Find Out What Holds You Back So You Can Take Control of Your Life and Banish Depression

“Better living through pharmacology” seems to be the theme song for many doctors, patients and insurance companies, especially when it comes to treating depression. However, while drugs may seem to help people feel better and are apparently cheaper for the insurance companies than intensive therapy sessions with experts trained in psychological counseling, they often fail to truly fix the depression, says Harvard trained psychiatrist and author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression, James S. Gordon, MD. Based on years of work and research with thousands of people suffering from depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, Dr. Gordon has a different take on the cause and solution for depression, one that not only makes you feel better but helps you identify — and resolve — the problems that are making you feel so bad in the first place.

According to Dr. Gordon, who also directs the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, depression is not a disease, but rather “a symptom, a sign that life is out of balance and change is necessary. Often what’s underneath that imbalance is fear — fear of feeling what is causing the pain that’s making you depressed, fear of making the changes that you are beginning to realize are necessary.” Drugs may mask the fear and pain, he says, but they don’t address the real problem. Not doing so means the problems will likely recur later, making you even more fearful and depressed, and more hopeless about making the necessary changes.

Dr. Gordon’s clinical and personal experience has convinced him that many depressed people feel unable to free themselves from places in their lives where they are stuck — past loss or trauma, for instance, or attitudes and beliefs about themselves and others that inhibit and cripple them. Unable to handle the pain of these emotions or to acknowledge and deal with the fears they produce, they find themselves struggling with a depression that seems overwhelming.


Dr. Gordon believes that several things must happen in order to move through… and beyond… depression. First, the person who is struggling must learn how to regain a sense of balance, calm and control over his/her life. An easy and effective way to do this — both in moments of fear and as a regular practice — is with a simple meditation technique called “Soft Belly Breathing.”

Here’s how to do soft belly breathing. Breathe in through your nose and out through the mouth, with your belly relaxed. Your belly should rise as you breathe in, and fall while you exhale. Say the word “soft” to yourself while inhaling, “belly” while exhaling — no hard work, just breathe in and out with a relaxed center. Dr. Gordon suggests doing this when you experience a fearful thought: Acknowledge it… let it go… and return to your breathing. This helps in several ways. First, the deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure and helping you feel calmer. It brings more oxygen into the bottom of your lungs, and from there, into your bloodstream and brain. When your belly is relaxed, the other muscles in your body also soften and relax. This exercise gives you the empowering experience of having control over your level of fear and stress.

In Unstuck, Dr. Gordon teaches a variety of other ways to nurture calm and give you greater control over your life — including guided mental imagery, journaling techniques and the use of drawings to express and explore feelings. And, says Dr. Gordon, daily exercise is the single, most effective intervention — aside from talking with a trained counselor — for improving mood and decreasing anxiety. Exercise increases the levels of the calming neurotransmitters, the endorphins and serotonin in your bloodstream and your brain, and lifts your mood. It helps you feel centered, healthy and strong, and shows you every day, that you can help yourself. Be sure to choose exercise you enjoy, says Dr. Gordon. “If you hate jogging, then making yourself go running every day isn’t going to help. Try walking, yoga, a martial art, even just working in your garden — just get your body moving.”