By Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC
What is Depression?
Depression is a persistently low mood which includes feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, lack of joy in activities, decreased motivation in addition to changes in sleeping patterns and appetite. See the article Why Am I Depressed for more on the depression checklist. Can depression be cured? This is a common question that I am faced with so I put together a few steps that can help you find the answer.
What to Do About Depression
Treating depression is a three pronged strategy focusing on thoughts, feelings and actions.
Strategy 1: Change Your Thinking
Change your thinking. You’re brain forms entrenched pathways based on those thoughts you engage in repeatedly. As a result, if you are constantly thinking depressed thoughts, your brain becomes better and faster at this pathway. It’s harder to access a wellness plan when your brain is in the habit of thinking negatively. The goal is to form a new thinking habit that is positive, solution focused and driven to a productive purpose. To reverse the negative thinking process, focus on recalling happy memories and proud moments. This is easier said than done. The following techniques can help you to get started.
Use the Broken Record Technique to form a new, happier thought pathway. Write down your positive thoughts, your purpose driven goal statements and recall and repeat them whenever you find yourself thinking low thoughts or find yourself in a low mood. List and honor your strengths. The goal is to increase the frequency in which you are thinking positively. Remember the times you aren’t or weren’t depressed. Write down what is different in these moments. Recall and repeat them often.
Identify and correct distorted thinking patterns which reinforce the negative thought pathway. This includes your self-defeating beliefs. Use the Detective Technique to refute these beliefs. What is the evidence these thoughts are true and what is an alternative explanation for these thoughts. How often are you misinterpreting situations due to a negative lens? If you look at the same situation with positive lenses what alternative thoughts can you identify? Is there another way of looking at the situation? If your best friend was struggling with this same situation, what would you advise them to do?
See “How to Control Anxiety – 10 Tools for Managing Stress” for additional strategies.
Strategy 2: Accept Your Feelings
Accepting all feelings as they happen, even the negative ones will help prevent overreacting to low moods or dissatisfaction. You are less likely to get stuck in a negative feeling state if you accept that “right now, I feel sad, but it will pass.” Feelings are fluid states, consequently feelings ebb and flow. They are inherently not a permanent state. Coming from a place of acceptance prevents you from falling into a negative thought loop while repeating your self-defeating tapes. The more you think about a depressive circumstance or event, the more you will sink into depression.
Strategy 3: Increase Positive Actions
Set measurable goals. The goal to “be happier” seems smart, but it can backfire and add to the depression and feelings of helplessness simply because it is not a well-defined goal. What specific measurable steps can you plan to increase feelings of happiness? Goal creation can be self-defeating if you become overly focused on unattainable goals. Developing smart goals is a skill that once learned will provide a steady direction while propelling you toward a life purpose you define and work toward every day.
Develop an Action Plan. Identify healthy lifestyle choices you can make and track them in a wellness journal. This should include physical activity, social activity, a sleep routine along with a work schedule. Your work schedule includes time for professional activity and work on your personal goal development.
Treating depression without medication can be effective when you consistently engage in a wellness plan which includes assessing environmental factors. This includes lifestyle choices, stressors, sleep routines along with physical activity routines which contribute to low or anxious moods. Practice the strategies for combating negative thinking patterns. Develop realistic, achievable goals which focus on purpose. Build your resources and practice your wellness plan daily.
In conclusion, the road out of depression involves changing how we think, our goals, our relationships, our environments and our physical wellness through sleep, diet, and exercise. Getting over depression requires the daily practice of wellness not just a plan to reduce symptoms. Counseling services provided by a qualified psychotherapist are often necessary to implement these strategies. Most noteworthy, depression can involve serious thoughts of harming oneself and suicide. If you have any of these serious symptoms of depression, contact a mental health professional immediately.