4 Keys to Changing the Cycle of Depression
We often use the word “depression” to describe normal feelings of sadness, frustration, disappointment, and lethargy. However, clinical depression differs in three important ways: it is more intense, lasts longer (two weeks or more), and significantly interferes with day-to-day functioning.
Typically, there is no single cause of depression but rather a variety of factors that vary form person to person, including:
Biological factors such as genetics, hormones, or neurotransmitters (brain chemicals).
Psychological factors such as unhelpful beliefs and patterns of thought (often rooted in early-life experiences), loss/grief, low self-esteem, or stress.
Behavioural factors such as poor sleeping habits (going to bed too late, staying in bed too much), excessive complaining, staying in unhealthy relationships (romantic or otherwise), eating a poor diet, working too much, not exercising, spending too much time in front of the TV or computer, or depriving oneself of calming and energising activities.
Symptoms of depression often include a lack of motivation and energy. As a result, tasks and responsibilities are neglected. It becomes difficult to make decisions or engage in activities you would normally find pleasurable. You may end up seeing yourself and the world around you through a very dark lens. Thinking becomes extremely negative. It can be difficult to find reasons to do anything to help yourself. A vicious cycle is created that can be very difficult to break and that further suppresses your energy and motivation.
Often, depression lifts on its own without any treatment. However there are things you can do to support yourself through depression and/or prevent a relapse.
Here are some suggestions.
Explore activities that reward you with a sense of achievement or pleasure. Keep in mind that, for now, you might not feel as much fulfilment as you normally would. However, remind yourself that, even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are helping yourself by breaking a negative cycle and gradually replacing it with a new, healthier one.
It is important that you don’t isolate yourself. Connect and talk with supportive people. Just being with people you care about and who care about you is good for both your physical and mental health.
Exercise. Research has shown that regular aerobic activity (around 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times per week) can significantly contribute to better mental health.
Be aware of and avoid engaging with negative thoughts. Depression often includes unpleasant thoughts about oneself, others, and the world. However, you are not your thoughts and thoughts are not facts. You may not be able to prevent an unpleasant thought from entering your mind. You can, however, accept that it’s there while not engaging with or becoming consumed by it. Admittedly, this is not easy to do but can be mastered with practice.
For example, you might think to yourself: “I’m a terrible person.” Instead of stating this to yourself as if it were a fact, you can simply note to yourself, “I’m having the thought that I’m a terrible person.” This way, you make it clear to yourself that, regardless of what your thought is about, it is merely an event happening in your mind.
If you are severely depressed, or you find it too difficult to tackle any of these practices on your own, consider consulting with a professional. You may benefit from psychiatric care, or a therapist who can support you through the process of changing the cycle of depression.