You may be going through a difficult time, such as a divorce or a loss, which is contributing to feelings of sadness or despair. Normal sadness over a difficult situation isn’t fun, but it is explainable, manageable, and temporary. If this is your case, it is important to allow yourself some unhappy feelings. As noted elsewhere, “If you deny what you feel and keep saying, ‘I’m fine,’ you’re sweeping things under the rug,” Dr. Fitelson says. “Eventually, [these feelings] may put you at greater risk for depression.”
Depression does not always have an explanation and therefore feels different as time goes by. Whether you are going through a difficult time, such as a divorce or a loss, or not, it’s important to know when your low mood is becoming dangerous for your health. Scientifically, if your blue mood is constant and lasts more than two weeks, that’s a sign you might be slipping into depression.
Warning signs include:
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Sleep problems
- Appetite changes
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or self-blame
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of suicide
Second, if you have any of the warning signs (the aura to some), acting sooner rather than later can be beneficial. Seeking treatment can result in medication and/or psychotherapy. Medication is certainly a viable option for treating depression but research shows that medication combined with psychotherapy is generally more effective for combating depression than medication alone. Below, I have listed some other therapy driven tools you can use to combat depression (Printout: Acceptance Tool).
Acceptance Tool. This tool is important because no matter what ails us, we need to be accepted as human beings. I want you to say, “I am depressed and I accept myself just as I am.” This can be really hard to do when the voice in your head is saying something more like “this sucks, I can’t go through this again.” Accept that voice too because it is right, this does suck but it is who you are right now. Avoiding criticism of the self can build your self-esteem and allow you more resources for developing strategies that will help you. I call this tending to the world of being.
Actualization Tool. Feeling powerless or hopeless is a hallmark of depression. This tool reminds us that instead of focusing on what we cannot control, we can focus on what is actually in your control, our own actions. You can’t always help what happens to you or how you feel about it, but you can choose how you respond. Figure out what you can make happen. I call this tending to the world of doing.
Wellbeing Tool. While it’s tempting to seek comfort through letting go, compromising your wellbeing will only leave you feeling worse. Often we think of self care as physical, but it may surprise you to learn that there are 8 domains of self that need care: Intellectual (stimulate brain and mind); Spiritual (engage your soul—not necessarily religious); Emotional (enhance and explore feelings); Physical (tend to your body), Sensual (activate your senses, sexuality), Contextual (interact with your environment), Interactional (socialize with responsive others), and Nutritional (change your intake). Often when we are taken over by depression or some other mood disorder, one or two of these aspects is hyper-functioning (like thoughts or feelings) so strive to balance across them by tending to each part of you over time. Pick one a week to focus on and protect your most precious recourse: YOU.
Thought Tools: Depression has a particular way of living in the minds of those who struggle against it. Often this can feel like an entity, I call it the “the depressed mind,” has invaded your cognitive space. There are some thought patterns that need to be combated to make this unwelcomed guest uncomfortable but more compliant:
1. Meaning Making Tool. Know that your brain will make meaning of encounters and experiences you have with or without your conscious input. The depressed mind hijacks meaning making, filtering everything through the haze, often leaving you struggling to find life worth living. You will need to actively and intentionally grab the reigns. Choosing meaning that reflects and nurtures your core values can help battle suicidality and feelings of despair so go for that! For example, if you are having a fight with your spouse, the depressed mind might say, “No one understands me,” reply “My depressed mind thinks that, but I think I am completely understandable, maybe I can say it a different way ( I value flexibility and communication skills). “
2. Present Moment Tool: A hallmark of depression is rumination, the tendency for thoughts to run in circles around your head, even keeping you up at night. If you notice, these thoughts usually have one thing in common; they are about the future or the past. This tool can sound a variety of ways, depending on the thought scenario. For example, if you are worried about everything that hasn’t been done, add a thought that says, “That was earlier, I am in this moment and I am safe right now.” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. NOTE: You do not have to believe this in order for the tool to have an effect!
3. Affirmation Tool. Another hallmark of depression is negative thinking. Negative thinking is not just being realistic; it is only seeing the bad side of things. This tool helps you play Devil’s advocate for anything positive you can find in the world, in your self, and in others. Note all your accomplishments. Think back to the last time you got through a difficult period, helped a friend, made a good parenting choice, or finished a tough project at work. Notice how good you look in blue. When you notice all that could go wrong, say something about what could go right. NOTE: Again, you do not have to believe it for the tool to have an effect.
4. Motivation Tool. This tool can be used to replace the intrinsic motivation you once may have had for many things you loved to do, and even some you did not. This kind of motivation from within can be hard to come by when in the grips of depression, so pair motivation thoughts like “I need to go do laundry” with an external motivator, like “I will treat myself to ______ when I am done.” Some other ideas for pairings setting up a regular walking date with a buddy when you note a need to be more active, using an alarm system to keep motivation thoughts coming at regular intervals (sometimes they dry up).
If you are struggling with depression, please seek help.
Lavelda Naylor, LMFTA