At one time or another, everybody has felt “down”, low spirits, or at least a mild temporary hint of depression. Some know the deeper pain of a strong depression. For either situation, the things you do can have an influence on the intensity and duration of the depression. While it is not your fault that you feel depressed, you do have some power to change it. In this article I will discuss some ways to make a difference.
When you are feeling depressed, you may have a tendency to view your feelings as bad or unwanted. You may judge your feelings and do anything to avoid them. On the other hand, when you are feeling better, you may fear the return of the depressing feelings, and do whatever you can to try to avoid the return of the depressing feelings. Avoiding the way you feel may have the consequence of maintaining and strengthening a depression.
Avoiding the Pain. It is natural to want to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Yet this natural desire can be a problem if uncomfortable feelings persist. If you do anything you can to avoid the depressed feelings and try to hold on to the “good” feeling, fearing if you don’t you will fall back into depression, you may actually prolong the cycle of depression, encouraging it to return without intending that to happen. Here’s what may work better: Instead of judging and attempting to reject feeling “down”, “low”, depressed or hopeless, just let the feelings be there- no judgment, no attempt to avoid or change them. You may even be a moderator of your experience and observe to yourself, “oh, here’s a depressed/sad/hopeless feeling”. Avoid judging the feelings or thinking of them as bad.
There are some things you can do that may help. For many people the following actions may help lift a depression:
- eating a healthy diet (cutting back on caffeine, sugar, and alcohol)
- cleaning your house
- sharing your feelings with a therapist or trusted other
But don’t reject the feelings that you are experiencing – just try integrating some of the items from the above list into your daily activities. You may find it is hard to motivate yourself to do any of these things if you are depressed. Nevertheless, they will likely help you feel better if you can motivate yourself to try any of them.
While I don’t recommend avoiding the feelings of depression, there are some other things you can practice focusing on, that may be helpful. One such focus is on things for which you are grateful. While this may be difficult to imagine if you are depressed, it can be worth the struggle to try. Many people have trouble with this exercise because they are looking for major, significant things for which they are grateful. It will be more productive if you can think of anything for which you are thankful, even small things. For example, if someone smiled at you earlier today you could notice that later and be grateful.
Attachment to Feeling Good. The other side of attachment is trying to hang on to good feelings. This is a problem because it can encourage the depression to return. It sends a signal to your subconscious mind that you don’t trust your mood will be okay. It may help to consider that no one’s mood stays constantly upbeat. It is natural to have some mood fluctuation. It can be helpful to enjoy the upbeat mood, but becoming attached to it won’t help any more than trying to judge and flee the depressed feelings.
The issue here is fear that the good feelings won’t last unless you do something to force yourself to continue feeling good. This may include hiding your thoughts and feelings from others, fearing their response will trigger depression or it may include avoiding certain activities that you fear will end the good feelings. Whatever the worry, it will help you more to trust that your feelings will go up and down over time. The fear that you may become stuck in depression if you don’t hold on to the good feelings is a part of the hopelessness that is a symptom of depression.
To practice not being attached to the good feelings, you may want to try out the role of an observer. In the observer role you pay attention to your feelings and just note to yourself, “ah, feeling good”, just as when you are feeling down, you may note, “ah, feeling down”. Either way, see if you can appreciate the feelings and your ability to feel your feelings.