Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay 
A recent article published by The Conversation (“Depression is probably not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain”) caught my eye, not least because it was based on a study reported in the well-respected journal, Molecular Psychiatry. 
The idea that low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, sleep and digestion, are a direct cause of depression has been the received wisdom for decades and helped market the antidepressant drugs that act by blocking the re-uptake of serotonin in the brain and thereby increasing the amount available. 
This has also helped to create an over-medicalised view of depression, one that can engender a very damaging sense of powerlessness in people who have been told they are ill with depression. 
The jury is still out on what the cause of depression is, but it is likely to be, firstly, unique to the individual, and secondly, a combination of factors, many of them related to circumstance and our internal dialogue and sense of agency about those circumstances. It is also closely linked to stress. 
In fact, people suffering from depression generally have higher than average levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in their blood. Depression can happen when stress is prolonged, moving from acute to the background noise of chronic stress. It is often at this point that it is no longer recognised as stress but manifests as tearfulness and overwhelm. It can also numb emotions, creating a ‘flat’ feeling. 
Of course, there are plenty of triggers for stress around us at the moment. Although the pandemic seems to have faded somewhat, in the UK, the effects of it have been wide-ranging and long-lasting. Most people have experienced at least one of the following stressful consequences of COVID-19: 
• Bereavement 
• Personal illness 
• Overwhelm and burnout 
• Loss of or interruption to employment 
• Worry about finances 
• Struggles with home-schooling in addition to holding down a job or normal routine 
• Disruption to education and exams 
• Loss of social connections 
• Cancellation of holidays, social events, important celebrations 
• Frequent exposure to negative news stories 
• Fear and uncertainty about the future 
• Anxiety about getting back to normal and being in groups of people again 
To make matters worse, we now have to deal with significant issues related to the increasing cost of living. For many, the stress has been relentless and there may seem no end in sight. 
Everywhere we look, we can see reports of higher-than-normal levels of stress, anxiety and depression. According to the NHS, the common psychological symptoms of depression include: feelings of helplessness; irritability, guilt, tearfulness, pessimism, anxiety; lack of motivation or apathy, reduced enjoyment of life, and problems making decisions. Sufferers may also experience changes in weight, appetite and libido, lack of energy, problems sleeping, and general aches and pains. 
It is not difficult to see that the above symptoms can also be directly attributed to living through a pandemic and then emerging into the most severe cost of living crisis in decades. 
The question is: what can you do about it in order to regain your health, vitality and peace of mind? 
Certainly, a visit to your GP is very important and, whilst the research cited above on chemical imbalance in the brain is interesting and food for thought, it is always wise to discuss options with a medical practitioner. Anti-depressant medication does work for a lot of people and you may be one of them. 
It is also worth exploring other options in addition. 
The Human Givens approach outlines 8 key emotional needs which need to be met in order to maintain good mental health. They are: 
1. A sense of security and safety 
2. The ability to give and receive attention 
3. A sense of control over one’s life 
4. Emotional intimacy and acceptance of who we are (not necessarily with a lover) 
5. A sense that we are part of a community 
6. Social status 
7. A sense of achievement and competence 
8. Purpose and meaning in our lives 
When we meet these needs, we are much less likely to suffer from mental health issues including depression. As far as you feel able, it is a good idea to make sure you are doing something to meet each of these needs – if not every day, then regularly. Tiny steps are fine: noticing something about someone else at work or school and making a comment that causes them to smile; making a decision (even if it takes all day to decide) and sticking to it then noticing the difference it makes; ticking something off on a to-do list, even if it is ‘get up and have a shower today’ (achieving even small goals releases dopamine in the brain, which is another feel-good chemical that increases motivation and happiness). 
Sometimes, though, it is just not that easy and we need some extra help. 
To help us address these primary needs, we can use hypnosis to connect to the ‘observing self’ that can help us stand back and get a broader perspective; depression tends to create all or nothing / black and white patterns of thinking that can keep people stuck, particularly when we ruminate and go over the same thoughts again and again. It is true that our internal dialogue can either be our worst enemy in reinforcing depression and a sense of helplessness, or it can be our best friend. 
Your brain is hard-wired for learning new skills, which is very good news for combating depression. Hypnosis is fantastic for accessing the imagination and your subconscious does not distinguish between real and imagined, meaning that each time you rehearse, in hypnosis, meeting your emotional needs and using the resources you have to connect with others, notice things differently and solve problems, a significant part of your mind believes you are actually doing this and begins to create new helpful habit tracks and responses in the brain that can become second nature to you. 
It is also very effective at lowering stress levels and creating a much calmer place inside, giving you space and renewed energy. Most people report that the experience of spending a few minutes in hypnosis – even before the inclusion of suggestions targeting the depression – is very calming in and of itself. 
What difference will it make to you if we can hypnotically change the way you talk to yourself, allowing your inner voice to help us create change, usher in hope and remind us of skills we have and that we are not alone? 
If you’ve been feeling depressed and you’d like some support, contact me to discuss how I can help you conquer it and get your life back. 
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