Depression is like a fog that has permanently settled around you. It clouds how you see everything and feels inescapable. Those who suffer from depression report feeling trapped, like they're stuck in quicksand. Others have described depression as an invisible anchor tied to their feet, dragging behind them everywhere they go.
The metaphors of fog, quicksand, and an anchor are useful to describe the experience of depression. These metaphors, however, fail to describe the function of depression. A better metaphor is that of the parasite.
A parasite survives by feeding off its host. The depression parasite isn't physical: It's psychological, and it has to justify its continued existence constantly. And if you were to see it for what it truly was, you'd rid it from your consciousness immediately.
Therefore, the depression parasite has to fool you. The parasite tricks you into thinking its presence in your life is immutable. That it's part of who you are or who you have become.
Lies! All lies. These are parasitical lies intended to keep you from doing what is healthy, which would mean death for the depression parasite. Depression is not immutable. It is changeable. Depression is not who you are. It is a parasite feeding off your energy, personality, and aspirations.
The parasite metaphor also presents you with a choice. You can either make your mind a hospitable environment for the parasite to thrive, or you can make behavioral changes rendering your mind an inhospitable environment for depression to exist. The depression parasite does not want you to think of yourself as an empowered decision-maker, but you are!
Decide to make your mind inhospitable to depression by following these 10 steps:
1. Get Some Exercise.
Researchers have discovered two interesting facts about depression and exercise: Active people are less likely to get depressed; exercise can be useful in reducing symptoms of depression. Please understand, exercise does not have to be a hardcore, two-hour workout at the gym. Moderate levels of physical activity, like a walk, a low-impact jog, short bike ride, or a hike, are sufficient to get an anti-depressant effect. Weight training has also been shown to have positive effects on depression, so exercise is not definitionally limited to intense aerobic exercise (although it does include that).
2. Give Yourself Structure.
Keeping a regular schedule promotes a sense of stability, predictability, and consistency. So, wake up, go to bed, eat your meals, and go to work at the same time, every day, to get the beneficial effects of routine.
Those who struggle with depression lead disorganized lives. Nothing is in order or regimented, which only adds to their sense of internal disorganization. External structure and order can lead to a sense of internal structure and order.
3. Break Large Goals into Smaller Goals.
Depression has a way of making even the simplest tasks seem overwhelming. To make a goal more attainable, break it up into smaller goals. For example, going to work in the morning can seem daunting to someone who has depression, so don't make that your goal.
Instead, set a goal to get in the shower by a certain time. Then, make a second goal to brush your teeth. The third goal is to get dressed. The fourth goal is to eat breakfast. The fifth goal is to get in your car. These small goals will eventually lead to the completion of a bigger goal.
4. Maintain a Healthy Diet.
Recent findings have revealed depression is linked with diet, particularly pro-inflammatory diets. Individuals who consume pro-inflammatory food have higher rates of depression. Whereas, individuals who consume an anti-inflammatory diet have reduced rates of depression.
In fact, physicians are now considering diet change as a legitimate form of treating depression. What kind of diets are physicians, dieticians, and nutritionists recommending? Anti-inflammatory diets such as:
- Mediterranean diet
- Paleo diet
- Ketogenic diet
- Vegetarian diet
- Tuscan diet
5. Keep a Journal.
It's important to identify and process your feelings. Journaling is a useful practice where you can write your feelings down and do some meaningful reflection. For some, journaling really works, but it's not for everyone.
Don't feel limited to a journal—anything can work. You can write a poem, paint a picture, write a song, code a game, decorate your house. There are many ways you can externalize your feelings. For example, creating a playlist that reflects your mood is like a journal entry.
6. Reappraise Your Depression.
Depression is uncomfortable. Discomfort motivates change. Therefore, you could use the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) intervention called cognitive reappraisal (looking at a problem in a different way) to see depression in a new light. Here's an example of reappraising depression:
Depression makes me uncomfortable, which is motivating me to change something in my life. In fact, I may not be motivated to make positive changes without the depression. So, thank goodness I'm so depressed! Now I have proper motivation to make changes.
Cognitive reappraisal allows an individual to see their depression from a different angle, which transforms the pathology of depression into something useful.
7. Shine a Light.
The expression "You're as sick as your secrets" fits well with depression. The depression parasite thrives in the dark. When you isolate yourself from others and keep your depression secret, it's easier for your depression to grow in power.
Break the cycle of secrets and be honest about what you are experiencing. Darkness can't exist in the light. Expose the depression parasite to the light by sharing your struggles with others.
8. Find Community.
By sharing with others, take the next step and enter into a community or build one if one does not exist. Why? It's hard to overcome the depression parasite alone.
Community is a great resource for support and help, and this is dangerous to the depression parasite. Engaging with a community may feel uncomfortable, but staying in your comfort zone is part of the problem. Community gives a sense of belonging, practical and emotional support, an outlet to vent, and opportunities for an individual to support others. Your depression parasite wants to keep you away from meaningful support, so do the opposite—go connect with other people.
9. Challenge Your Thinking.
CBT is a model of therapy that is highly effective in treating Major Depressive Disorder. There are many books, workbooks, articles, and programs that are helpful for people with depression.
Pick up the CBT workbook for depression and see if it helps. You can pick up the paperback for under $20 or the kindle version for under $10. Think about it, for less than $10, you can have in your hands a powerful tool that could rid you of the depression parasite. What do you have to lose? What's $10 against the cost of your depression?
10. Consider Counseling.
So, let's say you tried the CBT workbook, and it wasn't enough. Well, that doesn't mean CBT won't work for you. You simply need more help than a workbook can offer. Have you tried seeing a counselor? A counselor can help you overcome depression by helping you challenge negative thoughts.
By following these recommendations, you make the depression parasite unwelcome in your mind. Remember, the depression parasite thrives in the dark and on lies. The best way to rid yourself of the depression parasite is by exposing it to the light.
Connect with a friend and talk about your depression. Call a counselor and set up an appointment. Friends, community members, and counselors can easily spot the lies your depression parasite is telling you. By taking in what they say, you directly challenge the lies of the parasite. Never let your depression parasite get comfortable. Make your mind an inhospitable environment by acting on these suggestions.
Facebook image: ANN PATCHANAN/Shutterstock
Blumenthal, J. A., Smith, P. J. & Hoffman, B. M. (2012). Is exercise a viable treatment for depression? ACSMs Health Fitness Journal, 16(4): 14-21.
Miller, A. H. & Raison, C. L. (2016). The role of inflammation in depression: From evolutionary imperative to modern treatment target. Nat Rev Immunol., 16: 22-34.