But Your Life Is So Good | Emily Hightower

Issue #30

But your life is so good!

When I get depressed I feel:







I can feel this way and still be grateful for all that is going for me in life. If I tell someone how I’m feeling, I’m bound to get reminded, “Look at your life. Look at all that is working! Have you tried a Gratitude Journal?” Or, “Something must have happened to you. Let’s talk about your past and dig this all up to see why you are stuck.”

Those forms of help, being told I should be grateful or digging up anything bad in my past, only make me feel worse. Please note I value talk therapy very much and there are profound counselors and therapists out there who make a huge difference every day. The best ones understand that how we think and feel is part of a larger system than the one between our ears.

We’ve all been trained to think of depression as a psychological problem. Look at your life. Think about it. Feel better. Look at your past. Understand it. Feel better.

We’ve also been trained to think of depression as something you ‘have’. Like a disease.

Depression for most people is not in the mind, and it is not a disease. 

Depression is a signal from the body of imbalance.

When our physiology is depressed we feel depressed. Of course things that happen to us and things we do or do not do play a part and talking that through can be helpful to a point. However, chronic stress and trauma create physiological changes to the brain and body that are not just ideas. 

Forms of chronic stress that can accrue into depressive patterns include being sedentary, pushing too much in training or work, isolation, lack of exposure to nature, not moving, eating, sleeping, or hydrating well. The trick here is that depression makes it harder to move more, eat well, be social, sleep deeply etc. 

In essence depression causes changes to the operating system that make it harder to use that operating system well. These changes are not repaired through thinking and talking alone. 

Medication is the other tool our society uses to “treat” depression. Medication can help some people lift up. But those who rely on talk therapy and medication alone will not address root causes in their physiology to make lasting balance a possibility. 

The stigma everyone is trying to disrupt around getting help for depression comes from this misunderstanding; if depression is a disease of the mind (see your problems and life more clearly, possibly get medication to adjust your perspective) it is personal. The phrase “mental health” only continues this misunderstanding. 

Depression is not a mental health problem. It is a health problem. Lifestyles of disconnection and chronic stress exposure create imbalances to our metabolic and nervous systems. This is not in our heads. 

I and many others have said that depression is when you are stuck in the past and anxiety is worry about the future. After 20+ years of supporting people through stress and trauma and going through this myself I now say that depression is not being stuck in the past, it is being stuck – in the now. The body is always present. If it is stuck and we want to move forward again we need to meet the body where it is and listen.

To line up healthy behavior and create balance from a depressed state is a skill. 

Our movement, breath, and recovery programs are about learning and training metabolic and nervous system health to disrupt this broader misunderstanding around so-called mental health by giving you the keys to your own biology. The Skill of Stress and Art of Breath programs will give you the tools to start down a path of creating balance by working with your body, breath, and yes, your brain. Whatever tools and support you find along the way, I hope you are guided back again and again to the simple practice of listening to what your body has to say about your current state. It’s asking for simple things from you. A nap. Time outside on a walk. Sweat and play with friends. A long sequence of smooth conscious breaths. From there you can adjust your course in small ways that add up to the balance and agency that our modern lives are calling us each to find.

Yours in Health,

Emily Hightower


Emily Hightower

Emily Hightower is an explorer of human potential at SH//FT.



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