Hopelessness is the hallmark of depression and depressive thinking. If you are struggling with depression, it is so tempting to think that this is the way it always will be. But life takes different twists and turns and we don’t get to know what the next chapter in our life will bring if we give up on ourselves. A client of mine suffered from a major depression that largely centered around loneliness and comparing herself to her seemingly happily married friends. Despite my regular reminders that life stories can change, she was convinced that hers never would. But her story did eventually change and she is now married and enjoying her new chapter in life. Additionally, a few of her seemingly perfect and happy friends who she used to compare herself to are now divorced and facing new chapters of their own. The bottom line is that things can change. The voice of depression may try to convince you that they won’t, but they can and they often do.
Sometimes when people struggle with depression, it can be very challenging to practice good self-care. In fact, some people take better care of their smartphones and devices than they do their own bodies. How often do you forget to charge your phone compared to how often you forget to properly nourish yourself or get adequate sleep? Taking care of your body might sound like a common sense tip, but it’s too important for me to skip over. When depression is high, logical thinking and energy levels tend to be low — making it far too easy to neglect our bodies. And yet, taking good care of your body can really help to decrease depression. So how well are you taking care of your body battery? Let’s take a look.
Very often, the cycle of depression feeds on itself. We feel depressed, so it’s really hard to find the motivation and energy to do the uplifting things that have the potential to feed our spirits. Then we feel even more depressed. And so it goes. This tip is about raising your awareness of how you fill the hours in your day. It’s far too easy to spend our days doing things that fill our time, but don’t necessarily fill our spirits. I know it can be hard to break out of our usual routines and do something that’s new or different or that might bring up emotions. But in the end, finding activities to fill our spirits helps so much with decreasing depression and increasing peace. Of course, everyone needs to find what feeds their spirits. One person might love gardening and another person might find it to be a chore. One person might enjoy cooking and someone else doesn’t like cooking at all. It’s such an individual exploration, but the bottom line is, if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting. If you have been spending a lot of time in negativity, inactivity, or isolation, in order to lift your spirits, you’ll need to make some changes. Think about the ways that you spend your time. Not just the usual things you do each day like work, school, childcare or meal preparation, but the things you do in between the things you do: How do you spend your discretionary time? What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? What is your mental state when you shower or bathe? What do you do while you eat your meals? What do you do when you prepare for your day or drive to work, school or errands? What do you do if you have an unexpected 15-minute break in between scheduled events? What do you do when you first get home from work or school or transition from day to night? What do you do when you prepare your dinner or wind down in the evening? What do you do right before you fall asleep at night? How do you spend your weekends or days off? This is not about beating yourself up. This is about increasing your awareness of how you spend your time. Are you spending the majority of your moments in time killers or are you doing things that you would consider spirit fillers? One of the best ways to decrease depression is to make sure you are sufficiently feeding your spirit. You may not have a choice about being someone who has been struggling with depression, but you do have a choice about how you choose to fill many of the moments in your day. It might be much easier to numb out on social media than to close your eyes and meditate and actually have to be with yourself or your emotions. It might be way more tempting to zone out on TV all day, but getting a walk and some fresh air or reaching out to a friend could potentially feed your spirit much more than yet another hour of TV. Read more: Andrea Wachter describes two scenarios of how to deal with morning anxiety. Which scenario do you choose for yourself? It’s also important to look at how you think something will leave you feeling afterwards, not just how it feels to do it. Some things give us a short term feeling of aah, but leave us with a longterm ouch. Other activities might be more challenging to do at first, but leave us with a longer-term feeling of relief. Try to keep your awareness up and consider making a list of activities that you would consider time killers and a list of the things you would call spirit fillers. Some things might clearly be spirit fillers or time killers for you, but not necessarily every single time. In one instance, a nap might feel like a spirit filler and in another, it feels like checking out since you’ve already been in bed most of the day. Having a favorite cookie might feel like a lovely treat one day and another time it doesn’t feel loving if you’re already full from the meal and dessert you just had. Playing a game on your smartphone might feel like a spirit filler one evening and yet the next day it might be a time killer if you’ve already been on the computer for a few hours. So see if you can increase your conscious awareness by regularly asking yourself “Is this a time killer or a spirit filler?” Meditation has been shown to decrease ruminative thinking and help ease or even overcome depression. Discover our free library of meditation for depression. The practices offer a source of compassion, support, and understanding:
It’s so common for people to be hard on themselves when they are depressed and yet it’s when we’re depressed that we most need kindness and compassion. Imagine how you would speak to a child or a dear friend if they were feeling down. Hopefully, you would communicate with them in a very kind and compassionate way. Healing does not come from harshness. If it did, you would probably feel better by now because I’m guessing you have not spent the majority of your time being compassionate and kind towards your depressed emotions. Sadly, many people with depression spend the majority of their time beating themselves up and then feeling bad about feeling bad, but fortunately, we can turn this pattern around and every moment we get another chance. Healing begins when we meet our emotions with tenderness and empathy. Let’s take a brief look at how to do that.
First, let me say what I mean by safe support. A safe support person is someone that you feel really understood and accepted by. Someone you feel respects you and welcomes all your feelings. A safe support person doesn’t judge you or try to fix you, and when you express your feelings to a safe person, you feel really heard and cared about. Hopefully, you have at least one or two safe and trusted people in your life. If you don’t, I hope you’ll seek out that level of support. You may also have some people in your life who you know are not safe for you to be vulnerable. That’s really important information. And you may know some people who have the potential to be safe if you decide to test the water and find out. I remember the very first time I decided to test the safety level of a friend with the topic of depression. I was deep in the thick of major depression at the time and I confided in my friend that I was having suicidal thoughts. Her response was complete and total silence. I’m talking not one word. We sat there in painful, awkward silence and I ended up feeling even worse than before. I know now that she had zero skills to deal with such intense information and we were both pretty young at the time, but it left me feeling even more alone and despairing and it would be years before I would risk sharing my dark secret again. The next time, however, I chose a professional counselor who really got me and really knew how to respond. And boy, did I feel the difference. So if you’re not sure if someone is emotionally safe to share your deeper feelings with, they may be able to meet your needs or hear your respectful requests and if not, there are many other potentially safe people to reach out to when you’re ready. A safe support person could be a friend, a family member, or a professional. If you are looking for a therapist, you might consider someone who has cognitive behavioral therapy skills as well as mindfulness training. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) will help you learn to challenge and upgrade your thinking and mindfulness will help you learn to live without becoming lost in your thoughts. In addition to CBT and mindfulness, there are many other modalities of therapy that can help with depression — too many for me to list here, but I will say and briefly explain a few of my favorites: IFS, EMDR, EFT, and hypnotherapy.
In my work with clients, I like to teach what I call three different mind moods:
Having a strong support system is an important building block when it comes to mental health. Having a close knit group of people you know and trust, allows you to better express yourself and your feelings. A new study from The Royal Society of Publishing shares that a healthy happy mood is contagious! So, by spending time having fun, with happy people can be a great way to catch that bug. In order to do this, we want to work on improving and maintaining our current friendships.
As a psychotherapist, I often find myself encouraging people to follow their hearts, listen to their feelings and go with their gut instincts. That is unless they are depressed. This is because when we’re depressed, we’re not always in the best position to make wise decisions regarding our self-care. Of course, sometimes we can tell the difference between the voice of depression and our healthy self, but sometimes depression can drown out our wise inner knowing and be mistaken for the truth. When I was depressed, my voice of depression used to convince me to isolate, oversleep, binge eat, starve myself, zone out on TV, use mind-altering substances or just give up. I remember once when I was in a deep depression, I had plans to meet a friend for dinner and a movie. Well, I called to tell her that I had to cancel because I was really down and I probably wouldn’t be very good company anyway. Well, she encouraged me to show up and she told me that I could be exactly as I was. So despite my strong desire to isolate, I showed up and I actually ended up feeling uplifted and less depressed than before I went. I did the opposite of what my depression was telling me to do or, in this case, not to do. I learned that when I was depressed and thought I should isolate, I should do exactly the opposite and reach out to a friend. When my voice of depression wanted to watch TV all day, I had to push myself to take a walk, read, or listen to something inspirational. Back then it was self-help cassette tapes, today we have endless options with blogs, books, podcasts, and meditation apps like Insight Timer. Unfortunately and ironically, depression often zaps the energy and motivation we need to do the very things that will make us feel better. So learning to do the opposite of what your voice of depression suggests will help you begin to climb out of the pit. Read more: Explore what is meant to step outside of your comfort zone into a state of optimal anxiety.
We all have our share of losses and challenges in life, but the main cause of depression is not usually our life circumstances. It’s the way we think about and interpret them. Unfortunately, when we’re depressed we tend to have a lot of negative beliefs and believe our thoughts. When I was struggling with depression, I wholeheartedly believed every thought that popped up on the screen of my mind. My thoughts seemed and felt so true. I even gathered evidence to support them and ignored evidence to the contrary. If I was depressed about being single, my mind only saw happy couples out in the world. My well-worn beliefs refused to allow me to take in that there were millions of single people around me as well. Not to mention millions of unhappy couples. Read more: Andrea Wachter proposes and reflects on six ways to overcome negative body image epidemic that has sickened our society. If I was struggling with my body image, my mind zeroed in on people I was convinced were confident and comfortable in their bodies and I was sure that I never would be. It was as if my depressed self was on trial and my mind was the prosecuting attorney gathering evidence that I was not okay and that everyone else was. Eventually, after lots of help from others and a good dose of willingness from within, I learned that I could take a stand against my internal programs. I learned that I could disagree with discouraging thoughts and eventually delete them, and you can, too. One thing that helped me challenge my depressed convictions and retrain my brain was a little rhyme I would recite when negative thoughts were getting the best of me. It went like this, I have no clue if that’s true. So if I caught myself thinking that someone else had a perfect life, I would challenge myself by saying, I have no clue if that’s true. If I thought I’d never feel any better than I did, I’d say to myself, I have no clue if that’s true. We really can’t know anything other than the facts in this very moment. So challenging our pop up thoughts with a little reality check can really help. We may not have a choice about the automatic thoughts that pop up on our internal screens, but we do have a choice about whether we want to believe them or delete them.
If you have the feeling coping with depression is too difficult for you and the depression is getting worse and worse, then please reach out for professional help. Online therapy is ideal for those who can’t drag themselves out of bed, who can’t motivate them to go out or who simply prefer their own place to have treatment.