Understanding Depression: Emotional Disorder or State of Being? Part 1

Today we seem to prefer the word depression over sadness and melancholy.  But there was a time, five or six hundred years ago, when melancholy was identified with the Roman God Saturn.  To be depressed was to be “in Saturn” and a person chronically disposed to melancholy was known as a “child of Saturn.”
Depression is characterized by extreme sadness, a sense of hopelessness and despair.  It is caused by a variety of lack factors including lack of sleep, lack of nutrients, lack of light, and lack of love.  Adrenal exhaustion, cold and damp conditions in the body and hormonal and chemical imbalances can also attribute to depression.  Sometimes depression is simply caused by a series of very sad, life-challenging or threatening events.  Depression is the symptom, not the cause, and is an indicator that things are awry.

Chronos, God of Saturn

In Thomas Moore’s book Care of the Soul: A guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life, he suggests that the soul presents itself in a variety of colors, including all the shades of gray, blue and black, and that to care for the soul we need to observe its full range of colors. Some feelings and thoughts seem to emerge only in a dark mood.  Suppress the mood, and you will suppress those ideas and reflections. Moore states that depression may be as important a channel for valuable negative feelings as expressions of affection are for the emotions of love. He further states that “melancholy gives the soul an opportunity to express a side of its nature that is as valid as any other, but is hidden out of our distaste for its darkness and bitterness.  Melancholy thoughts carve out an interior space where wisdom can take up residence.

If we persist in our modern way of treating depression as an illness to be cured only mechanically and chemically, we may lose the gifts of the soul that only depression can provide.  In particular, tradition taught that Saturn (a term used 600 years ago to describe being in melancholy) fixes, darkens, weights, and hardens whatever is in contact with it.  If we do away with Saturn’s moods, we may find it exhausting trying to keep life bright and warm at all costs. We may be even more overcome then by the increased melancholy called forth by the repression of Saturn, and lose the sharpness and substance of identity that Saturn gives the soul.  “

If we pathologize depression, treating it as a syndrome in need of a cure, then the emotions of Saturn have no place to go except into abnormal behavior and acting out.  An alternative would be to invite Saturn in, when he comes knocking, and give him an appropriate place to stay.”

Thomas Moore – Care of the Soul

According to Caroline Myss, medical intuitive,

“Depression is another symptom that all is not well.  Within the clinical world, depression is generally considered an emotional and mental disorder.  But prolonged depression often precedes the development of a physical illness. In energy terms, depression literally is a release of energy or life force, if you will without consciousness.  If energy is like money, depression is like opening your wallet and announcing, “I don’t care who takes my money or how it is spent.” 

Caroline Myss – Medical intuitive

Prolonged depression inevitably creates chronic exhaustion. If you don’t care who spends your money or how much, inevitably you will end up broke.  Just so, without energy you cannot support your health.

What role does serotonin, norepinephrine, beta endorphins and hormones have to play with depression?

Increasingly, it is being discovered that there are biochemical abnormalities in patients with various mental or psychological disorders.  Ordinarily for instance, in patients suffering from depression, the adrenal glands would slow production of cortisone.  In some depressed patients, however, the glands continue to produce cortisone and adrenalin.  This keeps them in a constant state of alarm, which is the primary reaction to stress.  Similarly, some patients with manic depressive or bipolar depression do not have the normal response to thyroid-stimulating hormone, which means the thyroid gland and pituitary gland are running independently of one another.
Most significantly, it was discovered in depressed people whom Dr Sheally and Caroline Myss measured were very deficient in beta endorphins, the body’s natural narcotics.  On the other hand, those individuals who were depressed and severely agitated had a very high level of beta endorphins.  Low levels of serotonin and high or low levels or norepinephrine are other common findings in patients with depression.
Serotonin is a chemical that facilitates transmission of information between nerve cells.  Deficiencies of serotonin, found in 40% of chronic pain patients, lead to depression, insomnia and even pain. 

Symptoms of Depression:
Depression is marked by varying degrees of one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Fatigue
  • insomnia
  • appetite irregularities
  • excessive weight gain or weight loss
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • diabetes
  • stress
  • emotional and mental disorders, such as introversion, anger, anxiety, nervousness, failure to thrive, poor concentration
  • muscle aches and pains
  • migraine headaches
  • arthritis
  • sexual problems
  • high bloodpressure
  • neurosis (a disorder not accompanied by any apparent physical change in the nervous system and with symptoms of hysteria, anxiety, obsession compulsions and most depressive disorders)
  • psychosis (a much more serious mental derangement in which patients lose touch with reality and usual cognitive functions) These include those things which are usually called “insanity”: schizophrenia, manic depressive psychosis, involutional melancholia, paranoia and senile psychosis.)


Studies have also revealed that telomeres (a caplike structure at the end of every strand of DNA which are necessary to prevent the aberration or loss of genetic information during cell division) are shortened each year an individual spends depressed, caring for a sick loved one, going through a bankruptcy or a divorce, and so on. Shortened telomere length is linked to aging, cancer and heart disease.

Pessimism was the first personality trait to be linked to shorter telomere length.

Elaine R. Ferguson – Super Healing: Engaging your Mind, Body and Spirit to create Optimal Health and Well-being

Depression is a condition frequently brought about through feeling that one’s power of choice is either absent completely or totally eclipsed by the demands of one’s situation. 
Dr Norman Sheally and Caroline Myss conducted a case study which found that “Cancer has been linked to depression.” They state that, “to most scientists and clinicians, however the overwhelming evidence that depression clobbers the immune system is apparently threatening because it raises the probability that cancer, the most dreaded and “physical” disease, is just as psychosomatic as a peptic ulcer.

Physicians have accepted for many years that peptic ulcer is a physical disorder when there is actually a “hole” in the intestinal wall. An increase in gastric acidity with discomfort is considered mostly a stress reaction.  Actually, peptic ulcer is generally considered to be rooted more in stress than in strictly physical causes, except in a very few individuals in whom there is a familial predisposition to this particular disorder.

Other contributing factors that can lead to depression:

  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Environmental pollution. 
  • Coping mechanisms and attitudes can have a significant impact too.

Myss states the following…“We have consistently noted that illness tends to follow certain patterns of stress or trauma that emerge organically out of the day to day business of living. How well our inner resources serve us in terms of helping us to cope with the ordinary events of life, such as disappointment or frustration over our personal or professional relationships, the experience of loss, financial traumas, to name just a few, is intimately linked with ones quality of health” 

Myss continues that, “

Many times I have seen that a person’s energy field is contaminated with environmental pollution, such as toxic air or water or even pesticide intake.  These physical pollutants actually affect a person’s nervous system and, more significantly, they constantly raise anxiety and stress levels in people.  These factors, however, are not officially recognized as “emotional toxins” (meaning there is no way to quantify the effects of these pollutants), and thus the abnormal behavior they generate would have to be credited to a source other than toxic pollution.

Caroline Myss

Part 2

holistic Methods to help with Depression

​Holistic Methods to help with Depression:
In order to heal ourselves, we need to engage our mind, engage our body and engage our spirit.

ENGAGING THE MIND: Laughter, Meditation, Visualization, Expressive Writing, Positive Thinking affirmations

Provide a quiet space to experience emotions:
Moore states in Care of the Soul, that we as friends and counselors, could provide the emotional space for such feelings, without trying to change them or interpret them, and as a society, we could acknowledge Saturn (the depressed state of being) in our buildings. Having a place to withdraw, in order to meditate, think, or just be alone and sit.

Modern architecture, when it tries to be cognizant of soul, seems to favor the circle or square where one joins community. But depression has a centrifugal force; it moves away from the center. Hospitals and schools often have “common rooms”, but they could just as easily have “uncommon rooms”, places for withdrawal and solitude.

One great anxiety associated with depression is that it will never end, that life will never again be joyful and active.  This is one of the feelings that is part of the pattern – the sense of being trapped, forever to be held in the remote haunts of Saturn. This anxiety seems to decrease when we stop fighting the saturnine elements that are in the depression, and turn instead toward learning from depression and taking on some of its dark qualities as aspects of personality.

Attitude and Personal Power Alert:
Our attitudes and belief patterns, whether positive or negative, are all extensions of how we define, use, or do not use power.  Not one of us is free from power issues. We may be trying to cope with feelings of inadequacy or powerlessness, or we may be trying to maintain control over people or situations that we believe empower us, or we may be trying to maintain a sense of security (a synonym for power) in personal relationships.  Many people who lose something that represents power to them – money or a job or a game – or who lose someone in whom their sense of self or power is vested – a spouse or a lover, a parent or child – develop a disease.  Our relationship to power is at the core of our health.

You need to become conscious of what gives you power.  Healing from any illness is facilitated by identifying your power symbols and your symbolic and physical relationship to those symbols and heeding any messages your body and intuitions are sending you about them.
For example money is the most common symbol of power. (Other examples of power symbols are authority, title, beauty and security) When a person internalizes money as a symbol of power, it’s acquisition and control become symbolic of that person’s health: when she acquires money, her biological system receives the signals that power is coming into her body.  Her mind transmits the unconscious message “I have money.  Therefore, I’m safe, I’m secure.  I have power, and all is well.”  This positive message transmitted in the biological system generates health.  Of course, making lots of money doesn’t guarantee health, but poverty, powerlessness, and illness are undeniably linked. 


Our attitudes play a tremendous role in creating or destroying the health of our bodies.  Depression not only affects our ability to heal but directly diminishes our immune system.  Anger, bitterness, rage and resentment handicap the healing process, or abort it entirely.  There is great power in having a will to heal, and without that internal power, a disease usually has its way with the physical body. By choosing our reaction to hostile events, we control the power over us of those events and, therefore, diminish any harmful effects.  Thus, we need to learn to interact with events and the harmful effects by thinking about them optimistically.
Those individuals who have a sense of personal control and challenge as their commitment to life have a sense of meaning, direction and excitement and survive most “stresses”.  Those who have a sense of importance and value in what they do and sense of purpose have far fewer symptoms and illnesses.  If, on the other hand, we see stress as “inevitable” and a challenge as a negative experience, then the challenge becomes a stress and has a more adverse effect upon the body.

“Healing requires unity of mind and heart, and generally it is the mind that needs to be adjusted to our feelings, which too often we have not honored in the daily choices we have made.”

Caroline Myss, Anatomy of the Spirit

ENGAGING THE BODY: Take an inventory on your lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, environmental changes, engage in nature.
Create a super healing environment for yourself, be aware of your environment, noise and air pollution, technology, toxic chemicals and pesticides, the food that you consume, the signals your body is giving you when you eat, the state of your Gastrointestinal Tract, what is your food doing to you , how often do you exercise, or get outdoors into natural light?

Connecting with nature through exercise:
Physical activity has been known for years to be an effective tool in the management of depression and other mood disorders, including anxiety and panic. What do you do to relieve stress?  Engaging the body means coming back to self, connecting with nature by walking, hiking, swimming or gardening is extremely helpful in grounding us and connecting us back to our biological selves.  Our ancestors were intimately aware of their biological connection to nature, but we are not.  Have you ever experienced that whole body sigh when you walk on the beach or embrace the earthy energy of a cool forest? Even the smell of the ocean, a forest or a lake, calms our body and invigorates our senses.

Our body is exquisitely sensitive, continuously sensing the environment.  Even without the involvement of the conscious mind, it is sending messages through the nervous system to the brain – which then instructs the cells on what kinds of hormones to release into the blood stream. Exposure to natural landscapes stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, triggering the relaxation response and the release of endorphins. This reduces the stress hormones circulating in our bodies, lowers blood pressure, and helps to relieve anxiety, anger, aggression and depression.

The opportunity to see nature, even through a window, accelerates recovery after surgery, shortening postoperative hospital stays.  Elaine Ferguson, author of Super Healing encourages us to design our lifestyles to take advantage of the benefits of nature. Exposure to the natural environment is one of the most underutilized but powerful pathways to optimal health.

Add natural elements to your home such as indoor plants, and allow fresh air and natural sunlight to enter through the windows. Walking barefoot on soil or on grass connects us to Earth’s natural electrical currents.  This is a technique known as grounding or earthing, which enables our feet to receive electrons, which enhances health by reducing inflammation and the stress response, that is the biochemical foundation of numerous chronic disorders.  Earthing also thins the blood, regulates our organs’ natural rhythms, improves sleep and reduces chronic pain.  The transfer of energy from earthing causes an immediate sense of well-being and relaxation.
Nutrition, Natural therapies and Gut Health:
Mindfully prepare healthful meals that will give you the nutritional value your body requires to function at its optimum. Fill your plate with nutritious vegetables, fruits and grains. Did you know that people that eat at least seven servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day experience much less psychological distress that those who don’t? This is due to the phytochemicals present in them. Eating mindfully, with gratitude and in pleasant surroundings improves the way your body digests and absorbs food. Since nutrition is a matter not only of what you eat but of how you’re feeling while you’re eating, it is important to eat with awareness, slowly savoring each mouthful.  Eat with attention, clarity and awareness.


Symptoms of anxiety and depression involve the gut. Upsetting emotions decrease the secretion of stomach acids and prolong the emptying of the stomach after eating. The GI tract’s nervous system sends sensory information to the brain that affects the emotional state, other functions of thinking, memory and decision making. It produces 95% of the serotonin in the body. Serotonin being the the critical neurotransmitter that influences our sense of wellbeing.  Folate, a form of vitamin B, found in leafy greens and protein foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan like poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and beans will help boost serotonin levels.

Maintaining a healthy balance of intestinal flora can also reduce emotional stress. If the population of microorganisms that live in your gut become unbalanced, or your immune response is underactive, you will respond as though you were poisoned, and your health can really suffer. Your intestinal flora also affects your emotional state.  Taking probiotics every day has been shown to alleviate distress, pain, depression, anger, hostility, and anxiety

Elaine R. Ferguson, Super Healing


Exploring the therapeutic benefits of Aromatherapy Massage and Herbalism are very beneficial modalities with which to engage the body and heal the spirit. Taking time to find a massage therapist trained in the use of aromatherapy to support body, mind and spirit will be extremely beneficial.  In Rosemary Gladstar’s, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, Rosemary encourages us to strengthen the nervous system so that it can serve as the marvelous receptor and distributor of energy that it is meant to be. Concentrate on herbs that are indicated for depression and sadness, such as lavender, lemon balm, oats, St John’s-Wort, they slowly and surely build the myelin sheath of the nerves, reducing stress and irritability.  Passionflower is another herb indicated for nerve stress; it strengthens and tones the entire nervous system. Combine it with lemon balm, oats, and St John’s-Wort for an excellent antidepressant tea. Valerian helps regulate sleep, while ashwangandha, astragalus, ginseng, and licorice energize the system on a cellular level.

aromatherapy-massage (2)

Take evening baths of lavender and lemon balm.  If you have a garden, collect roses and borage flowers and add them to the bath.  Herbal bathing can be soothing to a weary soul.  You might even consider installing an outdoor tub in your garden. Other essential oils worth using are Neroli, Bergamot, Orange, Chamomile, Spikenard, Everlasting and Yarrow.  Blending a few of these oils into a massage blend, burner or bath will support the Qi and comfort the mind.

“If you are to activate your internal super healing power and deal adequately with your stress, it is critical for you gain control over your thoughts and emotions.  Not diet, not exercise and not even a good night’s sleep will effectively reduce or eliminate your stress as much as altering your perception of stressful situations does.” 

Elaine Ferguson, Super Healing

Engaging the Spirit: Self Love, Breathing, Appreciation, Being, Giving, Expressing Creativity, Forgiveness
The core ingredient is spirit. The Divine, is the highest place within each of us.  As the animating force, spirit guides and directs our bodily functions through the mind, brain and heart, but all organ systems are involved.  Spirit gives our body intelligence, energy and substance. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, not the other way round.  Spirit expresses itself in every aspect of our body’s functioning.  We’re just not consciously aware of it.  Spirit’s aspects include joy, bliss, compassion, peace, intelligence, wisdom, intuition, selflessness, altruism, passion, beauty, vitality and love.

There are many ways to engage your spirituality. Many discover it through religious affiliations, others find it through creative expression, the arts, music, nature, a quest for truth, meditation, yoga, tai chi and so forth.
According to both spiritual and scientific discoveries, we are all beings of energy. The body’s atoms and molecules vibrate at certain frequencies and generate waves of energy. 

Uplifting states of awareness physiologically alter our bodies and minds and guide them into a higher level of functioning and health. When we express spiritual qualities, our physiology changes.  There is a biology of hope, a physiology of love and a biochemistry of peace. When we feel these states they are not just in our spirits, they are actual physical states.

The 3 generally accepted areas of spiritual health and development are:

1. The realization of our potential

2. The meaning and purpose of life.

3. Internal happiness. 

Enhancing our spirituality and spiritual well-being helps with pain and leads to greater self awareness and happiness.
Engaging your spirit helps you to realize the truth of who you really are, your very being.

If you wish to improve your spiritual health and well-being, explore the following practices that resonate with you…

Self Love: Self love is flexible, kind, giving compassionate and understanding, it is the most overlooked relationship and the most significant one we should have. When we can love ourselves with total self-acceptance, being fine with who we are. We are right with the world. (taking time for yourself, engaging in mindful bodywork, getting a new haircut, create a self pleasuring ritual or even a bath ritual)

Breathing: Breath is related to spirit, most people breathe shallowly, engaging  just the upper part of their lungs.  One of the easiest ways to live fully in the moment is by focusing on your breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing more fully engages the spirit, sends messages of relaxation to the brain. (take up Tai chi,  Qigong, Yoga or learn Tantra)

Appreciation: Giving thanks, appreciating what we have on a daily basis, can transform our emotional state and provide other powerful health giving benefits by altering, strengthening, and uplifting our entire physiology. Gratitude is an expression of love rather than judgment. (start a journal)

Being: Being is a state of dwelling in the high-energy qualities of the spirit-love and bliss- as a continuum of mind and emotion.  Being can be experienced and explored through activities such as prayer, meditation, creative endeavours, sharing through giving, generosity and compassion. (try laughter yoga, Tantra)

Giving: Selfless giving or Altruism is internally motivated behavior that is born from a concern for the welfare of others rather than the anticipation of a benefit or reward. Our health and well-being benefit from helping others if we can give without stressing and wearing ourselves out. There can be consequences to giving too much. In other words take care of yourself while taking care of others. Many volunteers report that they experience well-being, increased energy, warmth, and pain reduction as well as increased optimism and self-esteem (join a volunteer group, or offer your time to local rest homes or an elderly person)

Expression of Creativity: consciously engaging in self expression through the arts, music, dancing, writing, singing and any purposeful activity arouses our natural feelings of passion. Beyond promoting general health and happiness, these activities invigorate the renewal of the mind, emotions and body. Our creativity is a direct line of expression of the Divine.

Forgiveness: Born from a conscious decision, this entails letting go of the past and the memories of a painful experience that caused you harm and suffering. Forgiveness transforms our emotional pain and our attitude toward the offender, replacing negative emotions with positive attitudes, including compassion and benevolence. It requires a conscious decision to transform negative attitudes toward the wrongdoer into positive ones, setting us free from the desire for retaliation, revenge and estrangement.

Laugh: Find the positives and the humour in all things, when you get out of your own way, you will see that life is meant to be enjoyed.

Smile: Even if you don’t feel like it, try doing the action, it will relax the muscles around your mouth, and send signals to your brain.  It may brighten someone else’s day.  I remember when I was a little girl, my mum would encourage me to see how many smiles I could collect. So when we walked through town I would make eye contact with people and smile.  Sure enough I would collect some smiles.

In closing, remember life is short, sure it has some challenges, sure we get hurt, angry and depressed. But there is also tremendous joy to be found if you just look again. And if you find that everything is still too much, reach out to a friend, a colleague or a therapist.  You aren’t alone that is merely an error your mind has created to keep the status quo.

And in no area of modern medicine is there greater controversy than in this whole field of “emotional” illnesses.  The challenge to physicians is that of accepting emotional disorders as “real”.  Perhaps only when this is fully accepted by physicians will we recognize that you cannot “cure” emotions with drugs or surgery.  You can anesthetize, you can suppress and repress emotions with drugs and surgery, but you cannot cure the basic disorder.  Of equal importance is the fact that there is an emotional component, either as a precipitating factor or as an aggravating emotional distress in every disorder.” 

Caroline Myss, Creation of Health

REFERENCES and Helpful Resources:
Anatomy of the Spirit – Caroline Myss
The Creation of Health – Caroline Myss, C. Norman Shealy
Care of the Soul – Thomas Moore
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health – Rosemary Gladstar
Super Healing: Engaging Your Mind, Body and Spirit to Create Optimal Health and Well-Being – Elaine R. Fergison
Minding the Body, Mending the Mind – Borysenko
Stress Free for Good – Luskin & Pelletier
Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit – Mojay
The Road Less Travelled – M. Scott Peck
The China Study – T.Colin Campbell & Thomas M Campbell