Mind Matters: Thoughts are not facts

How about some fireside non-fiction reading for winter hibernation?

When Antidepressants Aren’t Enough: Harnessing the Power of Mindfulness to Alleviate Depression by Stuart J. Eisendrath, M.D., would be a good start. This psychiatrist’s antidote to depression taps into the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.

Depression may be fleeting unhappiness or a temporary sadness, but it can also be debilitating, impairing cognitive functioning, concentration, sleep, and eating.

Eisendrath points out an evolutionary hypothesis for depression. It may be that depression has a potential adaptive function. It was found in the study of certain monkeys that when infants were separated from their mothers, the infants adopted what seemed to be a depressive state, curling up in withdrawal. If they gave a little cry and the mother didn’t return, the depressive state continued — perhaps as a means of conserving energy. The researchers considered that the infant monkeys would try to avoid this state by staying close to the mother as much as they could. It was concluded that “the attempt to prevent depressive states from occurring resulted in the enhancement of the drive for attachment of the infant to the mother … avoidance of depression served as an adaptive survival value for the infants, keeping them safely attached and under the protective purview of their mother.”

There are other factors that play into depression too: stress, grief, trauma, genetics, brain circuitry.

Eisendrath also notes that depression is not a one and done thing, but that it can recur. Most importantly, he says, “when depressive episodes hit, … see them for what they are: recurrences … not personal weakness or moral failure.” He also stresses that depression’s hallmark is negative thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about oneself and that these negative thoughts are “not facts but symptoms of the depression itself.”

The mindfulness meditation approach to depression is about changing a person’s relationships to negative thoughts and feelings rather than focusing on the origins of the negativity. Carl Jung would say, “we don’t solve our problems, we outgrow them.” So perhaps mindfulness is a tool for outgrowing our problems.

MBCT—Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy—which Eisendrath outlines, differs from cognitive therapy in that it is a noticing and letting go of the negativity and arises with no effort to actively rewrite or refute the negative beliefs (which he re-iterates are not facts).

Basically, mindfulness, as Eisendrath defines it, is becoming aware of experiences in the here and now — sensations, thoughts, feelings — and suspending judgment about them.

There are many guides to mindfulness that are helpful. The focus that Eisendrath provides in using mindfulness to alleviate depression is his abiding message that “our thoughts are not facts.” Remembering this in learning mindfulness meditation can make all the difference in quieting depression.

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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