Remedies for Depression

Ruth Andrusier, Brooklyn, NY
Depression & Sadness / Essays 2018

Do you have those days where you wake-up, but you can’t get out of bed? You twist and turn because you don’t want to face reality? We’ve all had those moments. That first time you feel that way is depression greeting you. We hope and pray it’s not what we think it is but sooner than later we discover we can’t eat properly, we can’t leave the house without makeup on and the taste of alcohol becomes our drug.

Depression is most commonly caused by trauma. Depression is linked to serotonin although it’s unclear if low serotonin levels may cause depression or if depression causes low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical that’s produced in the digestive tract. Serotonin has many different functions one of them being maintaining mood balance, which has everything to do with depression.

Depression symptoms are: 1. Laziness & sluggishness, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, low energy, loss of interest, dull heartedness 2. Fear and panic 3. Fear of making decision 4. No self-confidence or sense of self-worth 5. Guilt & dwelling on the past 6. Feeling alone 7. Closed up and zoomed in on ourselves 8. Sadness, hopelessness  9. Feeling like you have no control

I used to believe that Chassidus didn’t address topics such as depression. Yet I found many sources suggesting remedies to overcome depression and its symptoms. We will approach each symptom with the remedy suggested by Chassidus.

1. Laziness & Sluggishness, Trouble Sleeping or Sleeping too much, Low Energy, Loss of Interest.

In chapter 26 of Tanya, Rabbi S. Z of Liadi describes depression as being “dull-hearted”. The Tanya gives an example of two people wrestling, one is stronger but sluggish, the weaker one has good energy. The one with good energy wins regardless of strength potential because full potential only shows when you are in a good mind frame. As good as you might be your qualities are only expressed in actions when you are open hearted. Controlling your thoughts and letting in the joy penetrate the mind will allow to open the heart and remove the sluggishness and sadness. Chapter 31 suggests bringing in our purpose on earth. By serving G-d we fulfill our purpose which will create joy and satisfaction in us. It will allow our soul to feel its purpose and will produce inner peace and freedom. Because sadness and depression hinder our daily life, we need to remind ourselves of our higher purpose in the service of G-d as described in chapters 26 and 31 of Tanya.

2. Fear and Panic

We need to remind ourselves that all comes from G-d. G-d is good and all He does is good and what seems bad is in fact hidden good as described in chapter 26 of Tanya. The Alter Rebbe gives the example of thanking G-d for the good and also for the bad. We say a blessing when a birth occurs and when there is a death as well. Both events come from G-d and are therefore good or hidden good. A grand plan has been established by G-d and trusting in Him will remove worry and fear. In the book Letters of the Rebbe Volume 2 Letter #43, Rabbi M.M Schneerson 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe answers with “complete trust in G-d… one can see that being under Gd’s care there is no room for anxiety or worry”.

3. Fear of Making Decisions

We already established that G-d rules the world and that He already has a plan for us. Therefore the gravity of decision-making becomes lesser when we realize that He will help us decide and will help us accomplish. In Rebbe Letters Volume 2 Letter #76 the Rebbe answers “with reference to your writing about doubts and difficulty of making decisions….. and insecurity in general trust, ……such feelings arise when a person thinks that he is alone and can only rely upon himself and his own judgement and therefore feels doubtful and insecure about each move he has to make” “when a person’s faith in G-d is deep….” he realizes that G-d extends his attention to each person in detail every minute. This thought will provide him with a profound sense of security and confidence. Furthermore, the very idea that G-d has already planned every single one of our steps removes fear from decision-making.

4. No Self-Confidence or Sense of Self-Worth

We already established that G-d is good and all He does is good. Though we are a product of Gd we are good as well. Tanya chapter 2 goes further and tells us that our soul is a part of G-d above. The Alter Rebbe uses the word “truly” to describe this fact. He tells us that “the soul is truly a part of G-d above” as to convince us that this is not a hyperbolic language or an exaggeration but rather that we are literally a part of G-d above. As G-d is all good so are we. We are worthy and good. Pondering on this will help us work past the feelings of low selfesteem. The Lubavitch Rebbe gave an advice as seen in Letters of the Rebbe Volume 2 Letter #65, in which he mentions that utilizing one’s talent will yield happiness. A person is to look within find his talent and engage in them, this will bring about satisfaction and feelings of selfworth.

5. Guilt and Dwelling on the Past

Although Tanya chapter 26 to 28 mentions that guilt can bring about inner growth it also mentions that appropriate times for these thoughts need to be scheduled. When our depression or sadness origins in guilt or dwelling on past behaviors or past happenings, the Tanya warned us that it could cause us to begin to feel unworthy and to lose our sense of self. While this questioning of the self could bring about a possibility of inner growth it needs to be carefully processed, not letting the negative thoughts control us, allowing our mind to control our thoughts and our feelings towards these thoughts. In a letter to a person posing that question the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as seen in the Letter of the Rebbe Volume 1 Letter #46 answers “I advise you….. stop weighing and dwelling on things which are of no practical value and especially the kind of thoughts that only leads to despondency but concentrate evergrowing efforts on Torah and Mitzvos.” The Rebbe further advises to move forward from the past and the guilt by reminding ourselves that repentance and acting better in the future make up completely for any mishap of the past. In the Letter of the Rebbe Volume 1 Letter #56, He advises “redoubled effort on one’s part to overcome the feelings of depression and replace it with a feeling of joy in the realization that no matter what the past has been, it is always possible to attach oneself to G-d”.

6. Feeling Alone

Through our previous remarks we understand that we truly are never alone, as G-d is always watching and protecting us. As the Rebbe says in Letter #47 of the Volume 1 of Letter “with regards to the inclination towards a feeling of sadness, a good remedy for it is to have it firmly engraved on your mind that G-d……. watches over everyone individually…… there is no room for sadness or worry.” Though in practicality, the remedy for loneliness is simply to surround ourselves with others. In Letter #70 the Rebbe adds “another good method is to try to be among people as much as possible.” this symptom brings us to the next one.

7. Being Closed Up and Zoomed in on Ourselves

While a depressed person remains on her own often, she begins to scrutinize every bit of herself physically and emotional traits, criticizing oneself. A good remedy for this behavior is to look outward instead, not only being surrounded with people as mentioned above but also involved with people. Offering one’s time and expertise, volunteering is one of the 5 steps to mental wellbeing, promoted by the UK’s National Health Service. It is also widely advised by therapist’s in the U.S. Exeter Medical School collated evidence from 40 studies over 20 years that support the fact that volunteering leads to lower depression. Through volunteering, one will interact with others, it would also occupy one’s mind that would otherwise have negative thoughts; By seeing other’s experience and helping them it helps the volunteer change his own perspective on life and could allow him to see his own life in a lighter way; Also while volunteering a person offers their time and expertise, therefore they will be greeted with appreciation from the receiver and they will recognize their inner resources. This will bring about a sense of pride of their contribution and a raise in self-esteem. Furthermore, the very activity that the volunteer will involve himself with will be conducive to better overall health. A study from the Carnegie Mellon University shows lower blood pressure and better psychological wellbeing on adults volunteering at least 200 hours a year. The Lubavitcher Rebbe has often advised people to be involved in their community and to let their talent shine as seen in his letter to a community leader from South Africa, Letters of the Rebbe Volume 2 Letter #43. He also advised a depressed woman to give the symbolic coin in a charity box, prompting her to look outward and give to others as seen in letter #43 “the good custom of putting aside a coin for charity.”

8. Sadness and Hopelessness

While a person becomes active in her life and in the life of others, as she comes to the realization that good is everywhere and in oneself, that not all is lost, and G-d protects and guides all of us, the feeling of despair will dissipate. As Tanya chapter 26 states it, a man will be able to bless G-d for the good that happens and for the not so clearly good, as he will understand that all is done accordingly to a great master plan directed by G-d who loves him and wishes only good for him.

 9. Loss of Control

One of the great principal of Chassidus is “mind over feelings.” The brain being in control of the heart is necessary to not be overcome by feelings. Chapter 26 of Tanya even preconizes setting set times for thoughts of guilt leading to repentance and not allowing these feelings to take us over. The Rebbe even advised people to “completely disengaging your thoughts from those problems.” (Volume 1 Letter #70) and “stop weighing and dwelling on things which are of no practical value.” As being with a soul we have the power to control our feelings by our intellect. Through the learning of Torah and the practice of Mitzvos one can control his mind.

We have addressed many of the symptoms of depression and have with the help of the Tanya teachings and advise that the Lubavitcher Rebbe dispensed to others come to the conclusion that nothing can stand in the way of determination. Once a depressed person has a will for wellbeing, controlling his thoughts and being actively involved will guarantee healing, the return of a feeling of self-worth and peace of mind.