Depression is something that so many of us experience, and something that so many of us struggle against. How do we help ourselves through self-help methods?
Depression can last quite a long time, crippling a person’s ability to live their life. If you’re suffering from depression, you’re not alone – it is the most common mental health difficulty in the world for both men and women.
Depression is not simply a matter of feeling sad. We all have “normal” periods of feeling sad, or low, and most of the time these will pass after a few days. Actual depression is often consistent with other significant symptoms, including these:
- Negative thoughts
- Self-loathing and/or a lack of self-esteem
- Sleep disturbance
- Appetite disturbance
- Lack of energy
- Lack of motivation
The Depression Cycle
Our thoughts produce feelings, and our feelings dictate the behaviors we choose to engage in. Depression causes negative, automatic thoughts to be fired off at a near constant rate. These thoughts contribute to an increase in depressive feelings, which in turn leads to negative behavior choices.
This, of course, feeds back into this vicious cycle and increases the negative intensity of thoughts, feelings, and the resulting behavior. It’s a hard cycle to break, but these 5 self-help tips could be a way out of this.
1. Cultivate Self-Acceptance
When people feel depressed, they often set high, unrealistic expectations for themselves, striving for perfection. Trying to be perfect means you are putting yourself under constant pressure, and will constantly be criticizing yourself, which will make you feel bad and believe less in yourself. This will lead to a lack of motivation, which will make things seem unachievable and can lead to feelings of failure.
In depression, this cycle can go round and round, keeping you locked in a negative and exhausting pattern. Accepting that making mistakes is an important part of building confidence, resilience, and self-compassion can be helpful.
For the first of the self-help methods, spend some time thinking about people you know and admire; do they make mistakes? Do you think less of them for their mistakes, or do you accept them as they are?
Now, try to apply the same acceptance to yourself. Understanding that we all make mistakes can free us from the struggle of trying to be perfect and mistake-free, which will always make us feel more depressed.
2. Manage Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts are a frequent occurrence in depression. They cause you persistent pain, and you can feel as if you are being bullied by them. We often believe what our negative thoughts tell us, especially when we are feeling depressed and hopeless. Not only that, but we might join in with them and beat ourselves up more.
Try to remind yourself that thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are simply our ideas, opinions, or judgments that we are making because of how we are feeling, and that when we have felt differently, we haven’t drawn the same conclusions. You have the choice to consider an alternative perspective to the one you are being told by your negative thoughts, and I highly recommend trying this.
For example, if your negative thought is telling you that you are failure, examine that thought by looking at reality. Do you have any achievements or accomplishments? Are you right to believe the negative thought you are having, or does your evidence show that you need to reword it to something more reflective of your actual reality?
3. Try a Visualization Exercise
Visualization is a self-help method where we imagine certain images, scenes, and pictures in our minds that help us unwind and relax. Visualizing helps move our mind away from depression, so we are not giving negative thoughts as much attention, which can obviously make them grow.
You can visualize using all of your senses. Choose a scene, place, or memory that you find comforting. For many people this is a special holiday or a childhood memory. Once you’ve pictured this place in your mind, use each of your senses to go into as much detail as you can about what you see, as if you were there again.
Start by looking all around. Turn yourself around slowly, walking around, noting in detail everything you see. What sounds can you hear? What smells do you notice? Find something to touch; what is it and what does it feel like?
4. Process Your Emotions
Depression brings with it lots of complicated emotions and reactions. Our natural tendency is to avoid facing up to these awful feelings. After all, who wants to think more closely about the things that are making them feel bad? However, you can’t process or gain control over your emotions without paying closer attention to them. Try dealing with your emotional pain using these techniques.
Accept Your Emotions
Accept the emotions you are experiencing, and know that they are there for a reason. Allow them to be present so you can work with them. Remind yourself that discomfort is a normal part of life for everyone, and it is not dangerous, though it might feel unpleasant.
Label the Emotions
One of the great self-help methods you can practice is to identify and label the emotion you are experiencing by saying “I am angry,” “I am overwhelmed,” “I am very anxious,” etc. Then, identify what has caused that emotion. Giving it a name helps us distance ourselves from it, allowing us to realize it is separate from who we are.
Remember That Emotions Are Temporary
Recognize that the emotions you have right now are temporary. Emotions arise and fade, which can be hard to remember when they are very intense.
Ask yourself “What do I really need right now?” “What does this emotion want/need to help it?” “What can I do to nurture it/myself?”
What would be a compassionate response, and what would be self-critical response from me; which one will help me work through this best?
Let Go of Control
We don’t need to control our emotions. Instead, try to be compassionate to what they are telling you. Observe what is happening and be mindful of your experience by giving yourself what you need instead of punishing yourself further.
5. Tackle Avoidance
Depression can cause negative avoidance. This includes withdrawing from society, ignoring the phone, ignoring family and friends, avoiding your emotions, oversleeping or hiding in bed, refusing to engage in chores or tasks that might challenge you, etc.
These behaviours lead to consequences – you avoid seeing others because you’re ashamed of your presentation or because you can sense their frustration, you grow more annoyed with yourself. You get caught up in a vortex of trying to escape shame or feelings of being a failure. As a result, depression deepens, and the downward spiral continues.
Try to tackle the negative behaviours you’ve retreated into with self-help methods. Set yourself small goals that you can build on day by day, like committing to sending one email, or making one phone call. Then, the next day commit to one more thing.
Start to plan out small but achievable steps that you can take to help lessen the avoidance. Don’t try to do everything at once. Go slowly, and make it easy for yourself – schedule goals you can manage for the short term. It’s not a race; you are trying to gradually move yourself away from avoidance.
6. Get out in Nature
When people are feeling depressed, they retreat inside themselves, and often indoors, too. Ask yourself how much time you have spent in nature lately. When was the last time you went outdoors for your mental health and wellbeing, rather than just to complete tasks?
Being outdoors has huge mental health benefits and is a great self-help method for depression. Research shows that spending 120 minutes a week outdoors can really help us feel better mentally. This doesn’t have to be all at once.
You can go out a few times a week, or even every day for a short periods of time. Try walking around the park, taking a photography walk, or heading over to an open field to watch a sunset.
The Bottom Line
Depression is powerful, but once you begin to practice some self-help methods, it will get easier to bear. Pair these methods with professional therapy and you will be well on your way to overcoming this disease once and for all.