Feeling a little down from time to time is a normal phenomenon that most of us experience.
However, when feelings of sadness, despair, or emptiness linger to the point where they are interfering with your ability to function optimally in your daily life, you may be suffering from depression.
According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 1 in 10 adults report symptoms of some form of depression—either major depression or one of the other clinical versions of it. (http://www.cdc.gov/features/depression/). Depression can affect every aspect of your life. In addition, it can also make your hopes and dreams seem to be permanently out of reach.
Coping with depression can be especially challenging since when depressed, it’s hard to motivate yourself to do the things you need to do to start feeling better. So in this sense, depression keeps itself going. That’s why battling depression isn’t easy by any means. But with your relentless commitment, you can overcome it.
To cope with depression, it’s best to start with small steps and then gradually build on them.
Many depressed people hold the belief that things will never get better. So when this is the case, it’s understandable why you’d avoid fighting it. If this feels familiar, ask yourself, is this dour belief that things won’t change completely true? Can you entertain the possibility that things might get even slightly better? For example, can you recall a time when you have been able to make yourself feel better? If you have, you can probably do it again; and a good place to start is with your daily routine.
Although it can be particularly difficult to gather the energy to do the activities you usually enjoy when experiencing symptoms of depression, doing those things you find pleasurable and upbeat can quickly bring about a change in your mood. So write down a list of activities you really enjoy doing.
These items can be as small as making yourself a cup of hot chocolate or listening to your favorite music. Also, add things that are a little more involved, like taking a drive some place where you enjoy spending time. Including some physical activities is also a great idea, because exercise releases the chemicals in your brain and your body associated with a positive mood1.
In addition to this list of things you enjoy, write down some positive diversions you may not think to do when you’re feeling down, but might really help you if you only remembered to do them at those key times. Don’t forget to include on your list such items as talking with people who you consider to be sources of comfort and strength. In my book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential, one thing I encourage readers to do is to participate in philanthropic or charitable endeavors as ways to get out of your own drama and to experience the good feelings associated with helping others. So don’t forget to add these to your list as well!
Try to do at least one thing on your list on a daily basis and begin to monitor how it’s affecting your spirits. Our moods typically follow our actions. So push yourself to do an enjoyable activity that you would do if you were not depressed.
A good way to measure the effectiveness of these steps you take, is by rating the intensity of your depression before and after your participate in a given activity. Use a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 representing the smallest possible feeling of sadness and 10 representing the most intense anguish. Think about or write down the numerical rating of your mood both before and after the activity you choose, in order to see for yourself how what you do actually affects your mood.
If depression persists beyond a few weeks, I urge you to seek professional help.
Depression is not always psychological in nature; and determining what is psychological versus what is medical requires consulting a mental health professional. With your determination, overcoming depression is possible. These steps will help you to move away from the darkness of depression and toward the light within you. That light is always there, just as the sun can always be found under the clouds!
1. Mayo Clinic Staff (2011, October) Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. Retreived October 10, 2012
Michael S. Broder, Ph.D, is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.