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My life has not been perfect—nor is anyone’s.
It has come with bouts of hard moments leading to depression. I had to embrace that life is not always what we want it to be. I had to embrace that even though life isn’t easy sometimes, it is still worth it.
I know now that I’m allowed to feel. I’m allowed to think, “This situation is not okay.” I have just learned radical acceptance because when we accept something, only then can we change it. Depression is not my fault. I’m living a happy life, and I know that it is not a weakness if it ever goes on. I’ve learned to surrender and let go, so that I may be in the moment. In fact, what aids me the most is this mantra:
This moment is all there is.
When we focus just on the moment, it helps remove our attention from negative thought patterns and worries. Depression is a sign that something is wrong—maybe an unmet need, a toxic situation, a repressed feeling, or chemical imbalance. The goal is to listen to our feelings; they are messengers.
Depression can be emotional paralysis. It can come in the form of sadness or numbness. We can detect depression when we feel like our emotions are out of our control and that we’re losing touch with reality. The negative self-talk is a weight on our shoulders that we can’t let go of. It is seductive in its whispers, isolating in its taunting, and draining in its relentlessness.
If stuck in a state of depression for more than two weeks, we could consult with a mental health professional.
If not, there are some practical ways to guide oneself through a depressive state:
1. Disrupting Negative Self-Talk
Depression is a devastating state of mind, even where there is some irrationality—for example, when we may not have achieved something, we may twist it into, “I’m not worth anything.” We think we are a failure because we have failed. The truth is, we’re allowed to be human and mess up. Our inner critic will try to tell us otherwise.
The negative self-talk says,”I’m not good enough,” “I don’t deserve this,” “I don’t measure up,” which are all thoughts that may be on repeat due to cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions can be the way our brain copes with crisis or just everyday life. We can have irrational thoughts that adhere to a negativity bias we all have, meaning that we pay more attention to the negative than the positive. The first step is recognizing it. Recognizing that we are having disruptive, negative thoughts about ourselves and life.
Step outside of your mind and become an observer, rather than judging yourself. Write down negative thoughts (such as, “I’m not/can’t”), and next to them, write in “I am/can” statements. This is also positively reframing our situation so we can see the light. With this cognitive behavioral therapy, we can start to turn our mood around.
When we change negative self-talk to “I am” statements, we start to change our perception. Within the depressed mind is fear, and trying to avoid it only makes it stronger. The key to feeling like our self again is by facing the fear head-on and overcoming it.
Step by step, day by day, we must face the things we’re afraid of. Many of them are natural human emotions (feelings of failure or rejection) that overpower us and cause panic. Instead, we should have a plan to overcome these failures or rejections. We are more resilient than we know.
If we find ourselves ruminating and worrying about the same things over and over again, this is called a pattern. Addressing any patterns can help us figure out the causes of our depression. Sometimes, knowing when we are most susceptible can actually strengthen us. That’s because knowledge is power. The more we know ourselves, the more we can figure out our triggers.
2. Crisis Plan
A crisis plan may assist us and our loved ones if we find ourselves spiraling. It’s important to know our support system, our red flags, our triggers, and our coping skills. That way, we recognize the signs and learn that it’s okay to reach out for help.
Disrupting negative self-talk may do a lot, but it may not alleviate all symptoms of depression. This is meant to be a practice that aids it. Try adopting a crisis plan from this template. We need to tell our self how we feel when we are well versus when we are unwell. Use this crisis plan to communicate your needs to a mental health professional.
3. Coping Skills
Here are 99 coping skills from “Your Voice Your Life.” Print them out whether you are experiencing depression or not, and remember to breathe. Breathing calms us down because it lowers our heart rate and activates our vagus nerve, which counteracts our fight-or-flight system and trauma responses.
Try belly breathing by putting your hand on your belly, let your belly rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale. Use breathing to anchor yourself when you are outside your “Window of Tolerance” or ability to tolerate difficult emotions. The bigger the window, the more you can let yourself feel without running or escaping from it or breaking down. The goal of coping skills is to widen your Window of Tolerance so you can find some ease.
You can also try grounding to do this too.
When you’re having trouble focusing because of depression, try grounding yourself. This is a useful tool in psychology: when we are faced with serious trauma or emotional distress, we focus on our senses and name what we see, hear, smell, and so on. It’s a little like playing “I spy.”
For example: “The pen is red,” or “The ceiling is white.” Keep going. Do as many as you can.
It helps to bring us back into the moment. It’s a way of coping by simply recognizing what is in front of us to help calm us down.
Go through your five senses—touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Look around you and become mindful rather than mind full. If you have trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this is also a useful tool. You can ground yourself anywhere.
When we live in the moment, we learn that we don’t have to have all the answers. We just have to simply be here and now and surrender. Grounding leads to breakthroughs. It helps us step outside of our problems and prioritize better. Our perception of what is most important will change.
5. Worry Scheduling
When we can’t redirect our thoughts with positive self-talk, another tool is to create a worry schedule. A worry schedule comes from cognitive behavioral therapy where we challenge thoughts and replace them with more rational ones because worrying is essentially catastrophizing. Schedule a time to worry called a “worry window.” It’s meant to stop us from using all our time worrying, to make the time we do worry purposeful.
It’s not something that comes to mind as a positive or productive tool, but it allows us to take control of worrying by giving it a scheduled outlet. Over time, we will worry less and find more peace with better problem-solving skills. We must face our worries.
Start by becoming mindful of those thoughts. As they come and go, release them, knowing we can come back to them during our scheduled worry time. This allows us to complete tasks with greater focus and ability, or simply just be so we can relax. Staying present in the purpose of worry delay. Right now, we are just in the moment, not our minds. Intruding thoughts have less power and persistence.
Many feel that worrying serves a purpose. They think that by worrying, they are being productive. They feel it is preventative, but anticipatory anxiety stops true planning for problems. Instead, we underestimate ourselves and want to give up before even trying. It’s easy to let that stop us, but we don’t have to any longer. With a worry window, we can let in the light where the darkness resides. The negative thinking patterns don’t have to have the final say. We do.
During the worry time, we may actually listen to our feelings. Feel to heal. We learn to tolerate and examine anxiety and worrisome thoughts. (And it puts things into perspective.) Maybe we’re making that molehill into a mountain. Our worries are not the end of the world. By releasing our worries, we gain control of the situation. Try to set aside 30 minutes a day (or whenever we want) to do this. Journaling is also a great way to release our thoughts and find any patterns.
6. Finding Meaning in the Mess
Sometimes, a lack of meaning can pull someone down into a depression or make symptoms worse. Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, once put it that a person can survive any how if they have a strong enough why.
Sometimes, we are missing our “why.” Why did we start? Why are we doing this? This will lead us to discover ourselves and what we truly want. There is damage done when we ignore this question.
Depression may follow a job loss, lost opportunity, breakup, stress, and more things we perceive as failure. If we can use what has happened to us in some way, we can find benefits from uncovering meaning. Maybe one door closes so another could open. Maybe there is some social ailment we can solve. Maybe there is a person we can help. Maybe there is something we can do to change things.
For Frankl, his meaning became giving others meaning with his philosophy of logotherapy (meaning therapy). He lost his loved ones in the holocaust and suffered over it. But he went on to write a book that helped people. He analyzed what people did to survive that was most effective. From his observations, finding meaning and having a “why” was the most important thing. When asked what his meaning was, he said, “To help others find meaning.”
If we can’t figure out a reason for why we went through something, that’s okay. Things don’t always happen for a reason. But know that we can choose our attitude about it and make the world a better place.
Our “why” can be anything. Helping others is a great way to start, and that can translate into volunteering. We can lose ourselves in what we love. Give back. Find a purpose in our problems.
7. It’s Not Our Fault
Depression can happen to anyone, at any time. It is not a weakness, and we must work to fight the stigma against it. Getting help shouldn’t be deterred by the fear of of someone finding out that we have depression. It can be situational or a chemical imbalance that we might have to treat permanently.
8. If You Think You’re Depressed…
Rate your mood from 1 to 10 each day. Record the peak and pits of your day to discover a pattern. What are you most thinking about during these times?
A good therapist is the highest recommendation, someone who can help you overcome this disability. And a disability it is, but it is one we do not have to face alone.
Shopping for therapists isn’t easy, but give each one a proper chance. We could be surprised. It may not click right away, but once we open up, we might feel more comfortable than we thought. Do the work that needs to be done on your end because no one can help you if you don’t let them.
Be open to getting help, and know it’s not a weakness to be ashamed of—but a strength to embrace. There is hope. It’s good to give ourselves some credit. We’re allowed to have some hard days. We can’t let “toxic positivity” tell us that we have to fake a smile all the time. We must let ourselves feel, have room to grieve and to heal.
When we have self-compassion, we are a force to be reckoned with. We must love ourselves today and see where that leads. Depression is not a matter of worth or willpower. It’s a mental health condition that happens to so many. So, speak up. Our voices matter.
If you are in crisis, the National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255