Many folks confuse sadness with depression. Sadness is a natural state, a necessary part of living. Friendships end. Death steals loved ones. Life provides us with plenty of reasons to feel sad. Feeling sad is appropriate at such times — and indispensable. The need to mourn, to feel sadness, is an essential part of what it means to be human. When we honor sadness, it provides us with essential space for self-reflection, and greater empathy and compassion. It also may compel us to recognize difficult truths or inspire us to make better choices.
Depression, however, offers no solace. It brutally assaults us and promotes hopelessness. This is because depression is not a pure feeling but an effort to ward off a complex mix of unwanted ones. Anger, frustration, irritation, and grief are feelings we tend to find intolerable; we don’t want to feel them. When we’re depressed, we’re engaging in a psychic battle to blot out these unwanted feelings. Common psychic defenses against painful feelings include denial (ignoring feelings), projection (transferring feelings onto others), rationalization (downplaying feelings) or binge eating (attempting to fill the emptiness we feel inside).
Unfortunately, as long as the true causes of our depression remain unaddressed, it will return again and again.
Hunt Down the Cause of Your Depression
Rather than viewing depression as a monster to flee from, look it in the eye; investigate the feelings that you are “depressing” and avoiding. For example, you may say, “I feel depressed today.” The questions that follow should be: Why today? What am I ignoring? What issue am I not addressing?
Here’s a list of the most common situations that often trigger depression:
- An Unresolved Conflict. Is there a problem in one of your relationships? Is there something at work that is unsettling you? Unaddressed conflicts cause chronic psychological stress and are fundamental to many forms of depression.
- A Repetition Compulsion. Look for a common theme in your depression, one that repeats itself. This is most often a repetition of early experiences in your life. The most common themes I hear in my office include: I’m always the outsider; I can’t trust anyone; and Nobody understands me. Without insight, we get trapped in a repetitive cycle and repeat the same problem over and over again. Find out what that unresolved part of your history is that you keep replaying.
- Self-Neglect. Burnout and depression go hand in hand. When you neglect yourself, everyone suffers. You’re no fun to be around; you don’t enjoy work or play; and you drag others down with you. Reward yourself, treat yourself, and give yourself the attention and TLC you crave. You’ll be surprise how much better you’ll feel.
- Self-Slander. Low self-esteem and self-slander are the major driving forces of all forms of depression. These negative internal voices shape your self-image and the way you see yourself and others. You’ll start to see others as better and more appealing than you, even when it’s not even true. Such toxic affirmations drain your energy and leave you forever dissatisfied. After all, if you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re powerless or unattractive, you eventually will become both.
To loosen the grip of depression, you’ll need to take action—lots of it. Confronting depression is like going into battle. Here’s a list of areas in your life that may need attention:
- Exercise. A 30- to 40-minute cardio workout three times a week can reduce depression symptoms. Walking or running is also a great way to clear your head.
- Sleep. Too little or too much sleep can trigger depression symptoms; shoot for 7 to 8 hours per night. Try your best to be consistent.
- Diet. Research has shown a correlation between high sugar/high fat diets and depression. Try to avoid foods that make you feel sluggish as this might bring about negativity.
- Creativity. Stimulate your imagination with new experiences; enjoy poetry, art, theater, music, or try to reconnect with talents you’ve neglected.
- Psychotherapy. Invest in understanding yourself and breaking self-defeating patterns.
- Education. Challenge yourself by acquiring new skills; take classes or attend lectures.
- Meditation. Learn to calm your thoughts and relax your mind through chanting, meditation, yoga, or other disciplines.
- Altruistic Acts. Helping others will get you out of your head and inspire you; look for opportunities to volunteer in your community.
- Faith. Consider spiritual matters; explore different philosophies and beliefs.
When depression appears in your life, think of it as a cry for help from your subconscious. Listen to it; find out what it’s trying to tell you. If you’ve been depressed for a long time, anti-depressants can give you the energy to make new choices. However, though medication may make you feel better, the cure to depression is still in your hands. Only when you confront and understand the true cause of your depression, then take action to address it, will you finally be liberated from it no matter what the temperature outside.