What is depression?
Do you feel miserable and bad about yourself a lot of the time? Find it difficult to think straight or to make decisions? Have you lost the motivation to do the things that you used to enjoy? Do you feel exhausted, that everything is an effort? Is your sleep disturbed and are your eating habits changed?
First of all it’s really important to know that depression is not due to a chemical imbalance in our brains and although it can sometimes seem to run in families, it is because it is learned rather than inherited. Drugs are NOT the best way to go about treating it. Actually YOU are the best person to be in charge of your recovery.
Why is depression affecting so many of us feeling these days?
Depression has reached what might be called epidemic proportions in the western world and the reason for this is that in many ways we are leading lives that our bodies and our minds are not equipped to lead. As humans, we have certain basic physical needs (food, water, air, sleep) but we also have basic emotional needs. People have debated these needs over the years but there is general agreement that they include the following:
- Sense of control
- Feeling part of a wider community
- A sense of privacy
- An emotional connection to others including one close friend, partner, family member who accepts you “warts and all”.
- A sense of meaning and purpose, being stretched
If these emotional needs are not met in a balanced way, we cannot be emotionally healthy – we will feel stressed, anxious and depressed.
So what has changed to make it so hard to get our needs met these days? Despite the miracles of modern technology and the fact that we can be constantly connected via mobiles and internet, we can lose our sense of community, of face to face contact. As a society we are driven by consumerism – and think that if we are unable to buy a new car or the latest sports gear, then we are a failure. We live under huge time pressure – from the moment we wake until when we drop off to sleep our minds are alert and we pack more and more into every day – late nights in front of the TV or laptop screen, music form mp3 players in our ears, sitting in endless traffic jams. Our bodies and brains are designed to take regular breaks and so if we ignore that biological need our stress hormones go into overload. We can then find it hard to relax without TV, drugs, alcohol – we never simple do nothing. In fact it makes us feel guilty! We live in a state of continual uncertainty: Will we get a job when we leave school? Will we keep a job with the cutbacks? Will we be able to manage financially? And as a backdrop to our media is full of awful stories about war, terrorism and famine. It’s easy to feel that we no longer feel any sense of control in our lives.
So is it life or is it me?
It’s important to know that it isn’t difficult life situations which cause depression, but rather how we respond to them. If we always respond negatively, then we will tend to suffer from recurring bouts of depression. Depression is a sign that something is wrong and we need to act on it straight away.
Challenging our mindset is very important if we are to get rid of depression. When we are depressed, it might look to others as though we feel flat and numb but the truth is that actually thoughts are continually racing around our heads. We are highly emotionally aroused. Our human brains still have some of the structures of mammals designed to help us survive in the wild. When we face danger (or we think we are in danger), just like animals, our fight or flight response is automatically aroused. These strong emotions lock our attention – everything is either/or – “shall I run or fight?” We were emotional beings long before we were rational humans. Once we evolved to think logically we became able to unlock our attention and response and to see all sides of a situation. However, even though we no longer face threats from predators, our emotions are stronger than our rational intelligence and they tend to overwhelm us.
If we are depressed we tend to think in ways that are personal, pervasive and permanent – the three “P”s. We take each setback as personal, it is all about us, we see it permeating into our whole lives rather than just one area and we think that it will be forever. People who aren’t depressed don’t think in this way – they know that there are many possible causes for things that happen in life.
10 great ways to start to feel better
- Calm down!
When we are emotionally aroused, the stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are flooding our bodies. Deliberately finding ways to relax will send a message to the adrenal glands to stop producing these hormones. The quickest and easiest way to relax is to concentrate on your breathing. Simply settle yourself somewhere comfortable, sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and just tune into how your body is feeling. Then start to make each our breath slightly longer than each in breath. This will automatically stimulate the body’s natural relaxation response. Start counting, breathing in for the count of 7 and out for the count of 11 (or in for 3 and out for 5 – whatever works best for you.)
Or do a body scan – again either sitting or lying down, start at the top of your head and gradually go down mentally through your body, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers etc right down to your toes. Notice whether there is any tension anywhere – and then simply and deliberately just let go of each area in turn.
For more information on Mindfulness, click here
Another way to relax is to imagine yourself in a favourite place – by the sea on a warm sunny day, in a garden of flowers or in a leafy forest. Try to use all your sense so that you get a real sense of being in that place – sights, sounds, smells, the gentle breeze on your skin.
- Do an “emotional needs audit” on yourself
Think back to when you first noticed you had become depressed. What was happening in your life at the time? Was it when you lost a job? Or an important relationship ended? Was it after you developed a health problem or after you lost someone close to you? Quite often we find that some parts of our lives are still working very well but we let one unsatisfactory aspect govern everything. If this is the case, try to focus on what is going right rather than what isn’t going right. Sometimes depression has an unexpectedly straightforward explanation but it isn’t the one you expect – this is because the emotional arousal caused by so much worrying prevents you from seeing what is often obvious to those around you. Could this be true in your case?
Now run through your emotional needs:
- Do you feel safe? Are you being bullied? Is your boss over demanding? Have you been assaulted? Do you feel insecure due to financial difficulties or illness?
- Do you have people in your life who are important to you? Has an important relationship ended or is going through a difficult patch? Have you lost touch with old friends?
- Do you know people outside of close family and friends – do you feel part of a wider community?
- Are you comfortable about your status? Do you feel you should have achieved more in your life?
- Do you have a sense of achievement? Are you doing what you want to do in life?
- Do you have a sense of control over your life? Or have you recently lost some control due to a marriage break up or a new and difficult boss at work?
- Are your attention needs being met healthily? Do you spend too much time alone?
Do you feel stretched? Does your life have meaning and purpose? Are you engaged with the world?
- Engage with life
Often when we are depressed, we don’t feel like doing anything – especially things that bring us into contact with other people who might be asking us how we are and generally making demands thaty we feel we can’t meet. So we start to turn down invitations and stop joining in things – and our social worlds contract around us. This in itself can add to our misery.
- Set some goals for yourself
What do you need to do to make things better? Make your goals small and achievable and connected with getting those needs that you identified weren’t being met.
- Try scaling your moods
This can be really useful – note down how you feel each day and at various times during each day (1 is the lowest, the worst possible you can feel and 10 is best possible mood). See when your mood is a little better – maybe after exercise or after seeing friends. When is it down? Is it worse first thing in the morning or do you hit a low in the early afternoon? Playing the role of detective can really help you to find solutions – and to see that your mood is not constant.
- You are not your depression
It’s important to separate yourself for the depression – you are not depression – you are still the same you.
- Remind yourself of your resources and tap into them
We all have some resources that we can tap into when things get tough. These can be friends, family, a job or an employment history, qualifications, qualities such as being a good friend, resilience and the ability to bounce back – make a list of anything an everything you can think of – this will build up your confidence.
- STOP your worrying
The never ending worries are going round and round in your . Rather than being on automatic pilot and letting this happen, say to yourself loudly “ STOP!” Distract yourself if you can – and maybe allow yourself to have a “worry half hour” each day – saving all those worries for this time.
- Laugh and have fun
…and tell yourself “this too shall pass”. How you feel today won’t be how you feel always. This is the lowest point and you are taking steps to get out of it. Believe that this will happen and it will.
- Mind yourself
Exercise is the best way to switch off the fight and flight hormones. A gentle walk, an aerobic workout – whatever works best for you. Notice how you feel during and after the exercise – it’s guaranteed to raise mood. And eat as well as you can and drink plenty of water. Be kind to yourself, if you have a bad day, tell yourself that tomorrow will be better and praise yourself for any small successes. Avoid alcohol especially when you are feeling really down – after the initial life it will soon start to make you feel worse. And you might want to avoid loud and crowded places like bars and night clubs – until you feel better.
For more information on depression go to my Depression Counselling Cork page
Need more help?
If you are suffering from depression and would like to talk to someone about it in confidence, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!