In the age of technical breakthroughs and medical advancements, ironically, humankind is still dealing with possibly the most painful demon of them all: depression. Approximately 1 in every 10 people suffers from depression (which translates into millions and millions of people). Billions of dollars are thrown at medical research centers while pharmacological companies come up with new and improved drugs, psychologists take on behavioral patterns, and spiritual advisors work with the most deep-seated problems.
Anyone could suffer from depression, be it reactionary to an event, inherited - or a depression that just comes up for no reason and disappears without a trace. While some advancements have been made in the clinical field, doctors are still, for the most part, baffled at how many types of depression there are, what to do to about them, if resolving the issue is at all possible, and, most importantly, what makes it all happen.
Depression is one of the most enigmatic and complex issues that likely haunted our society for as long as it has existed. At the dawn of civilizations, when people started using tools to record and store information, records of possession by evil spirits started appearing. Naturally (why not?) trepanation was considered by our ancestors a great way to fix things: if someone suffered from some kind of abnormal behavior, the solution was obvious: relatives would drill a hole in the skull, evil spirits would fly out. Problem solved.
Surprisingly though that never really worked, as it turned out, so after a while more effective methods of dealing emerged. From trepanning to treating vulnerable persons with cold water and exercise in the 20th century to prescribing Prozac today, depression as an illness has undergone significant transformation, and more is known about it, although whether it can be cured completely and for how long remains to be seen.
Unless you’re into Kyokushin, trepanning is not considered best practice among martial arts practitioners when it comes to handling depression, but the odds are you’ll be surprised by how well martial arts can affect mental states and body chemistry for the better.
Exercise helps. According to WHO? You guessed it. According to WHO (World Health Organisation), exercise and depression are interconnected. Thus, one of the best ways of getting out of depression is to start working out:
“The World Health Organization has stated that there are interrelationships at play between physical health and depression. One example of this is cardiovascular disease. The disease can lead to depression, just as depression may result in cardiovascular disease.
The WHO recommends that adults between 18 and 64 years old should engage in a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity.”
Now, people whos suffer from depression normally aren’t very keen on getting out there and jumping up and down. That’s why moderate exercise, low levels of gung-ho and no exploding helicopters are a good idea at the beginning. Aikido is a low-key sport, and so is chess (just kidding, but technically chess is a sport).
Moderation is key.
Although depressed people don’t normally like to talk, socialization is key to our functioning well as species. Humans are like some types of bees in that if you isolate a bee from the rest, it will find a quiet spot and peacefully die of natural causes. Nothing can compare to the luxury of human interaction. Our psyche is designed in such a way that the more impulses from the outside we get, the more alive we feel. People need people. Psychology Today reports:
“Interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. Research has shown that one sure way of improving your mood is to work on building social connections.”
Meeting others at martial arts studios and having a single cause can enable depressed people to easily overcome the barrier of having difficulties talking to new people (or people in general). However, people can be difficult, so discretion and common sense are advised when looking for good friends.
We often underestimate how much we as humans restrain ourselves. There is a lot of tension, frustration, and anger going around in the society today and yet ways to blow off steam are often hard to find. There is even such a thing as scream therapy, which is a real thing (no need to explain how it works, we hope, it’s pretty straightforward, but people-free environments are best).
In martial arts, one can impress that kickboxing instructor by unleashing the anger onto a punchbag, and it’s also therapeutic. Who knew!
Although only a temporary solution, stress relief can be a very beneficial solution that will help get things moving. Yoga also can get very emotional, with tears and talks about feelings and hugs (don’t ask how we know). Let it all out!
Meditation is a part of many martial arts, and the most deeply rooted ones always come from traditions of relaxation and cleansing the mind. “Your mind must be like a clear mountain lake”.
Meditation is magic when it comes to dealing with depression. None other than Harward supports our claim:
Scientists have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) becomes hyperactive in depressed people. The mPFC is often called the "me center" because this is where you process information about yourself, such as worrying about the future and ruminating about the past. When people get stressed about life, the mPFC goes into overdrive.
Another brain region associated with depression is the amygdala, or "fear center." This is the part of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response, which triggers the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol in response to fear and perceived danger.
These two brain regions work off each other to cause depression. The me center gets worked up reacting to stress and anxiety, and the fear center response leads to a spike in cortisol levels to fight a danger that's only in your mind. Research has found that meditation helps break the connection between these two brain regions.”
If you want to find the best way of helping someone who is depressed, meditation can work miracles, but including physical exercise, a support group, and stress relief too will greatly increase the chances of success. And what better place to go to find all four than a martial arts dojo?