Friday, February 28, 2014

Coping With Depression: Three Ways to Get Up When Feeling Down

Although most therapists (me included) tend to diagnose depression when someone complains of loss of energy, low motivation, sadness, feelings of worthlessness, or even worse, hopelessness, the truth is that all of us can relate to these feelings to some degree. Depression seems to be a common human condition. Sometimes it arises in response to a specific life event, such as a job loss or the end of a relationship, while at other times no specific trigger can be identified. Not everyone experiences depression to the same degree or in an extreme way, but at some point in your life you will know what it's like to feel down.

When this feeling of being down is severe, it truly can be deadly. Suicide and depression go hand in hand, making it paramount that we get the right help when needed. In less severe cases where you are not feeling hopeless to this degree, there are many self-help techniques that can be rather powerful and effective. There is no shame in getting support through professional counseling or turning to friends and family to help you get back on track, but you may also want to give the following suggestions a try and see what comes of it.

Pleasurable Events
One of the first things we do when we are feeling down is to give up the things that we used to enjoy doing. I understand that when you are depressed you don't feel like doing these things anymore, but that is exactly why you need to force yourself to do them. Although it sounds too simple to work, there is research that shows the effectiveness of doing just this: requiring yourself to do pleasurable activities every day to improve your mood. Peter M. Lewinsohn, Ph.D., highlighted this idea in his popular book Control Your Depression. I still remember one of my cherished mentors touting the jingle "Four or more pleasurable events a day keeps the blues away." I have witnessed the power of this technique hundreds of times with my own clients, and it's still one of my favorites.

Physical Exercise
When you're depressed, exercise is probably the last thing that you will feel like doing, but this is another powerful method that can be done on a self-help basis. Besides its ability to help bring you out of the blues, physical exercise is known to have many other wonderful effects. In my opinion, exercise is the greatest stress-management tool known to mankind! If you're anything like me, you'll love that exercise is like killing three birds with one stone: you get a boost from depression, feel relief from stress, and improve overall weight and health management. I won't try to tell you that it's easy to exercise when you are feeling so crummy, but it is a method for relief worth trying.

Social Activities
One of the major themes of treating depression is increasing your daily activities. As we get more and more depressed, we often close off to the outside world, including our friends and family. I realize that not all of us are social butterflies, but often the most uplifting moments are the ones we spend with others. To help lift yourself up, it's important to seek out social activities and spend time with people you used to enjoy. You can also experiment by engaging in various social events and recording your enjoyment afterward on a scale of 1 to 10 to see which activities give you the greatest boost. For me it may be spending time playing with my nieces and nephews; for you it may be having coffee with one close friend. Test and find out.

Battling depression is difficult. Not only do you already feel down and completely wiped out both physically and emotionally, but the treatment often requires you to act in direct opposition to your feelings. The good news is that we know what works and there is support for those that choose to get help. Though you may not feel like doing things you once enjoyed, exercising, or spending time with friends or family, these simple activities are all proven in their ability to lift your mood. Give these self-help methods a try or reach out to a therapist for a more complete treatment approach and get the enjoyment back in your life.

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