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In my last couple of blog posts I’ve been talking about the link between anxiety and depression, as well as what we can do about dealing with depression. I hope I’m not depressing all of you with my discussion about depression! I’m going to give over one more post to this topic to talk about how depression can become a set of habits, and the need to see that AS a habit that can be challenged and changed.

There is a lot of interesting material these days on the subject of habits. One of the most interesting is how habits get formed in a very old and basic part of our brains – i.e., habits are very basic to our nature and our thinking (especially our unconscious thinking, once they are formed.) Even more interesting is the fact that once they’re formed they are very difficult to change unless you make a deliberate, conscious effort.

Because, apparently, habits are by their nature behavior patterns we develop so we CAN stop thinking about doing them – they are automatic programs that our brain can run so it doesn’t take as much energy to do them. (Yes, it’s true – our brains our lazy. Well, not lazy really –but very concerned about energy conservation. It takes energy to think, in case you haven’t noticed. I’m lifting this information btw from a great book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)

Habits 1

That’s great when the habit is good driving skills or operating a sharp knife when you’re cutting carrots for your salad. That’s not so great when it comes to the bad habits we develop, like eating too many cookies or chronic worrying and the patterns we develop around depression.

Bad Habits

(Does that sound like the start of a nun joke?) Let’s start with the way that depression gets us to sit down and do nothing when we it comes to visit. We don’t FEEL like doing anything. Our bodies feel heavy, the world turns gray and we just want to hide under the covers and from the world. (That’s flight or fight stuff – helping us run away from the stuff that scares us.) It is JUST rewarding enough to begin the formation of a habit, and so the next time depression shows up we are tempted to do it again…

Two bad things from this bad habit: 1) we grind to a stop physically, which isn’t useful when we’re depressed (physical movement and engagement in our world are good counter moves to the game of depression) and 2) we start avoiding our depression rather than turning to sort out what thinking was getting us to depression in the first place.

As I mentioned above, once a habit is formed it tends to drop from our conscious thinking. Once that happens it takes some effort to change that habit. Think about your own habits for a minute. What do you do without thinking? Do you take the same route to work every day? Tend to make the same foods for dinner? It’s easier, right? Do you watch the same TV shows, do the same thing when you exercise, etc.?

Habit 3

It takes conscious thought and effort to first summon a habit to your awareness, then change the pattern of the habit. In the Power of Habit it says that to change a habit we have to disrupt the sequence of that habit – introduce something new to the experience – to change the pattern of that habit. What does that mean for depression?

Depression is, Weirdly Enough, a Habit

Let’s say you’re fighting depression. And it’s been going on for a while. So the morning comes, you wake up, and you feel blue. You just don’t have any motivation. It just seems like a good idea to lie there in your bed, staring at the ceiling, wishing you felt better. You KNOW that just lying here isn’t useful to you, but you just don’t have any energy. What’s the point anyway? Everything is pointless, nothing is going to change, blah blah blah – and on you go, feeding the habit of depression…

And isn’t it remarkable how quick we are to defend our staying bed with a statement that sounds something like “yeah, I know I’m not helping myself, but I don’t FEEL like doing anything” – as if that was a good explanation for why we’re not moving?

As anxiety fighters we don’t need to heap any more guilt in our lives for the things we’re not doing. At the same time we won’t get any place in our fight with this problem if we don’t get very clean with ourselves about what’s going on when we’re battling anxiety and depression.

We have to start seeing depression as a set of habits that we’ve fallen into. We have to understand that those habits started because we were already engaged in a struggle with anxiety, often without being conscious of it, and that anxiety evolved into depression – i.e., we started to believe (again, probably largely unconsciously) that there was nothing we could do about the things we were/are anxious about, so we started to give up. Enter depression.

Habits 4

And from the start of depression we began forming some nasty habits. I’ve already addressed in the two previous blog posts what you can about tackling the thinking behind depression (HERE), which is basically the same thing we do to deal with anxiety. Let’s talk instead about what to do with the habits of depression.

Breaking the Bad Habits

1) See your depression as anxiety convinced nothing can change, and take the steps you would take to combat anxiety. That means engaging the Fear Mastery work outlined in this blog. You have to identify the thinking that makes you anxious in the first place, then get that thinking sorted out from crisis (why you’re anxious) to problem (the way you want and need to address the challenges/issues/fears in your thinking.)

That might mean some real journaling/thinking/digging to sort out. Anxious thinking that turns to depression can be squished pretty hard –after all, it makes us anxious, and eventually we get so reactive we just push it away and bury it. This can take some time, patience and effort to get clear about.

Or it might right there waiting to get your attention! 🙂 Either way, your first focus is identifying that thinking and addressing it. Along with that work you want to do the following:

2) Remember, depression is a HABIT – and disrupting habits is the most effective way of changing them. Don’t confuse the sequence here. Sitting around waiting to FEEL better before you do anything will 99% of the time get you nothing but sitting around. Do, engage, move, challenge. See your depression as a set of habits, reactive habits, and start challenging them.

Habits 6

3) See inertia as your enemy. Resist the temptation to sit in a corner and grieve for all you don’t have or feel you can’t have. I get how sexy and attractive that temptation is when we’re fighting depression. See it AS a temptation. Get up and MOVE. One of your best early counters to the drag of depression is simple physical movement. It isn’t a magic cure – but it can sure as heck HELP.

That might mean just taking a long walk. I know, you don’t FEEL like it. So what? You feel like lying in bed or watching TV all day – which can only feed your depressive thinking and habits, yes? It might be cleaning that bedroom instead of just watching the clothes pile up. That doesn’t mean a long guilt trip! So what if your room is messy? Messes are just ways to get us moving.

Maybe that means getting out of the house, as much as you can at the moment. Hell, just a walk around the block might get the juices flowing. Maybe it means a drive, or a visit to a friend (even if you don’t feel like it) or doing the food shopping.

4) Start focusing outward, away from your obsessive depressed thinking. That doesn’t mean don’t do the work of unpacking your anxious thinking. It means in addition to that work that you look outside yourself. What USED to interest you, even if you don’t find it very exciting right at the moment? What would you LIKE to be doing, in small beginning ways, if you felt less depressed?

You don’t need to develop the cure for cancer or solve world hunger. How about just hitting the library, or listening to music you used to enjoy, or volunteering someplace, or re-engaging that hobby you used to like?

5) Engage your Posse/Peeps/Homies/Crew/Family/Friends more – get them involved in your work to break the habits of depression. This isn’t easy work! It is very hard to get moving in the face of the inertia of our depression and anxious thinking. Get all the help you can get.

Habit 2

That doesn’t mean you need anyone who will put you down or dismiss your struggles. You need allies, not further drags to your energy. And just for the record you’re not OBLIGATED to tell any single person – YOU get to decide who is helpful and who isn’t.

No, enlist the people who love you AND will support you. Tell them you might need to call them in the morning to get moving, or when the sun goes down and everything starts to feel gray, or even in the middle of the night when you’re afraid that living is a pointless activity.

We are a species that needs some community. Each of us has varying amounts of that need – but NONE of us thrive in absolute isolation. None of us. Find support. Don’t sit in the shadows by yourself. 7 billion people currently inhabit the planet – go chat a couple up and start breaking the silence and aloneness.

6) Finally, it is more than legal to seek the help of medication when you’re engaging the fight with depression. Medication won’t by itself break depression for you, but it can be helpful in giving you some energy and breaking some of the fog that depression creates.

That might take some experimenting. Obviously start with your doctor, but you might also be well-served to see a psych or therapist – M.D.’s are not always well-trained in understanding or dealing with depression. When I say experimenting I mean first don’t settle for the first medical or therapeutic professional to cross the road – find someone you can talk to, honestly, and who is willing to LISTEN to you. Crucial to do this.

I also mean by experimenting that you may have to try two or three or four different medications to find your best fit. People react differently to different meds, and you don’t want to dump the baby with the bathwater if the first or second med you try doesn’t seem to work or the side effects are too frustrating or disruptive for you to make work.

In the final analysis, as I’ve said, meds won’t solve your depression. But they might be a tool that can help.

Never Cry Defeat!

Winston Churchill (a guy who had a pretty strong history of wrestling with depression himself) said “Never, never, never, never give up.” He’s right. Depression says “this is a big waste of time. Just sit here. Maybe you’ll feel better later, or maybe you won’t, but it’s pointless to do anything until you do.”

Forgive my language, but bullshit. Sitting won’t help. Taking direct action against the thinking and habits of depression WILL help. Hit me here at the blog if you want someone to talk to about taking specific next steps. You don’t have to stay the prisoner of depression –

Habits 5

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