This is the first of many book reviews I will be doing in the weeks and months to come! I hope to do about one every week. It will certainly be a tough challenge reading that much every week, but it will help me accomplish my goal of reading 50 books a year! (Yes, I'm insane. Clearly.)
This book has been an incredible depression self-treatment guide on my journey of self improvement. I have been dealing with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, but I never really 'discovered' this until the beginning of 2016. Once I figured that out, I began searching for resources and tools to deal with it and, eventually, 'cure' it.
Well, this book certainly did it! About 8 months later and I can't even believe where I am now! Alright, alright, enough of me, let me dig into the review.
As I'm sure you already know, there's a lot to depression. (Duh.) Hell, science still doesn't know much about it! The big issue is the excruciatingly high number of factors involved.
Alex Korb (the author) chooses to approach depression in The Upward Spiral using the most cutting-edge knowledge available on depression... and then making it simple to understand. Oh, and with a good bit of humor!
After he thoroughly explains the mechanisms behind depression in the first part Alex then breaks down all of the most effective (and free) treatments for depression. Towards the end he does have a small section on seeing a specialist if a person's depression and/or anxiety is bad enough, but he doesn't mean to suggest that everyone needs to see one. Just that it can be another effective tool.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book greatly because the writing was terrific, thorough, and straightforward. Also because he gives very actionable steps to begin shifting away from depression and towards happiness.
As I touched on already, Korb does a wonderful job of dissecting the neuroscience behind depression and making it digestible for the average reader. Erm, digestible in the learning sense, of course. (Hopefully?)
I want to be pretty thorough in this review but... also keep it short. So I'm going to do little bullet pointing with his main points. Let's go!
He puts in a nice little list of all the big neurotransmitters that most effect our mood and ability to remain in control of our emotions. These would be Serotonin, Norepinephrine, Dopamine, Oxytocin (not to be confused with Oxycontin), GABA, Melatonin, Endorphins, and Endocannibinoids.
He goes on to describe how they all can influence each other and how they are each (kind of) solely responsible for various depressive symptoms. Things like your overall mood, appetite, ability to focus, quality of sleep, ability to deal with pain, etc.
You most likely know at least a little bit about the different sections of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex and the brain stem. Well, Korb mentions all of the major sections of the brain and talks about the differences between them... although only as much as is needed. Don't worry, not too technical!
He focuses here, and throughout the book, on a sort of battle and coordination between the 'front' of the brain and the 'mid'-brain. Basically, the front brain deals with thinking and he talks about how it tends to end up being the 'victim' often because we don't realize our thinking has a bias to it from depression. But, he also talks of how it is the part that is most capable of starting the upward shift out of depression.
The feeling midbrain is actually a bunch of different organs that are all about dealing with stress, making memories, and creating biases. It's based almost entirely on reacting to the environment and heavily influences how we think.
The book also fully utilizes pictures to help understand the connection between these different sections. I guarantee you'll learn something you didn't already know in this part, and especially the next!
Something I've never heard before are brain circuits. "What?!"
Korb describes these as hundreds (well, probably more like thousands, if not more) tracks that our brain uses to do it's thinking and problem solving. As an example, we have a circuit for worrying. Anything that happens within our environment or thoughts that relates to worrying has a chance of "setting off" that circuit.
When set off, that means that the person will now begin worrying... or experiencing whatever the circuit is. He goes on to talk about each circuit having different levels of 'excitability.' Meaning, they can be really touchy or not. And it's different in everybody.
The last bit he talks about in this part is a really huge homerun... in a sense. Each person is born with different tendencies towards certain parts of depression. In other words, someone might genetically be geared to always have issues with anxiety. They can learn to deal with it and treat it as it comes up, but curing it is nearly impossible.
Nowhere have I learned so much about the brain and myself than within the first 70 pages of this book. Seriously.
And here we have the main reason I bought this book. The treating depression using free tools was and is very important to me, and these are all of the most effective ones I've found. All within one book, with great detail!
These are all divided into 8 different chapters to cover each tactic.
This one is talked about all the time. The list of benefits from 'exercise' is damn near never-ending. He provides tips, such as finding something that is a workout but doesn't feel like. That way a person can enjoy it.
Also, how finding a partner helps a lot with it, and has the added benefit of bringing in a social aspect that helps with other depression circuits.
Rather than pushing on people setting goals as a means to accomplish things, he focuses on how it strengthens the brain. That's a new idea! Also touches on the importance of making good decisions, not the best ones. Korb says it's all about starting to and continuing to move in a positive direction.
He says that it enhances perception and trains the brain so that it gets used to making decisions in the future. This makes the brain able to make better decisions, too! (I've personally found this to be entirely true. I really, really loved this section.)
Not much to address here, just that it's necessary to get a good amount of sleep to prevent/help with depression. Also lots of tips to improve your sleep. I learned a few tricks here that I now use myself. (And yes, I sleep much better now!)
This section is a mix of a lot of little things. He talks about self-affirmation and focusing on positive attributes to help with getting things done. There's also talk in here about changing the environment (such as a room) to help shake up patterns and be able to break out of old habits.
This was by far one of the most interesting chapters. Korb goes on about the various feedback our body gives us and how we can hack it to help pull us out of depression. Things like forcing smiles and sitting up straight are simple things that seem silly but can really help create momentum.
This is definitely a chapter you have to read yourself to understand better.
A whole chapter dedicated to the benefits of being grateful! Yes, it's that important. :)
Other people can be incredibly helpful in treating depressive symptoms. I never even knew that just being around strangers can be enough! That's right, hanging out in a coffee shop reading can actually be part of a treatment plan for depression.
And of course a book on depression isn't complete without mentioning the importance of getting professional help, when needed. He adds in just about every major method, not just therapy, which was a nice change.
Due to the fact that this book dragged me out of the biggest slump in my life, I'd recommend this book to anyone who's having some serious depression issues.
Have you already read this or heard of it and have something to add? Did I miss anything important in this post on the book? Let me know down in the comments section!