It’s normal to experience feelings of sadness. Part of the gift of being alive is being able to feel a variety of emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant.
Clinical depression is different than simply “feeling down.” It can involve feelings of guilt or hopelessness, a loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy, a lack of energy, and a pervasive sense of numbness. As a therapist specializing in helping teens and adults struggling with eating disorders, depression, and anxiety, I have a variety of tools and strategies for clients who suffer from depression. It’s also important to look for actions and tendencies that may exacerbate depressive symptoms. The following are three common patterns that people struggling with depression can get stuck in and which may make depression worse.
When people struggle with depression, often they feel urges to stay in bed, or to isolate themselves from other people. However, a sense of disconnection from others only serves to make you feel even worse in the long-term. Instead, I suggest clients practice a dialectical behavioral therapy skill called “opposite action.” If your depression is causing you to want to stay in bed and avoid the outside world, it can be useful to “do the opposite of what it’s telling you.”
While you may not feel like calling a friend or leaving the house, it’s important to do these actions anyway. Social connection and support, as well as simply getting outside, can help to boost one's mood—even if neither of these actions initially sound appealing. “When you are struggling with depression, it’s important to make time for self-care, such as going on a walk, calling a friend, sitting outside, being around people, [or] reading a book ... Depression is extremely taxing but just know that you are not alone and that there are people who will want to support you,” says therapist Rachel Rosenthal, MSW, LCSW-C.
We have thousands of thoughts per day. Yet, not everything that we think is a fact. It’s important to recognize the thoughts that depression may fuel, rather than simply accepting them as absolute truths. Struggling with depression can feel like you are wearing dark sunglasses—your outlook may be gloomier. It’s crucial to try and see your thoughts as simply stories that your mind is telling you. Rather than believing every thought that passes, try to distinguish thought from fact. Determine whether the thoughts are helpful or unhelpful to you—if they are unhelpful (i.e. cause you to feel hopeless or avoid things that are important to you), practice letting them go.
Sometimes, clients are hard on themselves for experiencing depression. This only serves to make us feel even worse. Instead of beating yourself up, it’s important to practice self-compassion: you are not alone in struggling with depression and you are not choosing to feel this way. Depression is a mental illness with both genetic and environmental roots. It is critical that you try to be kind to yourself when experiencing depression. Remind yourself that you can only do your best in a given moment. Try to extend the same kindness to yourself that you would give to someone you love. “Life can be tough and thoughts of depression make it even harder. Practicing self-compassion and reminding yourself that you’re only human and are allowed to struggle, helps you to manage those depressive thoughts just a little bit easier,” says Kelsi Huerter, a mental health therapist at Crown Counseling.
By practicing “opposite actions,” learning how to distance yourself from depressive thinking, and practicing self-compassion, you can change your relationship with depression and create new perspective.