â€œDepressionâ€ is commonly used to describe a mood or emotion, and, more technically, a symptom of a syndrome or psychological disorder. The joyless sadness of depression hardly needs description, so common is its part in the human condition. Only its duration separates the mood from the symptom. When a feeling of depression is present for most of the day, and continues to be experienced for weeks, it is considered a symptom of a depressive disorder.
Before anything can be said about how depressed individuals can help themselves, it is crucial to address the â€œwet blanketâ€ of motivational apathy. Apathy is behind the near-universal â€œyes-butâ€ reply of the depressed individual to any positive suggestion: â€œyes, I hear you say if I do X I might feel better, but I just donâ€™t feel up to it these days. When I feel up to it, then Iâ€™ll do X.â€ If one is unshakably committed to this position, read no further.
The a-motivational BET. The B-E-T of Behavior, Emotion, and Thinking can be depicted as a triangle to represent the inter-relationships among these domains of mental experience. Depression typically involves all three: behaviors of social withdrawal and inactivity; emotions of sadness and hopelessness; thoughts of worthlessness and pessimism, as an example. Each of these domains mutually reinforces and is reinforced by the other. The trap in this cycle is in the mistaken assumption that one needs to feel different before anything else can happen. The key is knowing that these three domains are causally related to one another, and if we intervene to change any one of them, the others will predictably follow suit.
We cannot directly influence our emotions. We can, to some extent, try to deliberately change our thinking; however, it is difficult and requires consistent effort, which, in turn, depends upon a level of motivation that is usually absent. Behavior, it turns out, is the best point of entry. We may not feel like doing X, we may not think that it can make a difference, yet we have the ability to â€œdo it anyway.â€ We can â€œgo through the motionsâ€ despite ourselves.
Going through the motionsâ€¦
The following are actions to take to disrupt depression, and get on the road to recovery.
Depression frequently disrupts sleepâ€” it is important to resume a normal pattern, getting adequate but not excessive sleep, and doing so on a set schedule. If (when) experiencing difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking, learn about sleep habits to help establish and maintain the schedule. Donâ€™t â€œwork aroundâ€ it by going to sleep and getting up â€œwhenever.â€
When depressed, it can be quite difficult to maintain regular meals and a healthy diet. The lack of appetite promotes insufficient caloric intake, exacerbating the problem of low energy and motivation. Low motivation, apathy, and pessimism promote poor choices when one does eat, resulting in poor nutrition and exacerbating other depressive symptoms.
Alcohol is a â€œdepressant,â€ so classified for its slowing effects on the nervous system. The wide-spread appeal of alcohol for its relaxing and sedating effects hardly needs explanation, and those benefits may be increasingly desirable when one feels miserable. After an initial mood-lightening effect soon after consumption, however, alcohol then suppresses mood too. It is noted, from clinical experience, that patients often report a lower mood and increased sadness that lingers the day after an evening of even modest drinking.
Stress is often a factor in causing and maintaining depression. Keep in mind that adequate functioning is a balance between demands (stresses) and resources available for managing those demands. Think of ways to reduce the demands on the system, and you will increase the functioning of that system
Activate your social network, as it is a resource for coping, a distraction from distressing thoughts and feelings, and a positive factor in improving mood. Depressed individuals are inclined to withdraw from their relationships, but this is exactly the wrong thing to do. (Counseling services can often help in this area if ones social circle is not supportive)
Get up, get out, get going
Do not stay home, stay in, and do nothing but marinate in your misery. Spend some time each day out in the world, even if just to McDonaldâ€™s for morning coffee (which has improved dramatically in quality in recent years).
The positive impact of exercise on mood is well established and substantial. There is abundant information about the biochemical effects of exercise related to the mood-enhancing outcome, which may all be true. Interestingly, clinical observation has repeatedly confirmed that the positive effects of exercise are often noticeable on the way to the gym, before the first work-out has begun. This suggests something about the committed decision to begin exercising has a psychological impact itself. Perhaps it is the same psychological mechanism accounting for improved mood and sense of hope that therapy patients report upon scheduling, but before attending, their first psychotherapy appointment.
[box type=”note”]I hope that this article has been helpful and we encourage you to speak with a qualified professional if you need further assistance overcoming depression. After all, it can be overcome![/box]