Is Your Life Messed From Being Depressed?
2018, Dawn Fuller, Registered Clinical Counsellor
Depression is challenging. You sleep too much or not at all. Getting out of bed is an accomplishment.
Depression is challenging. Doing any physical activity is an achievement because it feels like each foot weighs 500 pounds.
Depression is challenging. It saddles you with self-hatred and self-loathing. You can’t stand to be with yourself. You self isolate because you’re sure no one would want to spend time with you.
Depression is challenging. It makes everything so dark you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, you can’t see the tunnel.
Depression is challenging. You don’t care about your hygienic needs.
Depression is challenging. You think, what is the point, so you don’t do anything.
Depression is challenging. You wear your happy mask in front of others so they don’t know you are crying on the inside.
Depression is challenging. Something that is small suddenly becomes huge in your mind and seems overwhelming. You feel powerless and hopeless.
Depression is challenging. Your family and friends don’t understand that you just can’t move on from it.
Depression is challenging. Many people have it. Few talk openly about depression because there is shame attached to mental health challenges. How sad (excuse the pun).
The insidiousness of depression is that when you are really depressed it is difficult to see a way out of it. Everything you need to do to get better seems impossible to undertake because you are depressed. Some people drink or take drugs to feel better. Medications can be helpful for some. Help for some people’s depression has been found in learning Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) skills.
What is CBT? It can be explained in two sentences. What do you say when you talk to yourself (what are you thinking?) and you don’t have to believe everything you think. How do we know it works? Recent research in the field of neuro-plasticity suggests brain changes such as calming the reactive Amygdala (a part of your brain) and increasing activity in the thinking and reasoning frontal cortex aids a person in self-management of depression. This is being illustrated by research throughout the world. First an MRI is done on a patient to get a baseline of brain functioning. Then CBT skills are integrated into that individual’s therapy. Follow up MRIs have indicated the connection between the Amygdala and the frontal lobe is strengthened through CBT. The frontal lobe quiets the Amygdala.
Why does CBT work? It helps to rewire the brain by peeling away negative beliefs and replacing them with positive thoughts. It helps you to shed distorted thinking patterns such as catastrophizing, fortune-telling, mindreading, negative filtering, labeling, over generalizing, all-or-nothing thinking, that you may have believed to be true. It teaches you how to think differently about life events and helps you get unstuck from harmful thoughts that make you depressed.
Here are some tools you can use to help you begin:
- Keep a journal of your unhelpful thoughts (you can get a cheap one at the dollar store). Do you notice a pattern to what you are thinking? For example, do you say to yourself, “I’ve made some big mistakes and I can’t fix them,” over and over again? Noticing patterns to your thinking is a big step towards change.
- See if you can change the wording of your self-criticism. “Mistakes can be opportunities of learning. What am I learning from this that will help me do better next time?” Remember you may not learn right away, yet if you look back to past experiences that you thought were disastrous, months or even years later, you realize you have learned important life lessons from the incidents.
- Avoid words such as have to, can’t, won’t, shouldn’t or should (don’t should on yourself, IT STINKS!).
- Use words such as I choose to, I am, I want to. Your words need to be said in present tense as though they are already true.
- Look in the mirror once a day, peer into your eyes and say out loud, “I love you. I really love you.” You’ve spent a lot of time putting yourself down. This hasn’t helped your depression and breaks your spirit. By saying I love you to yourself, the message your brain gets is I have value and I matter. Saying those words may feel silly because you’re not used to being kind to yourself. This is why it is important to say them. By the way, silly comes from the word selig which means peaceful, prosperous, joyful and healthy. Congratulate yourself for being silly.
- Keep a journal of 3 things you appreciate each day. I write mine at the back of the same journal where I am recording the unhelpful thoughts at the front. No matter how depressed you are, find some things to appreciate. For example, I am thankful for living in Canada; I appreciate of having access to clean water in my home; and I’m grateful for chocolate.
When I was young and drowning in debt from school loans I didn’t have much. This depressed me because I thought my life would never get better. Then I started putting lots and lots of ice cubes in my freezer. (Ice cubes were free and my freezer didn’t have much in it). Everyday I would look in the freezer and say to myself, “I may not have much, but at least I have lots of ice cubes.” Thinking this helped me to focus on a positive in my life and pull me out of a dark place. Once you focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t have, your mind may become a bit less foggy.
By using these strategies, YOU become YOUR SELF-MANAGER towards getting emotionally healthier. CBT gives you the gift of self worth when you affirm; “You don’t have to believe everything you think”.
If you are taking medications for depression, DO NOT stop taking them. Consult your health care professional first to insure you are managing your depression in the best way possible for YOU.