Depression is multi-faceted in how it affects our bodies and lives. It affects our mood, our cognition, our relationships, and our pain, and generally affects our desire to move and participate in our environment. While I think it is important to understand that sometimes depression is a normal reaction to a life challenge, it occurs on a spectrum which makes it a very individual and devastating experience. But, it is also important to know that there are ways that we can help ourselves if we can better understand our brain.
The Brainfullness Perspective
When looking at any problem through the Brainfullness perspective, we can view it on an x-y axis, where x is lens and y is aperture. Lens is the broader view; it is influenced by our history and our beliefs, with an important variable of openness influencing it. Aperture is the narrow focus; it looks at the data that we have at any given point and our curiosity about it. In looking at the chart, we see that the more data that we have, the less we apply our lens—because our brain is busy synthesizing all of the information. The less data, the more that we apply our own past and our own biases to the situation because we have less new input to work with. We can also see, however, that lens is never at zero because our perception is always a factor.
In looking at where we may improve our health and longevity, we can take a five-pronged approach to life-hacking with these factors:
• adaptive movement
• emotional stability and resiliency
• social connection
If we can address these components of health, we have the arsenal to combat up to 90% of diseases, mortality and morbidity. The other 10% being genetics, traumas, and chaos in the form of unforeseen life events.
Genetics and Physical Inputs
Depression can be both physiogenic and psychogenic in nature. The more physiological roots could be considered the hardware—genetics and the physical inputs that affect us, such as nutrition. The more psychological basis would be the software, within areas like secure attachment, beliefs, what we’ve been exposed to, and stress management skills. This, of course, is looking through the reductionist view of western medicine in which we apply aperture for understanding. In the case of trauma, for most diseases, it shifts the lens for all of us to realize how integrated the system really is and how physiological and psychological components are not separate. Regardless, if we look at the five areas above and the degree of control that we have, we see that there is still a lot we can influence.
The Perception Cycle
At this point, it is important to note that the brain works in an action-perception cycle. Most successful interventions occur at the action level—trying to upgrade the software with more current information. As a clinician, I want to input something new to the system, see how the body responds, and try something else, to not only assess where you are at, but to disrupt the system to give your brain a new perception.
Because it is also important to realize that there is no delete button in the brain, no eraser, no anti-virus software; you can only add new. Fortunately, though, the brain is a multiplier—once you get it going, it stays in motion. So, as the patient, the things that you do for yourself within those five areas of health can be effective building blocks to hacking both pain and depression as well. If we proceed by the principle of Bayesian optimization, we are looking to achieve maximum shift with accurate effort. So, if we can pick even just one of those five elements to focus on where we can have some consistency and positive results, it is a place to start to build that efficacy.
But we also understand that depression affects our motivation and can leave us feeling overwhelmed. One of the keys in our efforts to get through it is to not keep reinforcing the pathways or networks or regions that feed it—that is, receiving the signal even without the exposure. Because whatever the brain perceives us to be good at takes over—even if that state is not actually ‘good’ for us.
The Architecture of our Brain
The good news is that we can change the architecture of our brain with what we consistently do and what we are successful at. Encoding and recalibration can happen when we have success. For this reason, we must start before we feel better. In following the action-perception system, doing the action creates sovereignty, while perception makes you a slave to things. The action is what allows us to build. In this way, even small acts that might not feel heroic can have a significant cumulative impact.
Our tendency is often to want to do it all, but when our lens is too broad, we can get more overwhelmed. Either that or we want to focus on the most difficult thing as we think that is the most important, but either way we are setting ourselves up to crash. When we aren’t successful, our brain does not see it as rewarding or worthwhile, so we lose motivation or feel like there is no point to continuing.
This is why it is helpful in this process to have someone who can help you decode which area you need to optimize and to help you go through. Not only to help you stay the course, but to help you pick the one thing that you can do that will help you do more action, and who knows the target optimum for achieving the results you want. That is the foundation from which you can change your perception—which will further change your action. And your brain. And your health.
So, while we can’t erase depression, we may be able to re-program and, ultimately, override it..
Because when you do better, you know better.
Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.