Feeling down from time to time is a normal phenomenon that most of us experience. But when feelings of sadness, despair, or emptiness linger to the point that they preoccupy you, take the joy out of your life or are interfering with your ability to function, you may be suffering from depression. Coping with depression can sometimes be especially challenging, since when you're depressed, it's often much harder to motivate yourself to do the things you need to do to start feeling better. So you can see how depression -- in this respect -- is a vicious circle. However, it's a battle that can be won by starting with small steps:
Challenge the beliefs that keep you stuck: Many people with feelings of depression hold the belief that "things will never get better" and, if this were the case, "why even try to do something about it?" So as a first step toward changing your mood, simply ask yourself if this is completely true. Is it possible that things might get even slightly better? Think about some of the things you have done to help yourself to feel better in the past? Then start with at least the assumption that you can do it again.
Make your up-to-date "feel-good" list: Although gathering the energy to do the activities you usually enjoy can be particularly difficult when experiencing symptoms of depression, doing things you find pleasurable and upbeat can quickly bring about a change in your mood. 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 a certain song. They can also be bigger, like planning a major vacation, taking a drive to a favorite place where you enjoy spending time, or a fun course you've wanted to take for awhile. Including some physical activities is also a great idea because any way you can get your body moving -- such as exercise -- helps improve your mood.
Let your list grow: In addition to this list of things you enjoy, write down some positive diversions that you may not think to do when you're feeling down, but might really help you if you only remembered to do them. Don't forget to include talking with people who you consider to be sources of comfort and strength, while avoiding people who bring you down as much as possible. In addition, I strongly I encourage my readers to volunteer for philanthropic or charitable endeavors in my book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential, as ways to take a mental vacation and get out of your own drama for a time.
Get moving: Our moods follow our actions. So try to do at least one thing on your list daily, and make it a point to recognize how it's affecting your spirits. Then, act as if you are not depressed. Try this for a few days. Many are amazed at how well this chosen adjustment to your attitude can work!
Track your progress: A good way to measure the effectiveness of your activities when you choose new behavior is by rating the intensity of your depression before and after your participate in a given pursuit. Use a scale from one to 10, with one representing the smallest feeling of sadness and 10 representing the most intense anguish. Just remember to think about or write down the numerical rating of your mood both before and after the activity you choose. This is a great way to monitor how your behavior is affecting your mood.
If depression persists beyond a few weeks, it may be time 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 or medical professional. Short-term therapeutic interventions for depression can also be very effective at helping you to turn things around. Don't put it off any longer. Now is the time to conquer any negative mood that is interfering with the quality of your life!
For more by Michael S. Broder, Ph.D., click here.
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