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    How Great Stories Help Heal Depression and Stress

    Reading is a good way of being gentle with yourselfOne of the side effects of anxiety, stress, and depression, is the vague feeling that we can’t fix whatever is bothering us, because we don’t really know what it is. People may ask “what are you depressed about,” and we want to scream that it’s not about anything. It just is. But we don’t have the words, or sometimes even the tears, to get it out.

    When we can’t articulate how we are feeling, we may try to stuff down the emotions. We may think we are too tired to exercise, or too stressed to meditate, so we turn to comfort foods or something else to numb the pain. But there is another non-drowsy, non-fattening way to release pent up emotions…by letting them out for someone else. By finding a great story to pull you out of yourself, and see how you fit in the bigger story of life.

    We are not alone.

    It doesn’t matter if it is a book, a movie, or even a documentary. As much as we would like to believe that no one else could understand the stress or depression we are feeling, becoming engrossed in a story of someone else’s struggle, wakes us up to how much we really share with the rest of humanity. Life is sometimes full of heartaches, but also full of stories of people who have overcome their circumstances, or people who learn to go on even after all seems to be lost.

    There is value in a really good cry.

    The themes that appear again and again in all great literature are mythic in their stature. Love and loss, fear and death, joy and sorrow. This is the human condition. Fictional characters face the same choices we do, and many throughout time have dealt with situations far worse than we could ever imagine, and which were based on horrific moments in the history of their times.

    Catharsis, according to my dictionary, is said to come from the Greek word meaning “to cleanse.” Among its definitions are words like “purifying, purging,” and “release”, all with the outcome of some sort of “spiritual healing,” and grace. The great masters of literature all understood this. Every great story, from ancient scriptures, through Shakespeare, to some powerful novels and films today, has the power to move us and cleanse us, and wash away our own hurts in the tears we shed for someone else.

    There is value in a really good laugh.

    Some writers are able to see the absurdity in our self absorbed lives, and have chosen to paint them with the broad brush of humor. When we see our own foibles in characters we laugh at, we can lighten up about things we now see as not so important. Endorphins kick in, and we can feel thankful for our own ability to laugh.

    True stories can inspire us.

    Biographies of people who started with little, or overcame major struggles to achieve something great, can inspire us to draw on their courage. Stories of real people are all around us. They don’t have to be players on the world stage. Our communities are full of people who did something of value to make life better for someone else. And when we see value in their lives, it may help us see possibilities for our own.

    Escape into the story of our Universe.

    If you ever want to re-evaluate the importance of your problems, immerse yourself in films about the creation of the universe, and the unimaginable vastness of distant space. Consider time in billions of eons. Contemplate how amazing it is that any of us are on this one habitable planet, in this brief moment in the life of our solar system. What a miraculous gift that any of us exist at all.

    Stock up, and escape whenever you need to.

    If you’ve never explored classic literature, ask your librarian or local bookseller for a good place to start. If you like to have input from other people, join a book club, and build up a supply of favorites you can turn to again and again.

    Several film studios have created collections of what are considered the greatest movies of all time, and most all of them are available from retailers online. Dive in and savor the ones that sweep you away.

    Try your hand at writing down what you feel.

    An amazing thing about writing is that while it is often hard to start, once you do, the words can begin to flow. You can write a journal, observations, or rant about anything you want. The words you didn’t believe you had to express your stress or frustration, may come far more easily when you begin to put them on a page. And once they are written down, you may feel your stress and depression begin to fade.

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