Your pet cannot tell you when it feels depressed – at least not in so many words. Perhaps there is a clue in the noises it makes and what it does. More and more vets are prescribing tablets because of behaviour problems; and so huge numbers of dogs in America for example are on antidepressants.
Surely, animals in their natural habitat don’t need drugs. Maybe it’s because the pets are cooped up in houses whilst their owners are at work, or exposed to noisy traffic and neighbours or subjected to constant television. Enough to make anyone depressed I would have thought.
As someone who was a therapist working with depressed patients for over thirty years, what is even more shocking for me is the way that human beings take the same medication in even larger numbers. Antidepressants are now the most frequently used tablets among Americans between the ages of 18 and 44. Severe depression can be an indescribable emotional pain. But whatever one’s severity of depression, I would like to suggest that like the animals, we humans also need to get back in touch with the ebb and flow of life of the natural world.
Low risk of depressed mood
It surely is no accident that horticultural workers usually come near the top on occupational surveys of subjective happiness. Are they not all enjoying fresh air, getting regular physical activity? Perhaps it is something to do with hearing the birds that sing, or touching the earth, or smelling flowers that give off their wonderful fragrance.
Reducing depressed mood
I would suggest that sometimes when we feel depressed it is because we are lonely, bored, or licking our wounds after some loss and thus in some way are less connected with the usual inflow of positive energy and warmth that can enliven the day. One common remedy is getting out for a walk and reflecting on something different from our own negative thoughts and feelings.
“I’ve treated my own depression for many years with exercise and meditation, and I’ve found that to be a tremendous help.” (Judy Collins, singer and social activist)
This makes sense to me because physical activity out of doors as well as meditating on nature often means being more in touch with what I see as the creative force behind life itself. Meeting up with nature gets us away from the depressing world of people with their self-orientated and materialistic concerns and at times their crime and corruption.
“The culture is going into a psychological depression. We are concerned about our place in the world, about being competitive: Will my children have as much as I have? Will I ever own my own home? How can I pay for a new car? Are immigrants taking away my white world?” (James Hillman, Jungian psychologist)
How the natural environment reduces depressed mood
Look around what nature has to offer and you can easily see beauty or grandeur, and, if you are lucky, the wonders of an unspoilt environment. You are more likely to notice the rain-clouds in the sky and thus be reminded of the life-sustaining water they provide. Or the hills and mountains that can be said to mirror peak experiences of illumination and inspiration that capture for a short while the potential summit of one’s life’s journey. Or maybe consider the trees in the woodland and forests with their endurance and strength. Do these not reflect the reality of personal growth over many years? Useful ideas can take root, blossom into action and produce fruits of our labours.
“Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.” (Richard Louv, nonfiction writer & journalist)
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. You can choose to open your eyes to the wider horizon of the soul or you can remain fixed in the narrow concerns of ego: be moved by the inspiration of something beyond the self, or suffer from the negativity of your frustrated ambition: be uplifted by the evidence of a creative life force all around or be depressed by the separate little world of individual self-hood.
“You can walk around the busy streets of a city and feel like you are completely isolated from the people hurrying along. Alternatively, you may choose to see God in the smile on a person’s face, feel the warmth of Divine love in the sun on the face, and see hope of new things in the green shoots in the park. It is all a matter of perception as to what is the reality of life.” (Helen Newton and Becky Jarratt, spiritual writers).
Choosing between spirit and ego
Having a choice between a spiritual or egoistic way of seeing, doesn’t mean that we are free all of a sudden to directly swap depressive feelings for happy ones. However, I would suggest that we do have some inner freedom to turn towards or turn our backs on what is revealed to us in the world of nature. Therapists for depressed people know that insofar as we have some insight into our own positive and negative states and ways of automatic thinking, then we do have some freedom to choose which to identify with.
Sometimes it might be difficult to move towards the change that is needed. It may help to visualise this freedom in terms of tuning the dial on a radio. We can listen in, either, on the one hand, to material that is uplifting and inspiring, or on the other hand, listen to what reinforces our sense of grievance, intolerance, and complaint.
The challenge of a depressed mood
Let no one minimise the challenge of trying to get to grips with depressed mood. There are no simple answers. But I do believe one useful strand is a clearer appreciation of the Divine source of life as an uplifting and healing force for the mind.
“Inmost angels perceive how much comes from the Lord and how much from themselves, but that in so far as it comes from the Lord they know happiness and insofar as it comes from themselves they do not.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems