There are a lot of articles on the Internet about overcoming depression. They suggest things such as changing your thinking, changing your mood, and voilà! — changing your life. But overcoming depression is not something you do in the blink of an eye. And no article is going to tell you how you can simply “overcome” depression in a few minutes of reading.
Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects millions of people each year. Sadly, most people who suffer from depression never seek treatment for it, fearing about what others may think of them or not having the courage to face change on their own. There remain a lot of misconceptions about depression treatment, how long effective treatment takes, and whether it’s all worth it.
What this article will cover are common themes in effective depression treatment, and some theories on how you can speed the process of depression recovery.
What is Depression?
Since you’re already reading this article, it’s likely you already suffer from depression or know someone who is, so we’ll keep this brief. Depression is just not the occasional feelings of sadness that we all experience from time to time. Instead, it’s a persistent feeling of overwhelming sadness for at least 2 weeks (and usually much longer). It’s the inability to take pleasure in almost any of life’s activities, and feeling run down or lacking the normal energy you had before depression set in. People with clinical depression also often suffer from problems with sleep and eating — physical symptoms that have been going on for as long as the depression itself. There is also an overwhelming sense of hopelessness for most people who experience depression — like this is not simply ever going to get better. Ever.
It’s no wonder a person with depression can’t see overcoming it. It seems hopeless. You talk negatively all the time, not just about yourself, but about others too. It’s not just the blues — it feels like someone has grayed out the world altogether.
Helping Yourself Overcome Depression
So what can you do about it?
In a very positive book about depression, Dr. Michael Yapko persuasively argues in Depression is Contagious that the cornerstone of the majority of people’s depression today is about relationships — or the lack of healthy, good, close relationships in our life. If we have many, close healthy relationships in our lives, it’s hard to be and stay depressed. (In the book, he also discusses the skills a person can learn to improve existing relationships, and find new healthy ones.)
Relationships just don’t fall into our laps, but when we’re depressed, we may specifically isolate ourselves from our existing and new relationships. This is a symptom of the depression. Relationships can help us pull ourselves out of the deepest throes of depression. Finding ways to build our relationship skills and engage with those around us who love us is one key way to overcome depression.
Our thoughts shape our behaviors, not the other way around. How and what we think directly impact how we behave, and many would argue, how we feel. If we feel depressed, it may be because we are often thinking depressing thoughts. You can’t just stop thinking such thoughts, but you can learn to identify the thoughts as they occur. As you track your thoughts throughout the day, you can also learn ways of evaluating them, and answering them back when they are unhealthy or irrational. This exercise forms the basis of cognitive-behavioral therapy, but the joy of this therapeutic technique in treating depression is that you can learn it all on your own, outside of a therapy relationship.
Skills building isn’t something you can do only with relationships. It’s something you can do with a lot of areas in your life. Such as combatting negative thinking or coping with stressful in more positive ways. Humans don’t come pre-built with these skills in place, and most of us never formally learn how to do these things successfully — such as enhancing our relationships and nurturing our positive emotions. That’s okay, because these things can be easily learned, as long as you open your mind up to the possibilities. Including the need for real change in your life.
Remember that there are a lot of ways you can learn these new skills. You can learn a lot by simply doing Internet searches on specific skills you want to enhance or learn anew, such as building a healthy relationship with a family member or loved one, finding new friends, or how to stop isolating yourself. You can find skills-building exercises in many self-help books written about depression as well. Online support groups offer a third simple and free option for finding and sharing skills with others like yourself.
Of course, some people who suffer from depression seek treatment, usually from their primary care physician or family doctor. That’s a good start, but it should only be the start. Family doctors and primary care physicians aren’t specialists in mental health treatment — psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are. Seek a referral to one immediately, before even starting medication. Why?
Because the choice of medication and dose should be decided by you in conjunction with a doctor specifically trained in psychiatric medication prescribing — psychiatrists. Some doctors and therapists might even recommend against medication as your initial treatment, as it might be more appropriate to start with psychotherapy instead.
Taking Baby Steps
There’s a reason that most therapists suggest taking it slow when trying to treat depression. If you feel good one day, and decide to try and start a new business or make a new friend and you fail, it could be a forceful setback in overcoming depression. Instead, try things out slowly, and experiment with change one step at a time (save the leaps for when you’re feeling fully recovered!).
As you do take steps into the future, trying out new behavior strategies or relationship skills, reward yourself for your successes. We all too often are quick to compliment others for doing something nice, but are loathe to compliment ourselves. Give yourself a compliment and a reward for accomplishing some goal you’ve set for yourself in your depression recovery.
All journeys are not a straight line forward. There will be setbacks in your journey recovering from depression, no matter if you focus on going it alone (e.g., without seeking formal treatment), or even if you are in treatment with an antidepressant or psychotherapy. Take the setbacks in stride, though, and keep them in perspective — it wouldn’t be work if it was simple to recover from depression. Depression recovery is a process that will take time, but as long as you stick with the goal of change, you can overcome depression in due time.
Remember, hope is one of the things that leaves when a person is depressed. But hope can be reignited through small successes along the way, reinvigorating the memory of better times — times that can be just around the corner as you begin to win the battle over depression.