It is no surprise that in this time of Coronavirus, depressive states, or depression, have increased. It is one more “crown of thorns” to be added to this syndrome declared by the WHO as the disease of the 21st century.
In this brief presentation, we will focus on “exogenous depression”, i.e. when the depressive state arises as a result of a negative event in the individual’s experience.
In our case, COVID 19 appeared when we least expected it and has slowly devoured days, months and almost years of our relational and work activity. Then the physical symptoms of headache, diarrhoea or constipation, tightness in the chest, neck or head, tiredness and fatigue, etc. appear; or the mental symptoms of anxiety, loss of memory, sadness, confusion, apathy, discouragement, etc.; or other strange manifestations such as anxiety, loss of memory, sadness, confusion, apathy, discouragement, etc. or other strange manifestations such as drowsiness during the day, waking up anxious in the middle of the night, not wanting to get up in the morning, loss of appetite, fear that “I am going to be the next one to catch the virus”, diminished capacity to make decisions, ideas of contempt or that this life is not worth living, etc.
It is not the case of analysing the psychological, medical or psychiatric origin of depression, but the incidence that months of confinement, obligatory use of biosecurity measures (masks, hand washing, distance from others) and prolonged periods of confinement have had on our psychological well-being and state of mind, and to offer some psychological and religious measures of easy practice, to control, stop and, hopefully, suppress those negative manifestations.
I offer you, briefly, a simple therapy that can help us psychologically and spiritually to become “resilient” people who can draw from our innermost being the psychic and spiritual energies that can keep us on the path of optimism and hope.
- Already since the end of the last century, “behaviourism” and “positive psychology” have offered the therapy called “Triad of Self-Control” for similar cases. It is easy, and if we practise it often, it will give us magnificent results. Let’s see. Whenever a depressive state arises, the person says, “Stop! (or Stop!), take a deep breath and then imagine a pleasant scene. Let’s look at the technique in a little more detail:
- Stop the thoughts: when the person feels one of these depressive states, close the eyes, join the index finger and thumb of the right hand, and repeat to oneself the strong word Stop! Do this 3 times. Gradually you will get into the habit of stopping depressive thoughts or feelings and “condition” the joining of the index finger and thumb to that feeling of control; you can repeat this action, unnoticed, when you need to control yourself and feel better in a real-life circumstance.
- Breathing-relaxation exercise. The person is taught to close their eyes and to breathe deeply (diaphragmatically): to “breathe in” the air deeply and then to “breathe out” the air slowly. Do the exercise several times. This is an optimal way to relax.
- Imagine a reinforcing scene. The person is taught to use his or her imagination and imagine in detail a reinforcing and pleasurable past experience he or she has had: a beach with the sea breeze, a beautiful view from the top of a mountain, a feeling of peace in a forest, a great joy in a moment of happiness. The person should remain to enjoy that past experience for a few seconds.
If the 3 steps above are put together, the person will learn to positively condition negative or depressive moments and turn them into positive and reinforcing ones. It is a matter of exercise and interest.
- As we are believers and religious, we also have another wonderful technique and that is the practice of St. Augustine’s famous phrase: “God is more intimate than my own intimate”.
This is a wonderful spiritual experience, for through Baptism we are “Temple of the Holy Spirit” and God dwells in the depths of our being. We can remember, whenever we communicate with Him, that we are “Christadelphians” and that we carry the Lord within our innermost being, and that He loves us, forgives us, gives us the best of His love, holds us mercifully by the hand, and that “not one of our hairs shall fall without His divine Will”. All the Lord knows how to do is to love, to do good, to forgive, to strengthen our weak humanity, so that we may realise our full potential.
We can then use the above “breathe in/breathe out” technique, adding to it the spiritual element called “Prayer of the Heart” or “Russian Pilgrim Prayer”. When we breathe in gently, we utter the phrase “Lord Jesus, Son of the living God”, and when we breathe out or exhale the air, we say “Have mercy on me”. We do this about three times slowly. Then we repeat the first phase, that of breathing in the air, without modifying it; but in the second phase we can vary and ask for persons, events or desires, always doing so briefly; for example, saying: “Have mercy on my sick mother”. It is not a matter of making long prayers, but short sentences, for the Lord already knows our needs.
Let us make these therapies part of our lives, so that they serve us not only in times of pandemic, but also when we are negative or when difficult problems beset us.
“Triad of Self-Control” is an excellent tool in other maladaptive behaviours: overeating, alcoholism, drug use, sexual fantasies, rage, etc. And the “presence of God in our innermost being” is more than a dogma: it is the certainty that God loves us because we are the most marvellous and extraordinary creature He created, His masterpiece that He will never let fail.
By: Fr. José Rafael Prada Ramírez, C.Ss.R.
Doctor in Clinical Psychology