark and Brain Rules and several research studies all pointing to the advantages of massage and exercise for beating the blues.  In this post, we'll focus on how your body helps in the treatment of depression.

As it turns out, one time or another in our lives, we tend to get a bit down if not depressed. And if we’re feeling content, darn if we don’t know someone else that’s singing the blues.

One of the challenges of depression is that it feels all-consuming.  Sometimes, at it’s worst, it feels like we’re in a heavy dark cloud or even a deep dark hole - often trapped in our thoughts and immobile.

Through the years, I’ve learned that bringing the body into the depression “problem solving” mix can be invaluable.

In other words, it may be that our difficult thoughts - AKA our “stinking thinking” - creates our difficult moods, yet it seems that the body often "holds onto" or "stores" our emotions.

Based on years of working with clients, Lansing Gresham, an instructor of mine, theorized that different body areas were the “keeper” of different emotions.  And more importantly, our bodies are often a vital resource to getting beyond the blues.

For example, he found that:

  • Sadness – was primarily “stored” in the Lungs, and
  • Control issues – were “kept” in the Neck

Through various practices and venues, it has been the body, and it's strength and/or healing,  that provides an additional, though often untapped, coping mechanism to help us deal with life's challenges.

Take Charge! - Color Your Emotions

So it was fun, that years later, while I was working as a child therapist, that my kids enjoyed coloring their “Body-Emotion” maps (like the one pictured to the left and below and also available here,)

Color-Your-Emotions-The-Mind-Body-WhispererMy kids used their own body-emotion map to identify which part of their bodies were the “keeper” of their different emotions.  From this exercise, they could also:

  • "Look down on their emotions" rather than always feeling like they were caught in the middle of them, and
  • “Color and play” with their emotions,  rather than hide from them or pretend they didn't exist.  (In this sense, they exercised an early form of control over their emotions.)

Science is also providing insights.  Studies have found that both exercise and safe touch, including massage, are great for the brain and effective against depression and anxiety.

One of my favorite authors is Dr. John Medina (below) - the author of Brain Rules.

As Dr. Medina points out, movement and mobility were critical to our ancestor's ability to survive adverse conditions.  And as such, our brains evolved as a "survival organ."

So, as I see it, exercise and movement are actually important "problem solving" resources - helping us both literally and figuratively to get "unstuck."  And this is important to understand, since "feeling completely stuck" is often a hallmark of depression.

Further, part of the advantage of exercise is that it increases the production of BDNF.  BDNF, as Dr. Medina explains, are proteins that act like a "miracle grow" for the brain.

Interestingly, through my studies with Dr. Jon Baylin, the part of the brain most associated with the continuing production of brain cells and neuroplasticity is the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is responsible for context and the perception of time and space. As an curious side-bar, taxi cab drivers in London have larger, more developed hippocampi than...basically, the rest of us (that aren't driving cabs in complex cities, anyway...)

Since the hippocampus is critical to perspective, context, and the perception of time and space, I find it fascinating that exercise increases this area.

Here's my understanding....if I exercise more, my brain will produce more BDNF, which spurs the growth of more brain cells, particularly in the hippocampal area.

And with that increase to the hippocampus, it stands to reason, that I will also increase my capacity for the specialties of the hippocampus - i.e. perspective, context, and the perception of time and space (a hippocampal trio, we could call it.)  And to my mind, this hippocampal trio, represents critical "information bits," that in turn help someone heal from depression.

So perhaps it isn't surprising that movement, in the form of exercise, has been found to provide significant help to patients experiencing both minor depression and major depressive disorder.

Next week we'll look at the kinds of exercise that have helped people beat the blues.

Here's to Beating the Blues!

Have a Great rest of the Week and Weekend!
The Mind Body Whisperer 
- Dedicated to Helping You Optimize for Your Favorite Sport and Pain-Free Living!

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1 Response

  1. Loved your blog. The body emotion map is just great to identifying the different areas where we feel different resistance, or anger. Really useful to have the downloadable pdf to do this. Also found the video by John Medina really insightful... A great resource. Thank you.

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