Depression can be a vicious cycle. When circumstances or continual stress cause you to fall into a depressed mood, chances are that the thoughts going through your mind, be they about yourself, other people, or life in general, are anything but uplifting. They’re often more along the lines of “Why bother”, “I can’t handle this”, or “There’s something wrong with me”. Then these beliefs can drag you down further. It can feel as if you’re truly going down the drain, and at such a time it can become increasingly difficult to be your own advocate.
Sometimes depression can be relatively mild, and on other occasions it can be life-threatening. So, it’s extremely important to recognize the warning signs of a major depressive episode, in order to get appropriate treatment. Such symptoms can include:
- Feeling depressed for most of the day, almost every day, as recognized by you or others. You may feel sad or empty or be prone to tears. In the case of childhood or adolescent depression, irritability is common.
- Feeling significantly less interest or pleasure in most activities, most of the time.
- Losing or gaining a significant amount of weight, such as more than 5% of your body weight in a month, or experiencing a large change in appetite (either an increase or decrease).
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much almost every day.
- Moving exceptionally quickly or slowly almost every day.
- Feeling exhausted almost every day.
- Feeling worthless or extremely guilty almost every day.
- Difficulty thinking clearly or in making decisions almost every day.
- Thoughts about death or wanting to hurt yourself.
If you’ve been experiencing a number of the above symptoms, please contact a licensed health professional as soon as possible, as these are not symptoms to be taken lightly.
However, even if you’re suffering from a milder degree of depression, taking some time to recognize and list your positive qualities and abilities can help to boost your spirits. Are you a good friend? Do you offer a listening ear to those who need to talk? Can people depend on you?
Go ahead, write these down and remind yourself of them when the “black dog” (Winston Churchill’s name for his recurrent depression) makes its appearance.
Some additional ways to manage your depression include the following:
- Write in a journal about your thoughts and feelings. It’s important to give a voice to these uncomfortable emotions and perceptions. Even if you’re not sure what to write as you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), just start – you can even begin with, “I don’t know what to say, this is silly”, etc., and eventually your personal truths will surface. Similar to peeling the layers of an onion, you have to start on the outside and work toward the center, uncovering more as you go.
- Speak with someone you trust about what’s weighing on you. It can be comforting to unburden yourself to another person, who can serve as a listening ear or sounding board. Pick such a person wisely, as you’ll be putting yourself in a vulnerable position. Ideally they’ll be able to provide you a safe environment in which you feel accepted and supported.
- Make a list of activities that you used to enjoy. Try to incorporate at least one of these in your life on a regular basis, even if it feels unlikely that these might cheer you up. Remember, depression tends to feed on inertia. The good news is that often once you get the ball rolling, you’ll find yourself in a better mood as a result.
- Listen to music. Often when you’re disconnected from your feelings or are reluctant to experience them fully, hearing a particular song that resonates with you can draw you out emotionally. Music has tremendous healing powers, including the ability to reduce anxiety and depression and regulate blood pressure. In fact, it’s been shown to literally open up the heart, by relaxing and opening up blood vessels. However, do choose music you enjoy, as listening to music that’s distasteful to you can have the opposite effect.
Also, remember that just as the sun is always shining above the clouds, your feelings of sadness or “blahness” will eventually disperse, and you’ll experience happiness and interest in life again. It may involve taking a good look at the issues in your life that are troubling you, which may entail increased discomfort in the short run. In a way, this is similar to surgery. Nobody I know enjoys going under the knife or the recovery period, but when you keep in mind that you’ll ultimately feel better as a result, the process becomes a little easier.