Depression is a serious problem. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 7% of adults (16 million people) have had at least one episode of major depression. That number rises slightly among young adults between the ages of 18 and 22, with 8% having bouts. That is a staggering number of people.
Today, while out early in the morning running the dogs, I noticed how light my entire countenance felt. I have been suffering for the last several days with an abscessed tooth, complicated by a bout of depression, brought on by several things going on in my life. To alleviate both, I started meds for the physical pain, and prayer for the emotional and mental pain. As I woke this morning, I realized that the antibiotics and Liquid Advil had finally kicked in. At first, I noticed the absence of pain from the tooth. Then hard on the heels of that, I realized I was smiling.
I am in no way suggesting that depression is better or worse than physical pain, but I do know that being in a continual depressed state can cause or increase physical ailments. On occasion, I do feel depressed, but it is usually associated with things going on in my world. It rarely lasts more than a day or two. Actually, every person alive suffers from an occasional depressed mood. The problem lies in those feelings continuing, and worsening, for days, weeks and months without end.
I work in the mental health field, but only as an office manager. I do the billing. I make appointments. I handle correspondence, filing and other office duties. I do not, nor do I ever claim to counsel. I am not licensed or skilled in that arena. My bosses discuss different mental illnesses, the causes, the effects and the solutions. I listen to them. I pay attention. I learn.
This morning, while out on the run, I wondered what was so special about today that I felt like my heart was lifted to Heaven. Where was that smile coming from? Why could I not help but smile? Then I took a look around, and instantly knew. There is no better place on Earth to me than my farm. Then it hit me again. If you apply the principles of farming, you might just be able to alleviate some of the issues with depression.
1) Grow a garden – Let’s face it. Gardening is hard work. From the beginning, you are digging in the dirt, whether with a shovel or fighting the Monster Tiller. On new ground, thrusting a shovel into the concrete-like substance can jar you until your whole body vibrates. A tiller isn’t much better, and you have to put in some muscle to hold it steady and straight, and keep it from bouncing around. Kneeling and bending to put seeds and plants in the ground is hard on your knees and back. Weeding, whether with a hoe or by hand is a tough workout. One of the things that is recommended for depression is being physically active. It releases endorphins (those feel-good brain chemicals), reduces the negative immune system chemicals and increases your body temperature. Personally, I also find that I can take out my aggressions on those weeds. “Take that, you stupid ____________!” (I fill in the blank according to what is bugging me that day.)
2) Work with animals – I can’t help but laugh when, at the end of our run, Bonnie heads straight to the pond for a swim. All you can see is nose and tail as she glides gracefully through the water. It puts in mind the old adage about ducks. They seem calm on the outside, but are paddling like crazy underneath. My cows are a constant enjoyment to me. Nothing gives me more joy than when I see them cooling themselves off with a wet sheet I have hung on the line. My heart melts when Scratcher sidles up next to me, wanting her daily scratches. My heart grows larger with appreciation when she will also stand in defense between me and another cow who wants to get a bit too pushy. You don’t know what love for a cow is until you experience having one as your champion. Animals offer companionship and loyalty. Petting, or scratching as in my case with my cow, offers a sense of touch and calm. They also create a means of exercise (walking the dog, walking the pasture, etc.).
3) Walk the Fence Line – around here, we do this at least once a week, if not more often. We start with the front pasture and make a complete circuit, checking for breaks or debris resting on the fence. We stop long enough to make repairs, then move on. From there, we work each pasture. By the end of the day, we have walked across 35 acres (25 are either only partially fenced or not fenced in at all). It ties in with the physical activity aspect. Plus, it keeps me focused on something specific that I can control, and blocks negative thoughts and emotions from coming through for at least a few hours. I also walk the farm some days just for the sheer enjoyment of my surroundings. There is nothing more beautiful than being surrounded by Nature in its quiet, colorful, active state. I admire the rabbits and other wild creatures that I happen to spot. I stand in sheer wonder of all the shades of green in a copse of trees. And I breathe air that is so fresh you would think it was newly created. By the time I am finished with either fixing fence or my Nature walk, I usually either have forgotten my troubles or have come up with a solution.
4) Eat healthy – I will be the first to admit that I love a good home-baked sweet roll. I don’t drink coffee, but a Diet Coke or a Dr. Pepper has long since been my choice of wake-up beverage. And to many, it is so much easier to grab a burger and fries from a drive-thru than go home and do the work involved in cooking a meal. But eating and drinking like that all the time can seriously deplete the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay in top working order. It affects your mental as well as your physical health. Don’t want to cook a full meal? Keep a bag of fresh veggies on hand. Eat them instead of chips. Drink water instead of soft drinks. When you do feel like cooking, double the recipe and put half in the freezer. On the days you don’t want to cook, you can pop a frozen meal in the oven. It can be cooking while you rest or do your other after-work chores. Then sit down and pat yourself on the back for eating healthy.
I realize not everyone has a farm. They don’t have the access or physical strength to lift and stack 150 square bales on a trailer in the 100-degree of summer. But we all have the ability to do something physical and productive. If you find yourself suffering from depression, the last thing you will want to do is move out of your curled up position on the couch-much less do anything active. But for your own mental health, it may be a good thing to force yourself up and outside. Grab a hoe. Scratch the cow. Lift a hay bale, or fix fence. By the end of the day, you will be glad you did. You will have a sense of accomplishment. You can look back at your efforts and feel a sense of pride that lifts your heart with joy. Plus, with all that hard, physical labor and a good hot shower, you will probably sleep better, as well.