Therapy in Mind

Exploring ways to improve your life through practical behavioral therapy.

5 Powerful Antidotes to Depression

Try these yourself.

1) Gratitude - When it comes to living life, gratitude is key. Without gratitude, there is no way to realize your full potential for feeling joy. Being sporadically grateful for this or that for a fleeting moment won't cut it either. If you're looking to maximize your experience, you need to deeply appreciate it on a regular basis. Achieving gratitude requires at least a bit of reflection, an opening up of your heart to feeling the moment, and an attitude of thankfulness. Gratitude as a general practice in approaching the vast majority of situations you encounter will have a profound effect on your daily experience.

In depression, one may feel caught in a depleting cycle without a way out. It typically involves a turning inward—a darkness that is isolating,—and it is dominated by pervasive negative thoughts. Gratitude is not easily found in such a state. If you are suffering from depression, you may need to force yourself to acknowledge the good things that you have and to count your blessings. At first, you may not feel all that grateful. But as you build this habit of giving thanks for the many things you truly have, and the many things that you are truly spared, a window is bound to open, and there is your happy moment.

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2) Social interaction - Being with others can benefit you if you find you are feeling disconnected and isolated. It can be difficult to reach out socially when you are feeling depressed, but it helps if you can make the effort. Oftentimes, those who are depressed may avoid the company of others who are caring and would welcome them. It can take a push to get out there, but the results are worthwhile. There are many ways to get involved with others. Work colleagues, neighbors, even casual encounters with people as you go through your day—smile and make pleasant conversation, and you will notice that you are feeling a lift in your mood. Volunteering can result in a double benefit from the connection in socializing and the satisfaction in giving to others.

3) Taking care of yourself (exercise, diet, sleep) - If you believe that your state of mind is connected to your physical health, then it won't be a stretch to realize that each way that you benefit your body can have a positive effect on your mood. Thus, getting proper rest each day (most adults need close to 8 hours a night), eating a healthy and balanced diet, and making time for intentional aerobic and anaerobic exercise will help you maximize your mental health. If you have been neglecting yourself, you need a plan to achieve your goals for your physical health. Write them down, and be realistic. Gradually make improvements over time, and build momentum as you go along. Staying on course is self-reinforcing. As you feel better, you will want to maintain the changes. You needn't do anything aversive, like going overboard with working out or dieting. Moderate exercise in 30-minute intervals (such as walking or biking) and better food choices are not going to make you want to quit. Get a buddy to go along with you, or listen to some music. Think of making health improvements as taking care of yourself rather than other terms that may have negative connotations for you.

4) Pleasurable hobbies (reading, playing games, art, music, service) - Having interests makes a person more interesting. When you feel more interesting, you feel better about yourself. Interests also give you a basis upon which to bond with others, to share experiences, and to get involved. Most importantly, interests give you a focus on something outside of yourself, and can afford you a sense of purpose that makes your life experience richer. Reading broadens your perspective, takes you on journeys, and gives you something to think and/or talk about. Playing games can be a fun way to exercise your brain as well as to socialize. Art and music, whether you are a creator or a connoisseur, provide a feast for your mind as well as your senses, and bring all colors of emotion into your world. Service, in contributing to the welfare of others, can make you appreciate your blessings as well as teach you about the range of human experience. Whichever purposeful way you choose to spend your extra time, your pursuits can be uplifting to your mood.

5) Cognitive restructuring - A vital part of how you feel is what you think. What you tell yourself has a surprisingly powerful effect on your mood. After all, why would you think something unless you believed it to be inherently true? Deep-seated beliefs and their associated fleeting thoughts give rise to your emotional state and are a guiding force in your decisions and actions. Oftentimes, people are not aware of their negative beliefs and thoughts, and even if they know about them, they are uncertain about what to do about them. It takes work and practice to identify distorted, maladaptive thoughts and change them. A primary goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is cognitive restructuring—the purposeful identification of problematic thoughts and the work of revising them in order to maximize one's psychological well being and functioning. Research on cognitive behavioral therapy has repeatedly demonstrated the effectiveness in this treatment approach in improving mood and behavior. Licensed therapists who are trained and knowledgeable in this specific type of therapy are able to show you the way to modify your thoughts for the better. When aware and equipped, you can help yourself out when faced with harmful messages you may be in the habit of telling yourself.

Allison Conner, Psy.D., is the founder of Cognitive Therapy Associates.

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