Feeling like there is a dark cloud over you? Like you don't have your usual enthusiasm, or are having trouble motivating yourself to do things? Maybe more self-critical than usual? Isolating at home instead of wanting to go out or do things with others? It's important to do something about these signs of depression, starting with learning what causes them.
What triggers depression?
Depressed, down feelings come when you are feeling hopeless about getting something you want. Psychologist Martin Seligman called the phenomenon "learned helplessness." I call it folding, giving up on getting what you want.
In a dominant-submissive interaction, feeling less powerful than the other person or the circumstance causes your serotonin to drop. Lowered serotonin levels lead you to give up more easily. The outcome: depressed feelings.
Giving up may feel like the only option in a situation where someone or something with more power than you is dismissive of your concerns or uninterested in responding helpfully to what you want.
At the same time, the specific trigger for your down feeling may remain a mystery. How to feel better may feel equally challenging.
What can help?
In a TEDx talk which you can watch here (below), I demonstrate a three-step visualization exercise. The first step is to PINPOINT the specific situation causing your low feelings. The visualization's second step, PUMP UP, re-empowers you so that you can be more effective in that situation. The third step, PROBLEM-SOLVE, enables you to find situation options for your triggering situation. Finding solution possibilities generally then lifts away the dark cloud.
The beginning of the TEDx talk explains that in the face of depressed feelings many people assume there's nothing they can do that will help them to feel better. Or, they go to a physician to get antidepressant pills. Though medications sometimes do often prove helpful, both of these routes—doing nothing about the depression and taking antidepressants—can have significant downsides. I explain the downsides of antidepressants in the first several minutes of the TEDx talk.
Note that this visualization aims to relieve mainly mild to moderately depressed feelings of non-physical origin, which are the vast majority depressive episodes that most people deal with. More severe depressive episodes, or depression caused by physical factors such as insufficient sleep, post-cardiac surgery depression, and other biological factors are likely to need additional treatments, potentially including medication.
At about three minutes into the talk,\ I explain what triggers depression. If you are already aware of the risks of medications, you might want to begin there.
The Antidepressant Visualization Prescription
Taking these three steps can lead you up and out, back to the realm of well-being. All three steps involve closing your eyes and watching what comes up on your visual screen. Sit comfortably, and here goes.
Step 1: PINPOINT the problem.
Ask yourself, "If I was going to be irritated, or even mad, at someone or something other than myself, who or what comes up on my visual screen?"
Notice what that person (or thing) wants. Notice what you do in response.
Then ask yourself, "Who looks bigger, me or them? And by how much?"
STEP 2: PUMP UP your personal sense of power.
Take a deep breath. As you inhale, visualize yourself getting bigger. Taller. Stronger.
Keep growing with each subsequent inhalation until you feel satisfied that you are significantly bigger.
Then ask yourself, "Now that I'm bigger, what do I see that I couldn't see when I was so small?"
STEP 3: PROBLEM-SOLVE to discover solution options.
Once you feel bigger and stronger, and as a result are seeing your challenging situation in a new way, new ideas for how to handle the situation will come to mind.
As you choose a plan of action, notice that even just knowing that you have options is likely to lead to your feeling better. And as you begin to implement your plan of action, wow. The depressed feelings are likely to totally disappear.
What else helps to relieve depressed feelings?
If your depression has been there for a long time, feels very deep, and seems unresponsive to the techniques here, be sure to seek help from a mental health professional. Psychotherapy can make a big difference. For more extreme depression, medication also may be essential.
For more information on depression and how to release yourself from it, see my newest book Prescriptions Without Pills: For Relief From Depression, Anger, Anxiety and More.
Help yourself to feel better, soon.
Life is not meant to be an endurance contest. If you or someone you know has been feeling depressed, take action, now. Say goodbye to those depressed feelings, ASAP.