Understanding depression means looking at it from all angles — including the positive aspects of it.
Depression affects everyone in different ways. Whether you’re experiencing mild or severe symptoms, it can be helpful to look at this condition from another perspective.
It’s human nature to seek pleasure over pain. However, it’s through life’s setbacks that we can learn and grow. And it’s the low moments that have the opportunity to teach us the most valuable lessons.
The same principle applies to depression. While this mental health condition can leave you feeling hopeless and unmotivated, it can also be a tool for your personal growth.
Here are some ways depression symptoms can help you reconnect to what really matters to you.
Depression can be a time for self-reflection, says Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP, a professor at Santa Clara and Stanford Universities and psychologist in Menlo Park, California.
Ask yourself: “What life changes do I want to make?”
“Depression often gives people the time and desire to reflect more deeply about their lives and life path, providing them an opportunity to make some positive changes in their lives,” Plante adds.
“Hopefully, they’ll find a way to make important changes in their lives that will serve them better over time.”
In the midst of darkness, sometimes there’s a silver lining.
“Someone may make important changes to their life that occurred due to their depression. Perhaps they realized that they were in a bad job or marriage, for example,” says Plante.
“Perhaps their depression led them to psychotherapy, or to reaching out to friends or their community, or revisiting spiritual or religious traditions.”
Depression can be an indicator that something in your life may not be serving you — whether it’s your career, relationship, or lifestyle habits.
“These include exercise, psychotherapy, psychotropic medication, an unsatisfying job or relationship, or perhaps a hobby or vocation,” Plante explains.
You may find that changing the things you find aren’t satisfying you anymore — like getting a new job or trying a new hobby — can help lead to an improvement in symptoms.
Some people who live with depression turn to a creative outlet to express their emotions.
“You often hear that those with artistic talents sometimes create important works of music, poetry, and art during times of depression,” says Plante.
“While depression can lead to negative outcomes, such as suicidal thoughts, it can also be used to make symptoms better, if channeled in a way that’s productive.”
“Getting help for depression can also be a way of learning healthy coping mechanisms when you face difficulties or problems and [can] help you maintain your mental health for the rest of your life,” says Brian Wind, PhD, a clinical psychologist and chief clinical officer at JourneyPure in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Ultimately, it can help you build coping skills.”
While depression looks different for everyone, if you’ve experienced it or know someone who has, then you know how challenging it can be.
“Depression can help a person gain a deeper sense of compassion for others going through similar experiences or who have gone through difficult times in their lives,” Wind explains.
“You may develop a greater sense of empathy for others.”
“Depression can be a motivator that compels someone to look inwards and reevaluate what brings meaning into their lives,” according to Jacquelyn Tenaglia, LMHC, a licensed therapist in Boston, Massachusetts.
“A sense of purpose is fundamental to our well-being.”
What makes you wake up feeling excited and energized? Your purpose.
“We can find purpose and meaning through our relationships and work, a sense of belonging and community, and a spiritual foundation, among other healthy pursuits,” Tenaglia says.
With the help of a licensed therapist, depression can be an invitation to see what areas of your life are in need of nourishment and help you make the necessary changes to create a more meaningful purpose.
In some cases, there’s an underlying physical health issue that may be contributing to your depression.
“Depression can be a manifestation of a physical issue in need of attention, as well, and can be correlated with chemical imbalances, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, brain injuries, and even neurological conditions,” Tenaglia explains.
“Many healthcare professionals evaluate for depression during annual physicals. This can be done formally (through self-reported questionnaires such as the PHQ-9) or informally by asking the patient about their sleep and eating habits, energy levels, interest in activities, and screening for any thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm,” Tenaglia continues.
“Many people find their way to therapy after having a conversation with a healthcare professional about depression symptoms.”
When you’re feeling low for an extended period of time, it can change the way you look at the happy moments in life.
“Often, a person who has experienced the lows of depression may find themselves more deeply appreciative of the ‘highs’ of life,” says Dr. Natalie Christine Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist and mental wellness expert in Boston, Massachusetts.
They make it a priority to savor positive moments and not take happiness or joy for granted.
Depression can give you insight into what’s working in your life and what isn’t.
“In some cases, it can actually help motivate people to prioritize their lives differently and eliminate aspects that aren’t contributing to growth or happiness,” Dattilo explains.
If you or someone you know is living with depression, there are a variety of effective treatment options and tools you can use to help manage your symptoms.
Consider seeking the help of a mental health professional
“Some companies have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers mental health help,” says Wind.
“Mental health professionals are trained in therapies — such as cognitive behavioral therapy — that can help you learn how to process your thoughts and feelings.”
Try to find support with loved ones you trust
When you’re living with a mental health condition, like depression, it’s natural to want to withdraw. But it’s important to stay connected and engaged.
“Join a support group for depression, so you don’t withdraw and isolate socially,” Wind explains. “Maintain a healthy diet and exercise, so you can increase feelings of physical well-being, which can improve your mood.”
Consider intentionally engaging in activities you value or enjoy
“One of the most distressing features of depression is a symptom called anhedonia — which is losing the ability to feel pleasure,” says Dattilo.
If you live with depression, try to engage intentionally in actions you value. This can help you stay connected to what matters, instead of chasing after a “good” feeling.
One of the easiest ways to do this is through humor. This could involve something simple like exchanging funny memes with a friend, watching a funny movie, or going to a comedy club, Dattilo adds.
Regular activation of pleasure centers in the brain can help preserve our ability to feel good and help prevent depression relapses in the future.
Living with depression can be challenging, but some aspects of the condition may have a positive impact on your well-being.
If you have depression and are working with a therapist to help manage your symptoms, you may find other areas of your life that need attention. Taking the skills and lessons you learn may help you cope with issues at work, at home, and in your relationships.