If I had 30 seconds to explain the key to getting over a bout of depression, I would offer one piece of advice.
Depression can have so many manifestations ranging from mild and fleeting waves of melancholia to severe and debilitating months or years of suffering. With that said, among the many ways to combat depression, a commitment to practicing this one rule can speed up your recovery from any form of depression and catapult you toward happier days.
How do you overcome depressive experiences at a more rapid pace?
When you feel depressed, move toward people as opposed to withdrawing into your own world of social avoidance.
Strive to build a muscle of social approach within your depressive experience.
It will shorten the amount of time you suffer even if being around people seems to make you more depressed! For the best results, keep practicing social approach in between depressive phases.
You don’t have to love your time with your support network. Just allow yourself to be supported. Let your friends give you perspective, test your depressive reality and encourage you to think and behave in ways that pull you, even momentarily, from your depressive reality.
Your success with building a habit of social approach depends on two factors: (1) you how choose to design your time with friends and family, and (2) your willingness to talk about what your going through.
If socializing guarantees that you’ll drink or do drugs excessively, than you’re not going to help your cause. Alcohol and recreational drugs also lengthen the amount of time you will suffer, so try to create social situations that promote thoughtful, peaceful and sober bonding. Getting together with a friend to exercise, engage in a hobby or listen to music is gold in the fight against depression, especially if you agree to hold each other accountable to keep your shared commitment.
The maximum benefit can be gleaned when you’re willing to share what you’re going through. If opening up is hard for you, choose someone who seems less judgmental or who has experience with depression. Sometimes an in-person conversation about what you’re going through can make a dramatic difference in how you feel.
The social approach strategy means that you’ll have to fight the temptation to cancel plans. Everyone loves to cancel plans these days. It’s now become more socially acceptable to ghost your friends, but this is only the formula for unhappiness. Resist the desire to cancel plans if you want to overcome your depression, unless your low mood is extreme...I’m talking a 9 or 10 out of 10. When this happens, push yourself toward in-person support as soon as possible.
You might feel compelled to retreat into your own world of suffering when you’re depressed. This emotional cave certainly has its function when life feels overwhelming or when being around people feels intolerable. After a long and tiring day of pretending to go with the flow of work, school or parenting, I can understand why you’d would want to be left alone to watch your DVR in peace, but in most cases avoiding people will only elongate depression.
An introvert who is naturally inclined to withdraw from people (to stay in his or her comfort zone) might find it less helpful to move toward people when he or she is depressed. I work with a lot of introverts in my private practice and I’ve learned that even introverts with depression can greatly benefit from accessing their support system.
An uptick in social support will probably compel an introverted and depressed person to rapidly withdraw from people at certain points. That’s totally fine as long as people are seen as a source of strength, perspective and comfort in the battle against depression.
In this case, I would recommend a rapid oscillation plan. That is, you withdraw because you need to, but then get yourself in front of people and open up about what you’re going through.
If you have extroverted tendencies, you’ll probably have an easier time practicing social approach during a depressive phase. With that said, no matter how much you enjoy your social circles, depression compels most people to avoid social contact due to a decrease in motivation and energy.
The choice to move toward people and resist the muscle of withdrawal and avoidance can help you in so many ways, such as giving you a place to test your reality which depression tends to distort. Friends or family can offer alternative ways to view your problems, your relationships and your future. Social support also allows you to step outside of your suffering and have a neutral to enjoyable time. Most of all, the people who support you can make you find a tiny seed of hope and an ounce of meaning when depression makes you feel devoid of both.
So many people make the mistake of thinking that they can overcome their depression alone.
Just know that if you choose to avoid people when you’re depressed, you’re asking for a slow, uphill battle. Social avoidance creates a greater disconnect from purpose and hope. It distorts the way you view your relationships.
Your depression feeds off of social avoidance and an over-reliance on messaging as a source of support.
Please note that when I talk about accessing support, I’m not referring to messaging or emailing people more often. Digital communication can be helpful up to a point.
Dr. Gregory Kushnick is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Manhattan’s Chelsea and FiDi neighborhoods. He strives to provide the most actionable tips on the web and in person for relieving emotional distress. He has successfully treated hundreds of people who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, panic, addiction and relationship issues. Dr. Greg has written for several online publications, including Techealthiest, which is a his own unique website dedicated to helping readers find health in technology. His motivational quotes and quick lessons are featured in Voice of Motivation (The Vomo).