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Guilt is a little-discussed but common symptom of depression. Here’s why you may feel guilty and how to move past that feeling.

Living with depression can bring up thoughts of guilt and shame. Even if you logically know your life looks one way, you still might feel another.

This attempt to justify depression could leave you feeling like you have no reason to be depressed, that others have it worse, or that you don’t have the right to be depressed. For others, depression pushes them to withdraw socially, leading to guilt for not being a good friend.

These thoughts and feelings are common — and they are treatable.

When you take the courageous step toward treating your depression, it can allow you the opportunity to manage any imbalanced emotions, including guilt.

You could feel guilty for many things — from not calling your mom enough, to procrastinating on a project at work, to some mistake you made over a decade ago.

Living with depression could also leave you feeling guilty and second-guessing what you’re going through.

It’s important to remember that having depression isn‘t a choice for you or the other 280 million people worldwide who are living with depression, according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO).

For many people with depression, the level of guilt is disproportionate to the situation. For example, you may feel massive or long-term guilt over minor events.

Guilt about depression can also arise for many reasons. For example, guilt sometimes comes up when you can’t fix something. Therefore, if you’re struggling with your depression, it could lead you to feel guilty because you’re not solving it “fast enough.“

Comparing yourself with others may also spark guilt. Of course, you never truly know what another person is going through, and someone else’s experience does not dampen your own.

Common challenges in depression, like focusing at work or maintaining a social life, might also lead to guilt for not performing at your usual level.

A guilt complex, or the persistent guilt you feel over something you believe you caused, may be at play. Needless to say, you did not cause your depression.

Feeling guilty is a common symptom of depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Consistent feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt is one of the criteria to diagnose depression.

A 2013 literature review shows that major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with elevated levels of self-blaming emotions, like guilt or shame. In older children, excessive or inappropriate guilt is an indicator of depression.

By reviewing brain scans, researchers in 2012 found that people with a history of depression had weaker connections between the brain regions associated with guilt and knowledge of appropriate social behavior when compared with people who’d never been depressed. This can lead to exaggerated feelings of guilt and being more prone to guilt.

While guilt often goes hand-in-hand with shame, it’s slightly different. Guilt is when you feel remorse for something you did, while shame is when you feel like a bad person.

While depression and guilt are linked, that doesn’t mean guilt is a cause of depression. If you feel guilty over how you’re feeling or how you’re managing your feelings, it’s essential to try to break the cycle of negative thoughts and find a solution that works for you.

If you’re living with depression, guilt can manipulate your thoughts, feelings, and mood. While guilt can be a stubborn symptom, it can be minimized and managed with various tools.

1. Practice self-kindness

When you’re feeling guilty over having depression, you probably aren’t being very nice to yourself at that moment.

Consider trying to counter your feelings of self-doubt or blame by practicing self-kindness. Practicing self-kindness could look like:

It could even be as simple as drinking a glass of water or smiling at yourself in the mirror. A small act of kindness can go a long way.

2. Move your body

Movement can do wonders to help you regain control over your emotions and think more clearly. Physical activity like taking a walk, riding a bike, or exercising can lower your cortisol levels and increase your endorphins.

Many studies have shown that practicing yoga as a complementary treatment could reduce depressive symptoms. You could even try joyful movement practices like dance therapy.

Consider taking your movement outside. A 2019 review shows that being in nature is a wonderful tool for alleviating depression.

3. Journal your feelings

Why do you feel guilty about living with depression? If the weight of this question feels daunting, or you feel like you’ve asked yourself this more times than you can count, it may feel good to release your thoughts about your guilt onto paper.

Guilt can feel complex, and journaling is one way to understand it a little easier. Plus, journaling is a great way to reframe your thoughts.

If you’re unsure where to begin, here are three prompts to try:

  • Why do I feel guilty?
  • What if the opposite were true?
  • What would someone who loves me tell me about my guilt?

4. Press pause

When you feel guilty, it can be natural for thoughts to spiral downward. When this happens, you don’t always have the time to take out your journal or go for a run. When you need a quick reset, consider creating a meaningful pause.

The most critical part of this exercise is noticing when you start to engage in guilty or shaming thoughts. From there, you can give yourself a few minutes to be still.

A 2015 literature review shows that meditation is an effective way to lessen depressive symptoms, and there are even guided meditations specific to dealing with guilt. You could also create a pause with breathing exercises.

5. Talk with someone

Contrary to what your guilt might be telling you, you are not alone, and you also do not have to figure this out on your own.

If your guilt is persistent and you can’t seem to shake it or make sense of it, then you could consider talking about it with someone you trust or with a certified mental health professional.

A close friend or family member could provide you with a different perspective, and a therapist could help you unravel the root of your guilt and build coping strategies.

If you’re interested in therapy but unsure where to turn, you can find help here.

Guilt can come from many sources and affect everyone differently. The key is being patient with yourself and remembering that your experience is valid, no matter what path you’re on.

Depression is not your fault, and you deserve to have access to the tools and support that can help you manage depression and guilt.

The next time you feel yourself feeling guilty for living with depression, you can try taking a moment for yourself. Consider turning to your toolbox of coping methods. There are brighter, guilt-free days ahead.