When depression descends it‘s not easy to shake yourself out of it and for some just not possible at all, so if that’s you, you might want to stop reading now.
Many people who experience depression say that as part of it, they feel helpless and hopeless and it’s understandable as it can leave you feeling stuck and impotent. Anyone can be hit by depression at any time in life and it’s important not to judge.
It’s also important to know that it’s not your fault and doubtless you have done and are doing the best you can. It can be very irritating if not downright annoying to have people tell you to snap out of it and I wonder if one of the reasons is that for some, depression is an inward expression of anger. To have well meaning people lay unhelpful platitudes on you, can triggers more frustration and can make the depression even more intense.
My personal experience of depression and that of working with others is that it invariably strikes people who are highly thoughtful, sensitive and usually kind and caring. They ‘feel’ deeply and can struggle with boundaries, because they are used to picking up on the emotions of other’s but aren’t used to protecting themselves from it. Like a sponge they unconsciously mop up negative energy from those around them.
Developing a supportive inner voice can help. Over time I learned to tell myself that ‘this will pass’ and for me it did and thankfully I did not remain in a permanent state of depression. Knowing that it would pass I was able to use this knowledge to help myself. I would sit in the same place each time – in my case my wicker meditation chair and remind myself that nothing stays the same and that it would pass. When you’re in the midst of it however you can be forgiven for thinking it wont!
Funny thing is, even some of my closest friends may be surprised to discover that I’ve wrestled with depression and the reason for this is that I’m not a lover of labels, so I’ve chosen to not say that I have had depression. My concern was that it would become ‘my’ depression and I certainly never wanted it to be mine!
Here are a couple of things that have helped me in the past and others I’ve worked with.
Sit with a trusted friend or therapist and investigate the last 3 or 4 episodes of depression with a view to identifying what the triggers were. Aim to recall what happened the day or the night before. What did you eat or do, what time did you go to bed, what were you watching, who did you see, what activity were you participating in before the depression started? Aim to unearth the patterns that lead to the depression and make them more conscious.
When we throw light on something that has previously been unconscious i.e. in the dark, it usually has the effect of de-potenising it, taking away some of it’s power.
Don’t do this on your own, because you obviously don’t want to trigger an episode.
Once armed with a knowledge of the patterns or people that seem to trigger the depression you can start looking at things to put in place to avoid those triggers. For example if you realize that depression can start when you lay in bed thinking about things for too long, or listening to the news, train yourself to get up within 5 minutes of waking up, or make the decision to turn off the news and choose something more positive to listen to.
You can use stick thinking i.e. “If I lay here any longer I know I’ll end up with that sinking feeling in my stomach that leads to me feeling really stuck and miserable” or carrot thinking… “If I get up now I can get on with… or meet up with so-and-so to walk her dog, or to just make a nice cup of coffee and listen to the birds singing”
Commit to becoming vigilant and aim to catch the depression as it starts, imagine you’re a spy and your brief is to watch and wait to ‘catch’ it before it takes hold so that you can interrupt the pattern it takes.
Make a decision to do something different until you notice a change no matter how subtle. Even a tiny shift can make a huge change to the way you feel.
That shift might be an arrangement that you strike up with a trusted friend to call them the minute you feel the depression starting so that they can come over to support and motivate you to do something different. This is of course by prior agreement.
Whilst we know that exercise is a great way to combat depression, it isn’t always easy or possible for everyone to join a gym however one simple step that you could take is this.
Stand with your feet hip width apart and raise your arms up slowly up into the air as you breathe in. Then slowly breathe out through your mouth like you’re blowing air out with a long sigh as you bring your arms back down. Do this at least 10 times – longer if possible. Do it several times a day on a bad day.
You are lifting your heart and lungs with this simple movement, engaging your cardio-vascular and respiratory systems which change your breath, your mental state and of course your physiology. This can be done sitting down too.
Depression isn’t just a state of mind; it can also be a feeling that emerges somewhere in the body or just outside of it.
Depression has been described by some as a heavy weight, a black hole or a dark cloud hovering over them. Others say it starts as a sinking feeling in their stomach and some say that it’s like having someone or something sitting on them. No wonder then, that people can feel stuck or disempowered.
It can be helpful to externalize the feelings and one way to do this is by drawing or painting your feelings on paper. No rules, you don’t have to have any artistic skills, nobody else will see this – unless you choose to share it.
When you’ve finished drawing, bin it, burn it or bury it but get rid of it. By doing so you’re making a powerful symbolic statement – to your unconscious mind- that you’re taking action to erase it.
Another powerful thing to do is to write, by hand, letters to people who you feel have a part in your depression whether past, present, dead or alive. I’ve worked with many people with depression who have been bullied in the past and when they’ve done what I suggest here they have been amazed at the results. You really will feel lighter when you do this.
Write to the bullies, tell them exactly what you think of them. Let the people who have played a part in the way that you feel, know your truth, tell them exactly how you feel. When you’ve finished the letter bin it, burn it, or bury it but definitely get rid of it permanently, this is the most important step. I do not advocate sending the letters – this is for you, it’s your therapy.
Your unconscious mind believes whatever is put into it, so it will believe that you’ve sent the letters, even though you know at a conscious level you haven’t.
This might sound ridiculously simple but it really can take care of unfinished business in the back of the mind. Don’t take my word for it try it yourself to find out that this powerful exercise really does work!
Anything that you can do to empower yourself will be helpful
So the next time you’re feeling brighter write a list of the things that lift you and allow you to feel glad to be in the world. Put that list on the inside of a cupboard or on a mirror where you can see it to remind yourself to take tiny steps toward a better day.
Although I would never say I’ll never be depressed again, I do feel fortunate to be free of depression these days. I have used all the tools and tips I write about and whilst I appreciate that they may not be for everyone, I sincerely hope they help someone.