There are many ways we can try to feel better. We can try to improve the way we think. We can try to make more money. Have more stability. Get a better job.
But all of these things, say Cindy Goodman Stulberg and Richard Frey, are red herrings.
“We want to let you in on a little secret,” they write. “Your relationships hold the key to your happiness.”
In their new book, Feeling Better: Beat Depression and Improve Your Relationships with Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Stulberg and Frey offer a step-by-step guide to improve your relationships by setting and achieving goals, articulating feelings, and making constructive decisions, and feel a whole lot better in the process.
“For years, the first line of defense for depression has been pharmaceuticals, but we believe people can be taught the skills to help themselves feel better — no pills required,” write Stulberg and Frey.
Breaking therapy into eight to twelve weeks, the authors ask their readers to work on particular tasks in a particular order.
The first step is to understand depression for what it is. “Sadness is part of being depressed. So is losing interest in things that used to get you jazzed. But there’s also a whole list of symptoms people usually don’t associate with depression: trouble concentrating, indecision, loss of appetite, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and even body aches and pains with no apparent cause,” write Stulberg and Frey.
And while it is common to feel like things won’t change, Stulberg and Frey tell us depression is highly treatable. It is also okay to take time to recover.
They write, “Depression is not a sign of weakness, proof that you’re a bad person, or a form of punishment. You don’t deserve to be depressed. And you didn’t bring it on yourself. No matter how many times your mom tells you to buck up, your buddy tells you to get off your butt, or that little voice inside you says, ‘Suck it up, buttercup,’ it’s not a matter of simply trying harder and — poof — bye-bye depression.”
However, by becoming aware of the signs of depression and the ways in which it affects our communication styles, we can learn to make changes, like temporarily reducing the number of things we are responsible for.
The next step is to investigate our relationships, asking ourselves how we would describe our relationships, what we like about them, what we don’t like, and what we would like to be different about them. Through this process, we can learn to make the changes we need to feel better.
Stulberg and Frey write, “Some relationships are so painful that you don’t want to think about them. Of course, you don’t have to. But if you keep doing what you’ve always done, which is not thinking about the relationship that bothers you, you aren’t going to feel any differently than you do now.”
Naming the way we feel around other people also helps us identify the ways in which relationships affect us. Feelings themselves, however, are neither good nor bad. Stulberg and Frey write, “Don’t judge yourself harshly because you have a moment of insecurity, anxiousness or displeasure. It’s okay to feel hurt, sad and angry.”
Modifying our behavior in spite of our feelings is a lot like performing an experiment. It may feel strange, awkward and uncomfortable. Yet when we ask what we could do differently, we open ourselves to learning a new way to respond that may lead to less discomfort.
Another helpful step is to choose one problem area to work on at a time. The authors write, “When we think we have to do everything at once, we get overwhelmed. And we often give up.”
Stulberg and Frey tell us that there are three types of conflict: the ones we are aware of, the ones below the surface, and the ones where we know the relationship is over but struggle for a long time with how to end it.
By setting smart, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely goals, we can learn to stop, reflect, ask how we are feeling and reach out to those around us for advice — skills that can be used over and over again.
To be happy we need to be flexible. We need to have realistic expectations. We need to be willing to adopt a balanced perspective of life, relationships and ourselves.
Drawing on the powerful interpersonal approach, Feeling Better is a highly accessible, practical guide that makes happiness a goal anyone can reach, regardless of his or her circumstances. Offering quick tips, exercises, weekly goals and encouragement, Stulberg and Frey’s readers will feel as if they are on the journey with them, invested in the process of them feeling better.
Feeling Better: Beat Depression and Improve Your Relationships with Interpersonal Psychotherapy
New World Library, November 2018
Paperback, 304 Pages