Oh dear me folks, this article has turned out to be MUCH bigger than I ever expected it to be. Ahhh well, I suspect that depression is more prevalent than at any other time in history (certainly anti-depressants are a multi-billion dollar industry these days) and when you look at some of these possible causes of depression, you won’t wonder why.
Take heart though, the solutions for yourself or your loved one are a LOT simpler than you thought they were.
So what is depression?
We could define depression as a prolonged state of feeling crappy, of misery and melancholy and hopelessness, even a numbness – where we don’t feel hardly any of the good feelings anymore. These crappy feelings are usually accompanied by a physical lack of energy, even exhaustion.
Causes of depression
Depression can start physically in the gut or with a hormone upset or a toxin overload, it can start with a physical or emotional trauma, it can build from a constant drip, drip, drip of squashed down and unacknowledged emotions that we weren’t taught how to deal with and it can come from belief systems that are no longer serving us. Most of us will experience depression to some degree, at some time in our lives, because at its root cause, like all our other feelings, it’s just a message.
Depression is just a message from our minds, from our bodies and from our spirits.
And when we understand and act on that message – the depression is gone. And yes I don’t care what anyone else says, it IS that simple.
There are a stack of physical possibilities in the causes of emotional upset and eventually depression, that are waaayyy too important to be ignored by anyone who wants good mental, emotional and physical well-being. It’s easier to attend to some of these physical contributors to depression and lighten the load before doing any specific emotional work with the horses.
I’m going to give you a list of those physical causes and what to do about them in detail at the end of this article. I am thinking some of you will be stunned at some of these, but first, I want to talk about the emotional stuff and what horses can specifically and practically do for us …
And what we can do for them too…
I have no intention of glossing over that last comment. We’ll cover that in more detail shortly! 🙂
When we shut down the crappy feelings, we shut down the good feelings as well and eventually, numbness and then depression is the result.
See – we weren’t taught how to deal with our feelings – well I wasn’t anyway and I don’t personally know anybody else who was either. All the feelings that we experience are our inner guidance system – so what happens when we shut down our crappy feelings because we don’t know what to do with them – we shut down the good stuff as well.
It’s no wonder that we avoid or shut down the crappy feelings – what else are we supposed to do when nobody teaches us how the heck to deal with them? None of us ENJOY sitting in those crappy feelings.
They were given to us for a reason –
Passionate inspiration, enjoyment, pleasure, confidence, joi de vivre, happiness, peacefulness, excitement – these are all states of being that are the opposite to depression. Fear, anger, frustration, sadness, grief – these feelings are all opposites to depression too.
Groan, I hear you say “How can those crappy feelings be the opposite to depression? And I don’t want them!”
Ahhaa! Says me “But they are ALL just your inner guidance system at work and if you shut the crappy feelings down, you shut the good feelings down too and eventually depression is the result.
The trick is to understand what to know or do about our crappy feelings so that they are transient – so that we move through them quickly and easily, understanding what to know or do about them, so that they’re pfftt! – gone.
We horse people are particularly blessed
We horse people are particularly blessed because horses can give us a very practical application of our inner guidance system. They can give us a simple pathway to experiencing more of the “good” feelings and shorten the period of the crappy feelings so that we get instantaneous understanding of them more often than not.
Emotional causes of depression
The foundation of our horse work here is that our emotions are messages from our soul – they are simply a part of our inner guidance system and that when we understand what that message is – AND ACT ON IT – acting on it is the key – then pfft! the emotion is gone. I wrote about this extensively in my book Pathway to Heaven on Earth, which is a series of stories about horse students and healing clients that brought me to a new level of understanding about how life and feelings work generally and then I wrote about our emotional connections with others in a specifically horse focused way in Zen Connection with Horses.
Our direction in life as a cause of depression
In Pathway to Heaven, I wrote that Depression is simply the stop sign of the soul – it says “Stop here, go no further, you are going the wrong way.” It’s actually an ingenious survival mechanism when we are “off our path” and our mind/body/spirit has no choice but to stop us from moving forward. (When I wrote this back then, I was heavily influenced by Linda Kohanov’s book Riding Between the Worlds. There was a part of that book that changed my life profoundly.)
Depression eventually takes over when we ignore our inner guidance system, when what we are doing and where we are going in our life isn’t what we really want or when something that we are doing in our life does not reflect who we really are.
In fact, depression is a lot more useful to us that you’d think – we can even consider the loss of energy that is depression as our emergency break, while we figure out what it is that needs changing.
Depression intensifies when you try to hide it, or ignore it, or bury the depression itself – and the intensifying of depression can be dangerous indeed – often resulting in deeper depression, physical illness or even suicidal urges.
How horses can help us
We’ve come even further since we wrote those two books Pathway to Heaven and Zen Connection with Horses (we being the royal “we” of my horses and myself and all the students who contributed to my understanding) and we have a much deeper understanding these days about how horses and humans can mutually help each other.
And the important part of what I just said was … mutually help each other…
Horses can quieten our minds, slow our heart rate, reduce overwhelming emotions and help us cut through depression.
Horses are the ultimate emotional communicators. Research has shown that the electromagnetic field around their heart has the capacity to positively influence us by lowering our blood pressure, evening out our heart rate, decrease our pain, decrease stress levels, reduce tension and emotions that are in overwhelm. Link to that research here.
It stands to reason that calm, happy horses have even more capacity to influence us positively, than upset or anxious horses.
Just BEing with a horse quietly in an undemanding, relaxing way, can quieten our mind and help us cut through emotional overwhelm or the numbness and exhaustion of depression, to where we can start to understand what’s going on –to understand what those feelings are trying to tell us.
Horses, when we are “listening”, also teach us about the way in which we experience our connection to others as a routine life experience. We talked about that in more detail in the Keys to Happiness with Your Horse.
In return, we can help our horses to live their lives free from chronic anxiety or free from anxiety about routine things.
I believe that this reciprocity is incredibly important.
Almost all horses experience more anxiety than people realize.
Most horses – almost all horses – experience a LOT more anxiety than people realize and it’s anxiety that is completely fixable. I used to think it myself and I still hear it all the time from other people –– “oh this is just a nervy horse”.
If this is your first time on my blog, you’ll get used to my occasional colorful language. Just a nervy horse – that is such crap. A nervy horse is simply a horse who has routine things in its life that it is afraid of that are almost always completely unnecessary and we their humans can help them to become calm and confident about all these routine things and live a life filled with well being.
If you haven’t seen our free video lesson The Key to the Kingdom of Horses yet, I produced it as a way to introduce people to to the Feel for your horse that is the foundation of our work here and you’ll see how simple it is to start listening and decreasing a horse’s fear. This video was about a traumatised wild horse, but you’ll be gobsmacked at how applying the same principles to your own horse can decrease their tension and increase THEIR feelings of well-being. Email me if you lost your link and want to watch it again.
Horses and people can escalate each other into feeling more and more good.
And that mutual expansion of well-being where the horse helps the person and the person helps the horse becomes this beautiful and steady cycle of escalating both human and horse in feeling more and more good.
How cool is THAT?
A Quiet Mind is a godsend to our mental and emotional health and our horses can help us with that
Deliberately developing a Quiet Mind when you’re around your horse can gently bring you into the place where you can understand your feelings.
Spend quality, relaxed and undemanding, doing nothing quiet time with your horse – allow your mind to drift, allow your mind to quieten more and more, feel the kiss of the sun on your skin, the touch of the wind, allow yourself to feel what’s going on the your body, notice all the physical sensations happening in your body and in your breathing – even feel for your heartbeat. Allow your eyes to smile and soften and your mind to drift, knowing that this time with your horse is amongst the most valuable time you will ever spend on your own and their good health and well-being.
You can also use a Quiet Mind to understand your feelings
When the cause of your feelings and what to know or do about them are not immediately obvious and once you have established a habit of being able to develop a Quiet Mind around your horse, then you can even deliberately go into this time with your horse, with the intention of understanding the message of your feelings.
Remember that everything that you feel is just part of your inner guidance system – that it’s all just a message and that when you understand what that is, and take action on it, then your body can release the tension and heal.
I can’t imagine a better thing to do for someone suffering from depression than some kind of combination of healing work with me (you can read about it on that link) and the life changing program Journey to Feel. I am sooo proud of this program and the impact it makes on people’s lives – whether they get 10 days in or complete the whole thing. It’s a one month program of meditations and horse lessons that steadily takes you step by step into a deep connection with your horse, enabling you you to quieten your mind more and more easily – giving people tools to find peace of mind even when under stress. And all this is done with your horse first to make it even easier.
If you don’t own a horse
If you don’t own a horse, you can even sit quietly outside the paddock of the horse down the road and do the same thing. Please don’t feed other people’s horses, you can make them sick. And even more importantly, don’t go in with other people’s horses, it’s unacceptable and can be dangerous when you don’t know what you’re doing.
There’s some great horse programs out there even if you don’t know the back end of the horse from the front.
There’s some great horse programs out there now where you can get safe, up close and personal contact with horses – like Epona, Epala, Equine Facilitated Learning and many more. People are welcome to put links to programs they know of, into the comments section below this article. If enough people post links, we can even make a separate page in the World Wide list of Alternative Therapists.
I did a one day program with Eponaquest a few years ago and had a huge breakthrough on some emotional stuff that had been in the way of my peace of mind. They knocked my socks off and I do this kind of work for a living myself.
Physical things to do about depression
There are many physical causes of depression that want attention at the same time as we are understanding the emotional causes and there are physical things that we can do, that WILL improve how you feel, sometimes dramatically.
Exercise is one of those things that improves how we feel. There have been several studies now, that showed exercise is more effective than anti-depressants in getting people out of mild to moderate depression. (Please read my EXTREMELY important note about anti-depressants at the bottom of this page.)
Even bigger than exercise in improving how you feel, is the fact that the RIGHT exercise for you, in the RIGHT physical posture, can absolutely flood your body with feel good hormones. Beautiful, effortlessly strong physical posture – finding it, the vast benefits of it and keeping it has become a passion of mine.
Eliminate chemicals and toxins
Some chemicals that we use in modern society, on farms and in cities, mimic hormones that can cause massive hormonal upsets in our systems. The “feel good” brain chemicals that are depressed in depression, are all part of the intricately balanced endocrine system and can be dramatically affected by these hormone mimicking chemicals that are found in some insecticides. For some people, these chemicals alone can be the root cause of their depression.
The simple solution is to reduce the chemicals in our environment. Eliminate harsh cleaning chemicals – there’s some great books out there on the subject. You’ll love how cheap cleaning is in a low chemical environment. Use the money you save, to buy organic and eat fresh food – basically, reduce the amount of toxins from insecticides and food additives and chemicals generally, as much as you can without being paranoid about it.
A good digestion is essential to good mental and emotional health
Good digestion is right up there as a major contributor to eliminating depression and getting a feeling of well-being instead. The gut is an important part of the endocrine system, as are our hormones, as are the feel good brain chemicals, the brain chemicals that help you sleep, the other brain chemicals that keep you awake and alert at the right times and give you energy – they are all part of the delicate, constantly balancing endocrine system.
Improving digestion is a good place to start influencing all those hormones and feel good brain chemicals.
It’s nice when modern medicine starts to catch up with alternative medicine. Psychology Today – link here – talks about how the gut is a very powerful second brain and that tinkering with this second brain in our gut has been shown to be a potent tool for achieving relief from major depression.
In my clinic work, getting the gut working properly is right up there as one of the first things to do with a chronic depression.
So what happened? Why isn’t our digestion working the way it was designed?
Modern life, with the slap dash and over use of medically prescribed antibiotics and the shocking amount of antibiotics in our food and the acid in our stomachs caused by an over use of white sugar that is now a chemical and super refined starches, has killed off vast populations of healthy bacteria in our digestive systems – good bacteria that are essential to us being able to absorb nutrients from our food properly. For some people, this alone is enough to put their bodies into that feeling crappy place of depression.
What can we do to fix it?
Start improving the gut with probiotics, with healthy bacteria of some description. You can take those in good quality supplements or you can get them cheaply from fermented foods. One of the pluses of our global village is finding out and having available, the different ways that various cultures around the world have traditionally used fermented foods for good health.
Food as medicine has become another passion for me. Making real sauerkraut is so easy and it dances on my tongue, although I have to hide it under the mashed potato for my husband who eats it under sufferance knowing it’s good for him. You cannot buy live sauerkraut from the supermarket in Australia at least, because they’ve pasteurised it – killing the bacteria in it and making it useless.
Fermented foods are powerful healers for our minds as well as our bodies
Other fermented foods such as kefir, real yoghurt with real live yoghurt culture still in it (most so called yoghurts in the supermarket don’t have the live culture in them any more and they are loaded with refined white chemical sugar so you have to check the labels carefully) – live vinegars like kambucha and apple cider vinegar with the “mother” still in it (again most of the supermarket sold foodstuffs have been pasteurised and killed the good bacteria that our bodies are craving), the Japanese have a number of different fermented foods, including miso and a lovely sweet rice called Kohji that my friend Haruko sends me from Japan – all these things contribute healthy bacteria that are a foundation to being able to digest our food properly.
When you are using fermented foods for well-being and not just for taste, remember that heating and cooking kills good bacteria as well as bad bacteria, so don’t cook fermented foods or heat beyond a nice eating temperature – i.e. add them at the end of the cooking process.
Do you know, there’s a good reason for people to not be attracted to their vegetables, when they aren’t digesting them properly anyway. Once we have healthy bacteria in our systems, we can start getting the benefit of all that lovely fresh food, fruits and specially vegetables that provide important vitamins and produce the digestive enzymes that are the other part of the healthy digestion that is such a significant part of our emotional and physical well-being. THEN we’ll start actually craving good food.
Lack of Vitamin D is a significant cause of depression
In Australia, fear of cancer has people covering up all available skin from the life giving and Vitamin D giving effects of the sun and slapping on mostly carcinogenic sunscreens (don’t get me started about that!)
Vitamin D deficiency – of which depression is a major symptom – is rapidly becoming a problem in this wonderful Australia of ours that has so much Vitamin D making sunshine. Granted I don’t want to burn, so I cover up if I’m working outside for those hours in the middle of the day, or if I’m out in the sun for a long time – but I personally, WANT some sun, at least a little bit of sun on my skin, preferably every day.
You can find Vitamin D in some fish, but you’ll see in the section about Omega 3’s just below here, that fish oil has its own issues that need to be taken into consideration if good health and well being is your goal. Artificial Vitamin D doesn’t really do the whole well being job properly either.
Lack of Omega 3 Fats can adversely affect the brain
There’s been a modern fad to eliminate fats from our diet which has been adversely effecting people’s health and mental and emotional stability for a while now. Omega 3’s are an essential fat that contributes to brain health. Studies have found that not enough Omega 3’s can significantly increase your risk of depression.
You can find Omega 3’s in fish oils, though be careful, because rancid fish oil adds to our toxic burden and has the opposite effect that we are looking for. Far too many fish oils are either produced chemically or with heat, which makes them rancid from the beginning or they become rancid from not being stored properly.
I have found plant based Omega 3’s to be more reliable – chia seeds, coconut oil, Cold pressed organic Olive Oil (not cooked with), freshly ground flax seeds (like everything else that’s ground up before you get it, they start to lose their effectiveness as soon as the seed is broken and become rancid with time) – these are my personal favourites.
Mineral deficiencies can affect the mind, body and emotions
There’s a bunch of minerals necessary for good health and well being, that interact with each other and where deficiencies can affect our nervous system and contribute to emotional upsets and depression. This is a BIIIGGG subject, but provided you don’t have any major mineral deficiencies where your food is grown, or major requirements to deal with a specific problem, then adding organic seaweed to your diet should take care of most mineral deficiencies. I add it to soups and casseroles and stir fries. It adds a lovely richness of flavor that is not identifiable as seaweed. I had been doing it for years without my husband and sons knowing before one of them caught me and went “Euwww!”
Incredibly important note for those who are on or who have a loved one on anti-depressants
I am sure that there will be people who read this article who take heart that they won’t need antidepressants for the rest of their lives and that’s excellent. They are shitful drugs with shitful side effects that take the joy out of life and if you attend to the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of your recovery, then you will most likely be able to come off them.
YOU MUST NOT STOP TAKING ANTI-DEPRESSANTS SUDDENLY and it MUST be done under your doctor’s supervision. Firstly because we don’t always notice what’s going on ourselves when we’ve been in a mental hole for a long time.
And most of all, because our bodies cannot balance the lack of the drug in the brain suddenly. If you stop taking them too fast, your brain chemicals and hormones fall into a hole and then you think to yourself “Oh, I must still need the drug”.
Successful withdrawal from anti-depressants should take place over months – MANY MONTHS SOMETIMES– that way, your brain and gut can be best balancing for your mental, emotional and physical well being. I’ve had one person who had been on them for 25 years who took a bit over two YEARS and she’s doing fabulously and living a wonderful life.
In summary, you can avoid depression or change it by:
- Spend quality, undemanding, do nothing quiet time with your horse and allow them to help you to quieten your mind.
- Allow your emotions to be part of your inner guidance system, the way they were designed.
- Get healthy bacteria into your system by taking a high quality probiotic supplement or more preferably from eating fermented foods.
- Eliminate as many toxins from your environment as you can without making yourself paranoid.
- Eliminate as many sources of hormone affecting pesticides from your environment as you can.
- Eat clean, healthy, unprocessed food (if it comes in a packet it’s probably processed 🙂 ) and preferably organic foods where you can get them.
- Include some high quality sources of Omega 3’s in your diet.
- Get outside into nature and get some sunshine on your skin and make some Vitamin D before you cover up again.
- Eat seaweed to get a broad spectrum of minerals and trace elements into your system.
- And DO NOT suddenly stop taking anti-depressant medication.
Later addition April 2016…
Our Journey to Feel program has been getting fabulous results with depression – the combination of the meditations themselves., the presence of our horses and the stunning healing chanting of Deva Premal have facilitated quite a few people to the layers of understanding that brought them great peacefulness.
Later edit: Register for the blog – further up the page on the right hand side and you’ll get an email into your in box whenever I do a Happiness clinic. We got FABULOUS results with depression in the programs that we’ve run already.