What is depression and how can you beat it?
Everyone feels sad, unhappy or low sometimes – feeling permanently great isn’t normal. Our ability to experience and process a range of thoughts and emotions is what makes us human. Our mood naturally fluctuates. It’s on a continuum – from feeling amazing to completely terrible. But when thoughts and feelings become darker and stay that way for weeks or months, you’re not just dealing with low mood anymore, you’re dealing with depression.
When depression takes hold it’s like being a different person - it makes you feel different, think differently and see the world differently.
At this point, you’d hope that your mind might jump into gear and start to support you. Yet Mother Nature played a cruel joke when it came to depression. At the time when you need it most, instead of your mind working for you, it starts instead to work against you. It builds the case for depression, seeking out any (often very dodgy) evidence that supports it.
Depression is a cheat. It doesn’t play by the rules, it will twist and manipulate anything and everything to support its cause. It devalues all you do and makes you only pay attention to the things that fit with the ‘you’re crap’ narrative.
Depression is a liar. Telling you that how you feel is because that’s how things really are (I feel bad, therefore everything is bad). It magnifies any perceived failures and defeats and minimises the qualities and resources you have.
Depression is a bully. When you’re at your lowest, it verbally abuses and stamps on you. It’s cunning, believable and preys on your vulnerabilities and fears.
Depression is forgetful. It conveniently forgets about all the times in the past that you’ve proved it wrong and ignores any information that might go against it.
Depression attracts negativity. It’s a magnet for any other negative feelings, pulling horrible old memories back into the spotlight and making you go over (and over) any mistakes or upsets you’ve had.
Depression is controlling. At a time when you could really do with others support - a chance to lift your mood, a change of scene - depression persuades you to do the opposite. It stops you from doing the things that might help you to feel better. Go out and see your friends? They’ll only find you boring. Go for a walk? You’re really tired.
And most importantly, depression steals your hope. It tricks you into thinking that things will never get better.
Yet despite its terrible consequence, depression is poorly understood in the wider world. It can be difficult for others to understand, unless they’ve been through it or deal with it professionally. Misplaced advice can leave you feeling even worse. The dreaded phrases: “pull yourself together” or “pick yourself up and get on with it”. If only it was that simple.
So how do you beat it?
Firstly, it is important to recognize you are not alone. Depression is a common mental health problem. Studies suggest that between 8-12% of the population experience depression in any year.
If you’re feeling depressed it’s really important to go and speak to someone about it. You don’t need to suffer in silence. Seeing your GP can give you access to therapy and (if you need it) medication, both of which are proven to make a difference to your mood.
You can also use proven psychological techniques to lessen its impact and start to fight back.
Question your thoughts
How you interpret thing that happen to you has a big impact on your mood. This is because the meaning that you give a situation affects how you think, feel (emotionally and physically) and what you do. By becoming more aware of your thoughts you can notice what they’re saying to you and question them. What’s the evidence for it? What evidence is there that doesn’t support it? Are there any alternative ways of seeing this?
Externalise the depression
It’s important to remember that what you’re saying to yourself, isn’t you talking, it’s the depression talking. Rather than blindly listening to it or going along with all it tells you, see it for what it is.
Remember that depression is a liar
When the depression starts talking remind yourself that it’s just a thought, opinion, hypothesis or evaluation. Pause, step back and remind yourself, ‘Thoughts aren’t facts’.
See depression for the bully it is
Imagine if someone followed you around saying all the things depression says to you? You’d be shocked and hurt, yet it’s what you’re doing to yourself all day. Try to be kinder to yourself and ask yourself what you’d say to a friend in the same situation?
Notice the good and build the case against depression
Even when you’re feeling depressed, good things are still happening. Depression just makes it much harder to give them the attention they deserve. Try to focus your attention on the whole of your life, rather than the parts that you are unhappy with or finding difficult. Try noting down three good things each day and make sure you refer back to them on a regular basis.
The less you do the worse you feel and this means you have even more time to think... not a good thing when you're depressed. When depression says ‘don’t’, go and do the opposite. Don’t go out? Going out is exactly what you do. Don’t speak to anyone they won’t understand? Pick up the phone and call a friend. Make a plan for your week and add in small things that can lift your mood and make a difference to how you feel.
Finally, and most importantly, hold onto hope
Depression is treatable, don’t let it tell you otherwise. There is light at the end of the tunnel!
This piece was originally written for London Mother.