Depression impacts an estimated 300 million people globally — a number that’s increased 18 per cent from 2005 to 2015. Though many possible factors may be to blame for the rising rates of depression (such as genetic vulnerability, medical problems, and neurological insufficiencies), depression is often triggered or exacerbated by the excess stress that accompanies an overscheduled modern lifestyle and too many competing demands.
Whilst antidepressant medication can help some people find relief from depressive symptoms, finding the right prescription medication can be a long process of trial and error–and the results aren’t immediate or guaranteed. Though some want to explore alternative treatments, the reality of balancing a demanding career with family responsibilities, financial obligations, and relationship difficulties can make experimenting with drug therapy feel too daunting or overwhelming. Fortunately, many simple self-care practices can be as accessible as they are promising.
Self-care for depression
Many self-care practices, such as movement, mindfulness meditation, and pursuing a hobby, can help you downregulate depressive symptoms, improve brain function, reduce stress, and ultimately experience an elevated sense of wellbeing.
Qigong is an engaging physical and mental activity that combines movement, mindfulness, and meditation. A key treatment modality in classical Chinese medicine (CCM), a regular Qigong practise has shown to support mental wellbeing by balancing mood and soothing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
How does Qigong work to help depression?
It gets you moving.
Physical exercise is recognized as one of the most effective self-care antidotes for depression. Researchers suspect that depression causes neurons in the brain to atrophy and regenerate sluggishly, inhibiting the optimum functioning of the brain.
When sustained over time, low- to moderate-intensity exercise, such as Qigong, encourages the release of neurotrophic growth factors, which makes nerve cells grow and establish new connections (this process is known as neurogenesis). By strengthening nerve cell connections and improving the chemical exchange between circuits, regularly practising Qigong exercises can help improve how your brain works, resulting in positive changes to your mood and wellbeing.
From a CCM perspective, depression is a sense of disconnection from one’s spirit (known as shen) and a disturbance of the free flow of Qi throughout the body’s meridians. Qigong exercises work by helping to create an embodied sense of self, alongside promoting the free and balanced flow of Qi throughout the brain and body.
It releases endorphins.
Physical exercise of all sorts is generally associated with the release of endorphins, which are neuropeptides that reduce the perception of pain and induces feelings of euphoria. Whilst higher intensity exercise is associated with a higher release of endorphins, there’s a catch: higher intensity exercise may release more endorphins because of the more negative, challenging, and painful experience it creates. This may discourage participants from repeating their exercise regimen, and therefore, the positive benefits it may bring.
Though low- to moderate-intensity exercise, such as Qigong, may not offer the same level of “high” as its higher intensity counterpart, the pleasurable after-effects it creates may make you more likely to stick with your exercise routine — and receive its benefits — in the long run.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, overexertion and excessive physical activity can contribute to excess Qi in the liver, which is associated with moodiness, angry outbursts, and irritability. In CCM, low- to moderate-intensity exercise, performed regularly, is generally considered the most balancing for the mind and body.
It’s mindfulness in action.
As a mindful movement that integrates body awareness and breathing techniques, Qigong can help you improve your focus and memory, reduce stress and anxiety, improve self-regulation, and increase your sense of empathy.
From a CCM perspective, one way Qigong helps to address depression is by squeezing the vital organs and stimulating the flow of Qi throughout their associated meridians. For instance, the spleen is associated with mental activity and problem-solving. Whilst excessive Qi in the spleen is associated with excessive worry and obsessive thinking, depleted spleen Qi is associated with loss of interest and the inability to focus and follow-through. Qigong exercises that target the spleen, performed at a pace that’s balancing to an individuals’ needs, would be recommended to restore balance (yin and yang) and the optimum flow of Qi.
It gives you the chance to learn something new.
Hobbies — especially those that integrate physical activity — can help you find relief from depression by shifting your focus, increasing your sense of purpose and accomplishment, and giving you a sense of control over your time and experience.
With a history that spans 5,000 years and a deep connection to the rich philosophy and principles of Chinese medicine, Qigong is a hobby that offers practitioners the opportunity to learn the intricacies of a new subject that’s personally applicable and universally relevant. The Qigong exercises themselves also offer the opportunity to develop new skills and uniquely experience the connection and abilities of your body, mind, and breath.
Change your focus Bear Shakes off its Paws Qigong (spleen meridian)
Through slow, controlled lunges, twists, and balancing stances, Bear Qigong targets the spleen meridian to promote a focused, kind, and grounded mind and body. Bear Qigong can act as a standalone practice or as part of a longer series, and can also be easily modified to better suit your mobility and strength.
Though living with depression can feel overwhelming or challenging, you can reclaim a higher quality of living with a self-care practice that suits your individual situation and needs. To learn more about the self-care benefits of regular Qigong practice, explore our wellness blog and complete library of ebooks and online courses.