Category Archives: Depression

Are You Going Wrong Right?

You might have heard many times that it’s okay to make mistakes.

If so, good.

But what sort of mistakes?

Has anyone ever told you what sort of mistakes to make?

As a small kid I used to enjoy watching on TV the enthralling game of darts.

I would marvel at big blokes standing back from a target with all these numbers on it, throwing small spiky things into a board.

The camera would pan onto the man as he walked up to the line to throw, and then as his first dart landed, it would give you a real close up of where he was aiming.

The dart would be hanging on the board and then the other two darts would follow, thudding solidly into the board nearby.

Most often the camera wouldn’t focus on the center where the obvious bulleye was, but would instead be focused up higher waiting for all three darts to go into the triple 20, so that the cry would ring out in an excited English drawl… “One hundred and eighty!”

As the game went on and it got more tense, suddenly they would be throwing darts into new areas of the board. I wasn’t able to do my maths fast enough to sort out how they jumped about, but I would hear the tension in the announcer’s voice as it turned into a whisper. Suddenly the scattered ease was no more. The darts would come slower and more deliberately.

The camera would watch the thrower shifting his position to throw. Darts would start to regularly miss.

Sometimes it would slow dramatically, and a bunch of darts would all miss, clustered together just past the outside edge of the scoring zone. I didn’t understand why it was happening but I could sense there was a fear of hitting inside. Better to err wide.

When you make a mistake you identify the mistake by comparing what happened to what you were aiming for in the first place.

In psychological mistakes, people tend to be the same each time. We err consistently.

What if you decided to still be wrong… just in a total different or even opposite way?

For example if you are told you are lacking confidence, you could find out what it takes for you to be told you have too much confidence.

If you are driving too fast, how much do you have to slow down before your back seat driver, even it it’s just the one in your head, says you are going too slow? Does the number you see then on the speedometer, have any correlation with what a police radar would call slow?

If you are depressed, have you also identified what it means to be unsuitably happy?

Since you’re going wrong anyway, is it really the end of the game where you have to err on the side of caution, or something else?

The highest priority is in fact usually about learning to do better next time, and this works best by being in and around the mark in all sorts of varied ways.

When something is important to you and you’re not succeeding, are you at least going wrong in the right, left, up, down, back, and front ways as well?

If not, here’s something to help you play better:

http://www.SelfHelpMeeting.com

-Dr Martin Russell

Count On Your Blessings

The biggest problem with reading all the self-help literature is that so much of it is just ideas with very little real evidence to back it up.

Fortunately there are some notable exceptions.

But first, take a moment to do a bit of a self-assessment.

Do you want to have any of these changes in your life…?

– Better feelings about your life as a whole,
– More optimism about your expectations for the upcoming week.
– More regularly helping others if they have a personal problem or need emotional support.
– Fewer physical complaints.
– More exercise happening in your life automatically.
– Improved amounts of sleep and quality of sleep.
– And improvements in your well-being big enough that those closest to you notice it too.

Here’s a proven self help way to get all these results.

In a series of 3 studies back in 2003 researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough found that all these can be produced by doing a simple task for just 5 minutes each day over 3 weeks (or a couple of months if you want the exercise and physical benefits.)

Take a pad or diary and follow these instructions they gave study participants:

“There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write down on the lines below up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for.”

In the study some examples of gratitude-inducing experiences participants gave included: “waking up this morning,” “the generosity of friends,” “to God for giving me determination,” “for wonderful parents,” “to the Lord for just another day,” and “to the Rolling Stones.” (These were after all college students.)

Gratitude is such a simple activity.

It means acknowledging that we are blessed or advantaged in ways that have nothing to do with our own efforts.

If you are in the US and reading this on Thanksgiving Day then it may be even more important than it is for others to begin this gratitude diary starting today.

Self help doesn’t have to be hard. It’s available and ready when you are. You can count on it.

-Dr Martin Russell

3 Ways To Avoid Depression and Burn-Out

Our society seems to be suffering an epidemic of depression, stress and burn-out, with figures as high as 10% a year being regularly quoted.

As a medical doctor working exclusively in counseling and therapy I’ve observed people come to me over the years complaining of being stressed and burnt out.

They come with a wide variety of problems and diagnoses, from straight out suicidal depression, to simply feeling like they can’t get out of bed in the morning. From paralyzing panic attacks to a pervasive feeling of no longer being able to live up to the expectations other people have for them.

In my experience there are 3 fundamental ways to avoid letting this depression and burn-out happen.

1. Have goals with a fixed end-point.

You need to turn a never-ending series of demands on your performance into a series of 400 meter races, or at the very least a marathon of known distance. If you run full pace all the time don’t be surprised when you get worn out and have to stop exhausted. Usually this won’t happen at the best possible time.

Call it a holiday, call it an exit strategy, call it a rest stop, call it a reward for a job well done, but the requirement is the same; you need to plan for the waxing and waning of your energy and motivation.

For example, if your goal is “more money”, then the striving never ends. If you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed, you will need to clarify how much is enough, or even better, define the lifestyle you want and then that will define the amount of money you need to aim for.

2. Stay aware of your bigger purpose.

There are so many different options for how to fill a day, or a lifetime, that you need to have a way of choosing from it all. If you don’t identify a bigger purpose you end up having a midlife crisis-type reaction of asking yourself what all this is for.

It is in fact better if you can ask yourself this question, and answer it, before you even get started.

Now it doesn’t have to be an overly grand purpose, like solving world poverty. It does however need to be something that brings out the passion in you to help you manage the day-to-day bumps and the bigger obstacles that are in your way.

If you don’t have a bigger purpose right now then as long as you’re happy, you don’t have to frantically search for one. If you simply wait you will find that life will give you setbacks that let you show how badly you want something, and then you’ll discover what is really important to you.

3. Create results that last beyond that day.

This is the most important one, in my experience as a counselor.

You need to build some cumulative benefits to the work you do each day. Otherwise every day is starting from scratch yet again, and you will feel like you are “never getting anywhere”, because you truly won’t be.

For example, if you are earning money but just as quickly spending it or going deeper into debt, are you better off financially than if you just stayed in bed?

Sometimes it is simply a matter of really identifying the lasting value you are gaining from each day.

More often when people come to me burnt out, they have a nagging awareness that their daily activities are not producing results that last. Results such as money kept for themselves rather than spent, passive income sources rather than swapping more time for money, business systems that last beyond the individual person, life-long habits in place of knee-jerk panic responses, better key relationships, and much more.

Here is the key to this third point.

When you go to sleep at night answer this question…

“Have I done something today to be in a better position for my future than I was when I woke up this morning?”

If the answer is yes, then you will have had a worthwhile day.

All these three factors add together, and if you miss out on any one of them then you are highly likely to be experiencing unnecessary stress.

If you’re missing all of them, then you’re probably already burnt out and need to make some of these three changes… fast.

-Dr Martin Russell

Occam’s Razor For Self Help

Medicine is an art. It’s meant to be a science, but in fact it isn’t. It is slightly more of a science than many other healing arts, but still most of the decisions made by doctors have very little to do with science based on solid, relevant evidence.

Psychiatric medicine is one of the worst offenders.

As much as psychiatry has tried to build itself a scientific basis it is still woefully flawed at many levels.

So as I began to dig to the bottom of the mess and realized how little basis psychiatry has for it’s scientific claims, I began to need other tools to help me decide how best to help people.

One of those tools is called Occam’s Razor (or Ockham’s Razor.)

Occam’s Razor says that if you have two equally valid explanations for what is going on, choose the simpler one.

It’s not a scientific principle, but it is a good rule of thumb.

In my line of work what this means is that I fix the causes that are definitely present, before I go after any others.

At one stage a woman came to me with a diagnosis of long-standing depression.

She had been on multiple anti-depressants, had sought the usual range of medical and non-medical help, and although she was still seeing a psychiatrist her local doctor had gotten desperate with her lack of improvement and had sent her along to see me.

She came to her assessment visit, and among many other questions I asked her when this all began.

She told me she had been fine all her life until the birth of the first of her three children about 18 years ago. Just 2 months after her son was born she had been diagnosed with post-partum depression, better known as the ‘baby blues’, and had been on and off medication ever since. She had had the same depression again with each of her two other children, and in fact with the last of the three she had had a short stay in hospital.

However even as they had grown up she still hadn’t got rid of the depression.

Fortunately this woman came to be a few years after I had had my first child and so I asked her a very specific question.

I asked her how well she slept after the birth of her first child.

She instantly said that she hadn’t slept at all. From the first night she had been kept awake by the baby crying, and to this day she was a very light and disrupted sleeper. Before having children she had always slept very soundly.

So here was the situation…

This woman was diagnosed with depression.

She had been told by psychiatrists and doctors that the cause was biological, set off by the hormonal changes she had had following the birth of her children.

What I was hearing however was that she had a history of chronic sleep deprivation, starting from two months before she was diagnosed. The effects of chronic sleep deprivation are much like depression ie lacking energy, moodiness, loss of interest in usual activities, unmotivated, poor concentration.

So I had two possible diagnoses: biological depression or chronic insomnia.

The diagnosis of hormonal or biological depression has no proof. It is just a list of complaints with a theory attached to it. There’s no blood test, or brain scan, or psychological checklist that can prove it.

However there was no question that this woman had chronic insomnia. It was just a question of whether this was the cause of her depressive complaints.

Applying Occam’s Razor made my next choice easy.

I recommended that to the woman that we treat her insomnia because until we improved her sleep any other treatment was just based on guesswork.

She was already taking sleeping pills, but they weren’t working for her, and she was worried about staying on them and getting addicted. So I taught her how to use the sleeping pills in a better way to get herself a full night’s rest, AND avoid any risk of being stuck on them. She was delighted.

In the end we never did need to address the “Depression” she had been diagnosed with. Treating the sleep alone was all she wanted to get her life back on track.

She certainly wasn’t the only person I have seen in this situation. In my counselling practice sleep issues are the second most common cause of depression that I treat.

If you have trouble sleeping, and have considered using pills or are currently on them, then you might find many other benefits to getting a better night’s rest.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Anxiety or Depression you may have been told that sleeping problems are one of the symptoms. That may be true, but insomnia can also CAUSE or at least worsen these problems, so consider the simple step of treating sleep issues directly.

However, don’t take sleeping pills the way they are usually recommended. Anyone who sells pills is working against their own best interests to tell you how to get off them quickly. So you won’t find the information I teach on the instructions in any pill packet.

Sleeping pills can be a real benefit, but you have to know how to use them effectively and safely, and you can discover how to do that here:

www.SelfHelpSleepingMeds.com

-Dr Martin W. Russell

What Should You Change?

“I know what I SHOULD do, but I don’t!”

Listening to people’s words is really fascinating.

If you ever hear “I should…”, then here is the conclusion you can make – they won’t.

“Should” automatically implies that they aren’t going to do it. If they were going to do it they would use some other phrase like “I will…” or “when I…”.

“Should” = won’t happen.

Now before you get defensive, and say “Yes, but…” let me add one piece.

There is a REALLY good reason that you won’t do it, and that is that most of the things that you think you “should” do, you really shouldn’t.

Let me give you 2 examples.

First, think about a time when you didn’t stand up for yourself and you thought “I should have really given them a mouthful!”

Well, no you shouldn’t have.

This “should” comes up as an over-reaction to the initial under-reaction. I’ve had people tell me what they “should” have done, and it included things that would have landed them in police custody. It was a really good thing that they didn’t act upon that “should”.

This might seem too obvious an example of when “should” is wrong, but check for a moment. How many other times have you said “I should do X”, when X is really an overreaction to the original situation?

Second, doing the things you “know you should”, because someone else said so.

If someone tells you what to do, even if they are parents, teachers, friends or doctors, they are not always right. Sometimes in fact they are completely wrong. They can be absolutely, completely sure of something, and still be wrong. Certainly is not truth.

You might try what they suggest and find that it doesn’t work for you, but you might still be left with this sense that you “should” be doing what they say.

This “should” is not a signal to keep stubbornly trying to do something. It is a signal to reassess the original statement, maybe add some qualifiers, or even throw the whole idea away completely.

Either way, when you hear yourself say “should”, realize this means you won’t, and you might be better off anyway.

These two self-reflections alone may help you get rid of a whole lot of “should”s in your life, and a whole lot of guilt as well.

-Dr Martin Russell

A Foundation For Self Help

One of the books that has had the most influence on me is “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins.

For me “The Selfish Gene” was ultimately a scientific clarification of Richard Carlson’s multi-million seller “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” with it’s strange subtitle “… and It’s All Small Stuff”.

The premise of Dawkins’ book is that life is merely a mechanism for our genetic code to spread itself. We as human beings can be thought of as simply gene factories, and our success not only spreads ourselves, it spreads our genes too, and that is the crucial factor.

When we raise animals, be they dogs, cows, or battery hens, we are helping one group of genes outlast and outgrow others like the Dodo or the shark. When we provide a means for HIV and SARS and influenza to spread worldwide, we are helping another group of genes too.

Human beings are just the most visible of genes. We are nowhere near the most successful. Each human body is just 1 set of genes which means there are less than 7 billion human gene copies around. Microbes get 7 billion into a pool of water and are ready in moments to get more billions spreading further.

Humans are in fact a rather fragile gene container, balanced precariously on the top of a whole ecosystem, that has the same potential to collapse for us as it did for the dinosaurs. We could disappear in any one of a variety of ways, and life, and genes, would continue on.

Until the Earth succumbs to forces that rip every molecule back into atoms and pieces of atoms, this planet’s genes will continue replicating and spreading themselves. Humans are useful only in the sense that they are one more way that Earth genes could spread out to the rest of the universe. Space travel inevitably carries genes, be they human, monkey or microorganism, out away from our planet and would allow genes to escape potential local destruction by supernovas or black holes or the like.

Does it all his genetic competition get lost anyway when the whole universe collapses on itself billions of years from now? … I’m happy to hang around with you to wait and see.

Intelligence and human beings ourselves are just side effects of genes replicating themselves into every available niche and permutation. Humans could be wiped clean out of the universe and genes would just keep evolving other ways as inevitably as gravity makes water pool into dips and crevices.

Your life problems would be gone in an instant, if humans disappeared forever. However the universe and genes wouldn’t miss a step.

Might not seem uplifting or helpful to think of yourself as an irrelevance. In fact one of the reviews on Amazon.com explains the depression and existential crisis he went through after reading Dawkins’ book.

But it can also be a release. Much like a scientific Buddhist philosophy.

It is then a secure foundation to start to make your personal choices for life. Cheers to irrelevance.

-Dr Martin W. Russell

Is Depression Overdiagnosed?

It’s really interesting to watch this debate going on, especially when it gets into very high level medical journals like this Head to Head debate in the British Medical Journal here:

No: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/335/7615/329

Yes: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/335/7615/328

Depression in its various different clinical descriptions over the years has been claimed to be present in anywhere from 1% to 17% of the US population.

As a counselor I am pleased when as a society we recognize the extent to which people having moods that they try to cover up from the rest of society. People have felt alone and isolated with “depression” and “anxiety” for too long.

The destigmatization of depression has however been subverted. It has been taken into the realm of a medical illness needing medication as treatment.

In my work with people I prefer to destigmatize it differently

People come to me saying they have been diagnosed with Depression. I then get them to detail what they expected their life to be, what their life actually has come to at his point, and their likely future outcomes if they continue on their current path.

More often than not I find that I then can ask them this question….

“Having told me all that do you think you should feel anything other than depressed?”

Confronting question? I hope so. Too confronting? For some it can be, and so sometimes I don’t use this approach. At least not in the first session.

Perhaps you’re saying I should be more positive with them about their life.

Perhaps you’re thinking that their depression is causing them to look at their life, past and future, in a bleak way. They really would be happy if they noticed all the good stuff. And that is true. It would be one way to do it.

But it’s not the only way.

In my experience, many people can handle the bizarre idea that their emotions might in fact be honest, direct, warts-and-all feedback about their life.

From this strange ‘negative’ beginning they can start to face their issues for themselves.

I destigmatize such emotions as depression by giving people back the permission to trust their emotions, rather than believe solely in their so-called rational thinking.

That’s what I mean by turning around people’s lives, whether from depression, or other things in life you might have been unable to resolve up to now.

And it is useful for so many of the people who come to me that I put this together:

http://www.SelfHelpMeeting.com

Being depressed is common. Being stuck in it is not useful. The diagnosis of Depression too often leads people to stay stuck, and for me that is overdiagnosis.

-Dr Martin W. Russell

A Solution For Challenging Issues

If you are looking for self help, or you’d appreciate help from a qualified doctor who understands what it takes to get out of a tough situation in life, then this site may be for you.

In particular I have put together a virtual ‘meeting’ that covers so much of the ground that people usually need to cover when they are really struggling to break through personal troubles or emotional crises.

Let me explain.

Over the last 8 years I’ve worked exclusively in hypnotherapy and counseling helping hundreds and hundreds of people with all sort of situations.

Even though I’ve kept to a maximum of only 5 new people a week, over the years the numbers stack up.

I’ve found that when people come to me really stuck with problems or issues in their life, I want to talk about the same things about 90% of time.

I thought it would matter what the particular problem was.

I expected I would need to do something different if someone was coming to me because they were depressed, compared to if they were anxious, having a mid-life crisis, in trouble with their relationship, burnt out, stuffing up their finances, feeling overwhelmed, having trouble focusing, whatever it was.

However this wasn’t the case.

This led me to the idea that I could actually present something along the lines of what I was doing in my office, but make it accessible online, so that in the privacy of your own home you could get some help.

So I’ve set up a virtual ‘meeting’ that you can experience right at your computer.

With this Self Help ‘Meeting’ you can test, for free if you like, because if you’re not happy with what you find out you absolutely won’t pay a cent for it, whether a certain level of counseling fits your needs.

No need to set up appointments at a clinic or an office, or fit them into your schedule. No need to come face-to-face with a ‘shrink’ or anyone else for that matter. You can even watch this late at night when everyone else has gone to bed.

And unlike coming to my office for a session, with this virtual ‘meeting’ you’re in full control. You can pause and go back, stop it to take notes, and review it again at any time.

To find out more, and to discover what others are saying about this virtual ‘meeting’, you can check it all out at…

http://www.SelfHelpMeeting.com

-Dr Martin W. Russell

Name Calling

After I finished my medical degree I was told that I had just been through an education that doubled my vocabulary.

Medicine has so many new words for body parts, illnesses, treatments and more, that you end up with an entire volume of language just to comprehend what this is all about.

But medicine is a risky business, so to make sure you actually have a reality base for the meanings of those words they require you to have an internship.

That’s the safe way to guarantee learning.

These days in counselling I spend a lot of time getting people to UNDO the medical labels they have for themselves, such as depression, panic attacks, Asperger’s, ADHD and many, many others.

In the wrong hands these terms are dangerous.

The most widely used official source of psychiatric diagnoses is called DSM-IV and the  abridged version I refer to most often comes with a chapter titled “Cautionary Statement”.

Among other cautions it says, “The proper use of these [diagnostic] criteria requires specialized clinical training that provides both a body of knowledge and clinical skills.”

This means it isn’t intended for use outside medical circles.

I think that’s a sensible rule.

Otherwise it’s like kids in a school yard calling each other names that they’ve heard adults use, but with no idea what they actually mean.

At least those kids realize the names can be hurtful.

Do we?