The word depression is used in different contexts. Some people claim it for minor problems like being disappointed, hurt or discouraged. Others use it to describe feelings of such heaviness and dejection that they are barely able to function. Symptoms may be so severe that it becomes a life-long debilitating condition where clinical interventions are warranted to redress chemical or hormonal imbalances within the body.
A more common form of depression is very much linked to external circumstances that overwhelm a person’s ability to process and deal with life’s challenges. Difficult experiences or chronic stress can shake one’s sense of self, reduce options, shatter plans and dash hopes for the future. This easily opens the door to feeling lost, worthless and depressed. Hidden within such feelings may be other emotions like anger, fear of the future, disappointment, grief, despair, regret or guilt. Unexamined and unexpressed, they only increase the inner anguish and loss of joy.
This kind of stress-induced or situational depression can rarely be improved by addressing the depressive symptoms alone. It requires a two-pronged approach: 1) Engaging in activities that can lighten depressive symptoms. 2) Making adjustments to the stressful situation that induced it in the first place. If that is not possible, modifying how the challenge is viewed and dealt with.
It may be as simple (but not always easy) as declaring “me-time”, eating nutritious meals, or doing exercise, which science increasingly confirms is a powerful means to improve dark moods.
Change Your Attitude.
Depressed people have a tendency to find the negative and focus on what is wrong with themselves and their life. Their minds become more and more closed, with diminishing access to positive points of view. Like traveling on well worn ski tracks in the snow, their thoughts increasingly go along established paths (specific neural circuits in the brain) of misery and despondency.
Change the Internal Stories.
Stop yourself when your mind is fixated on automatic negative thoughts about yourself and your situation. Words like devastated, never, hopeless need to be questioned and replaced with more realistic ones like shaken, upset, sometimes, or might need effort.
Invoke the Power of Affirmations.
Repeat the following statements (or make your own) as often as possible — even have them written on a card to pull out when negativity sets in:
I can choose my thoughts rather than leaving my brain on autopilot.
I can think rational and realistic thoughts.
I shall focus on my strengths and the positives in my life.
I believe that I have what it takes for a bright future.
Get Set for Action.
Most depressed persons become accustomed to using the phrase I can’t whenever they feel helpless or disinclined. A few simple techniques could turn this around:
Replace I can’t with I won’t.
I can’t go to the shops becomes I won’t go to the shops.
I can’t look for a job today — I won’t look for a job today.
I can’t face them — I won’t face them.
Making this small change means acknowledging that actions and thoughts are within your control. It means admitting, I could if I shifted a bit. It means acknowledging that you have the power to move. And it means accepting that you have a choice. This in itself is empowering.
Replace the word can’t with could.
I could make those phone calls.
I could shave today.
I could do the dishes.
I could look further into this job prospect.
But what about disinclination? Not liking something is no reason not to do it. For example, going to the gym might not be your favorite thing, and you may not feel like it at all. That’s okay, all you have to do is get yourself there! Adopt the thought, I don’t have to like what I choose to do. I only have to do it — whether I like it or not. It is not the end of the world to do something I don’t like doing. It gives a sense of control to face disinclination but not be swayed by it.
Increase Positive Experiences.
Make a list of options to choose from — coffee at the beach, watching a movie, just small things to get a bit of distance from your issues and refresh your perspective on life.
Make a list of 25 things you appreciate about yourself and carry the list with you. Noticing what you do well and what is working right, instead of focusing on flaws and problems, is not a dubious form of self-congratulation but merely re-balancing a negatively skewed self-assessment.
Look for help or accept it if offered. Most people have experienced dark moods at some stage in their lives and may be very willing to support someone who is struggling. Remaining engaged with outside life allows you to draw on existing networks of friends and acquaintances, previous contacts and anybody who might help you with fresh ideas and options.
A Word of Caution.
Do not hesitate to seek help if you feel overwhelmed. Speak to someone about how you feel and seek medical and psychological assistance. There is no shame in revealing your difficulties. You may be surprised how many people you encounter who have experienced dark times and came through it just as you will.