When you're depressed, it often feels like nothing in the world can make you feel better. Depression is a devious disorder, because the symptoms it creates can discourage you from completing the very actions or seeking the help that would begin your recovery. Lack of energy, low self-esteem and dwindling excitement are some of the symptoms that make it hard to get out of a depressed state. For anyone experiencing this stuckness, it's important to remember that depression is a very common and highly treatable disorder. By treating it like any other physical disease and taking the actions that will destroy the parasites infecting your mental state, you can conquer your depression. Here are eight steps to doing just that.
Recognize and Conquer Your Critical Self Attacks
Depression is often accompanied by a critical, self-destructive mentality that interferes with and distracts us from our daily lives. When depressed, people tend to accept this negative identity as a true representation of who they are. Many people fail to recognize that this sadistic point of view is actually the voice of a well-hidden enemy within, what my father, psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone refers to as the critical inner voice. Internalized early in life, this inner voice functions like an over-disciplinary parent holding us back and keeping us in our place. On October 11, I am presenting a CE Webinar to professionals on an Innovative Approach to Treating Depression. The presentation will illustrate how this destructive thought process fuels depression and educate mental health professionals on how they can help clients identify and conquer their critical inner voice.
To begin this process, it is helpful to think of these destructive thoughts as being like the parasites that keep you in bed when you're sick with the flu. Don't listen to these attacks when they tell you not to pursue your goals, to isolate yourself, or to forego an activity you enjoy. This gives the voice even more power over you. Instead, when you notice these thoughts and attitudes starting to intensify and take precedence over your more realistic, positive ways of thinking, it is essential to identify them as an alien point of view. Ask yourself, would you think such cruel thoughts about a friend or family member who was experiencing the same struggles. By having compassion for yourself and recognizing this inner voice as a destructive enemy, you can begin to see who you are more clearly and realistically.
Think About What You Could Be Angry At
While some experience depression as a continual state of sadness or increased painful emotions, some depression can come in the form of a state of numbness - a lack of feeling that weakens all excitement and smothers your potential to feel joy. Suppressing or cutting off emotions could be a defense against something you aren't comfortable feeling. Many people who suffer from depression are actually masking a feeling of anger, turning their rage toward someone else on themselves. Anger can be a hard feeling to accept, as from a very young age we are often told it is bad to be angry, that we need to behave, and not to throw tantrums or get in fights. While acting abusive is never acceptable, feeling anger is a natural part of our everyday lives. By acknowledging and accepting or discussing your angry feelings, you are much less likely to turn these feelings against yourself or allow them to lead you into a depressed state.
When you're depressed your energy levels can drop drastically, but the last thing you want to do when feeling down is to keep yourself from getting up. It's a physiological fact that activity fights depression. Get your heart rate up 20 minutes a day, five days a week, and it has been scientifically proven that you will feel better emotionally. Exercising increases the neuro-plasticity of your brain and releases neurochemicals called endorphins, which help to elevate your mood. Even just getting out of the house for a walk, a game of catch with your kids, or a trip to the gym is a medically proven method of improving the way you feel.
Don't Isolate Yourself
When depressed, you may hear thoughts telling you to be alone, keep quiet and not to bother people with your problems. Again, these thoughts should be treated like parasites that try to keep your body from getting healthy. Do not listen to them. When you feel bad, even if you feel embarrassed, confiding in a friend or voicing your struggles can lighten your burden and begin a process of ending your unhappiness. Talking about your problems or worries is not a self-centered or self-pitying endeavor. Friends and family, especially those who care about you, will appreciate knowing what's going on.
Even the simple act of putting yourself in a social atmosphere can lift your spirits. Go to a place where there are people who may have similar interests as you, or even to a public spot like a museum, park, or mall, where you could enjoy being amongst people. Never allow yourself to indulge in the thought that you are different from or less than anyone else. Everyone struggles at times, and your depression does not define who you are or single you out from others.
Do Things You Once Liked to Do ... even if you don't feel like it
Depression is one of the hardest emotional states to endure, because the symptoms themselves can destroy your will and energy to engage in activities you once loved. Giving in to this lethargic state can give your depression even more power, whereas staying active in your life, pursuing anything and everything you may find of interest will re-ignite your spark and keep you on your own side.
Though easier said than done, the times you feel most like slumping on the couch are the moments you should force yourself to take a walk, cook a meal, or call a friend. If you've ever been depressed before, do whatever it was that helped you feel better before. Coping strategies that have worked for you in the past are a great place to start. Activities that help you calm down and that raise your spirits are important, even simple things like baking brownies, taking a bath, or listening to upbeat music. Act against the critical inner voice that tells you nothing will help. Remember its only purpose is to keep you from feeling better.
Watch a Funny TV Show or Movie
It may seem silly or all too simple, but anything that makes you laugh or smile can actually help convince your brain you are happy. If you look at depression as your critical inner voice having tricked you into feeling bad, then you can have your own tricks ready to fight depression. Play your favorite sitcom, watch a funny movie or read a comical writer. Don't think of this exercise as merely a distraction, but as an effective tool in reminding your brain that you can feel good again.
Don't Punish Yourself for Feeling Bad
Feeling embarrassed or self-hating over your depression will only increase your symptoms and discourage you from seeking help. Your critical thoughts toward yourself will try to keep you down any way they can, including by attacking you for feeling down. It's important to take your side and have compassion for yourself at those difficult times. You can be curious, open, accepting, and loving toward yourself, a much more appropriate attitude. Take your mental health seriously. Remember, depression is a very common and highly treatable disease. It is just a matter of recognizing you're feeling bad and finding the treatment that works for you.
See a Therapist
Talking is a powerful way of combating your depression. If you feel bad, don't let anyone tell you it's no big deal or that you'll just get over it. There is nothing shameful about recognizing you have a problem you alone cannot seem to resolve and to seek the help of a therapist. Asking for help is a brave act and speaking to a therapist is a healthy, productive endeavor from which every individual would benefit. Learning about the source of your pain can truly help alleviate its impact on your life by helping you to recognize and combat your critical inner voice.
Do you think you may suffer from depression? Take this quiz to help you find out. http://www.depression-screening.org
Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone and get additional resources on depression at PsychAlive.org
Join Dr. Firestone for the October 11 CE Webinar - Innovative Approach to Treating Depression
Suicide Prevention Resources:
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN CRISIS OR IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE HELP, CALL The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.