Posted on March 25, 2009 by Debra Burdick
Everyone has normal ups and downs in how they feel. Sometimes an episode of feeling down or sad turns into Depression and persists for some time. And sometimes depression is a result of a medical condition. Whether you bounce back quickly from feeling depressed or whether you suffer from chronic or recurrent episodes of Major Depression, use the following suggestions to help yourself feel better.
Tell someone how you feel. I am always amazed at how much better my clients tell me they feel at the end of their first intake session with me. During the first session, I am gathering information about why they have come to see me, the problems they want help with, and their personal history. I have rarely begun to help them but they already feel better just by telling me about their problem. Just telling someone (a friend, partner, family, minister, or a therapist) about something that is bothering you can help you feel better.
Sometimes, you just need to allow yourself to feel down. Trying to ignore your feelings or instantly change them doesn’t always work. Allow yourself to feel the pain, sorrow, anger or sadness. Really feel it. Go ahead and cry it out. And while you do this, nurture yourself. Do something that usually feels good to you. Take a warm bath, go for a walk in nature, cook your favorite comfort food, or write in your journal. You may find you shift into a better place much quicker by allowing yourself to experience the feelings for a while.
If the feelings persist, learn to manage them. Consider whether the intensity of your feelings matches the cause. Think of how bad the problem is on a scale of 1-10 and then look at your emotional response to it. If the problem is a 2, make sure your response is about a 2 as well. For example, you would expect your response to a life threatening emergency (a 10) to be very different from your response to a minor car accident (a 3). If you realize you respond to minor things as if they were major issues, you can work to make your response more appropriate.
Examine your options. There are the extreme options at each end of the spectrum but there are always many intermediate options that people tend to overlook. For example, suppose you are depressed because you hate your home. One extreme is to do nothing while the other extreme is to sell your home and move someplace else. An intermediate option might include identifying what you don’t like about your home. Perhaps you feel cramped for space. Then you could get a professional organizer to help you make better use of the space you have. Or you might consider making a small addition.
Fake it. There is research that supports the idea that if you ‘fake it’, in other words, you pretend you feel a certain way or ‘act as if’ you feel a certain way, that you will gradually actually start to feel that way. So if you feel too sad to go to lunch with a friend, pretend you feel a little happier than you do, and go to lunch anyway. Chances are good you will actually feel better than if you had stayed home absorbed in your sadness.
Start thinking about what you do want instead of what you don’t want, which is probably what you already have. Many of us stay focused on the things in our lives that make us unhappy. Perhaps we don’t like our job, perhaps our health is not what we want it to be. Perhaps our relationships are not satisfying, or perhaps we are in conflict with our teenager.
The theory of cognitive behavioral therapy basically states that we can change how we feel by changing what we think about. If we are constantly focused on the negative aspects of our lives our thoughts will be negative, and we will feel bad. If we can begin to replace some of those negative thoughts with more positive, reality-based thoughts, cognitive behavioral therapy theory teaches us that we will start to feel better. Current brain research is confirming this theory.
Instead of focusing on how your boss discounted your suggestions today, focus on how he praised your work during your review.Instead of thinking about how much your shoulder hurts, notice how comfortable your other shoulder feels. Notice how beautiful the sun is today instead of how cold it is. Instead of focusing on how miserable you feel today, think of something you are grateful for, or find someone who needs your help.
Listen to what you say. Many people tell everyone how bad the situation is, or about a bad thing someone did to them, or how ill they feel. While you are telling someone else how bad you felt about something that already happened, you are feeling just as bad as if it was actually happening to you at the moment. Avoid doing this to yourself. Notice what you talk about and change it to more positive topics. Telling three or four people about something awful that happened to you yesterday prevents you from moving past it to a place where you can feel good.
Exterminate Automatic Negative Thoughts. Daniel Amen, in his wonderful book, Change Your Brain Change Your Life, calls Automatic Negative Thoughts ANTs. He describes different species of ANTs and then describes ways to ‘exterminate’ them. My clients have found these techniques very useful, and most can easily identify the different species of ANTs, that they constantly generate that make them feel bad.
In order to exterminate these ANTs you must replace the automatic negative thought with more positive reality-based thoughts. For example, you may notice you automatically call yourself ‘lazy’ in your inner dialogue. This ANT species is ‘labeling’. Replace it with ‘I like to do things in my own time but I always get the important things done on time’. Doesn’t that feel better?
Reach for a thought that feels better. When you feel depressed, think of something that would feel just a little bit better. For example, you feel down because you are spending yet another weekend alone. Say ‘wouldn’t it be nice if I had someone to talk to?’ Or, ‘I hope I can find a friend to spend some time with next weekend.’ Or, ‘I really do enjoy the freedom of watching whatever movie I choose.’ Reach for a feeling of relief.
Avoid toxic people. Brain research proves that each and every interaction we have with another person can impact our emotions. I’m sure you have noticed there are some people who just seem to bring you down. They may be negative, critical, and maybe even mean. Do your best to surround yourself with more positive people.
Get some exercise. Research repeatedly demonstrates that regular, moderate exercise works as well as anti-depressant medication (measured over a 7 month period). Exercise tends to release endorphins which actually make you feel better. Find something you really enjoy. Think back to what you did as a child. I still love to ride my bicycle. Try walking, running, swimming, rowing, skiing, team sports. Whatever you choose, do it for at least 30 minutes 3-4 times per week. Make it part of your regular routine. Do it with family or a friend for more accountability and fun.
Meditate. Learn to meditate to quiet your busy mind and stop the constant negative inner dialogue for a while. Most meditation techniques focus on the breath and aim to stop the constant flow of thoughts (up to 60,000 per day). Meditate daily. Find inner peace. There are many CD’s available that lead you into a meditative state. Wayne Dyer and Andrew Weil have some excellent CD’s.
Sleep. Poor sleep will definitely impact your mood. First, get enough sleep for your age. Most adults and teens are sleep deprived. Teens need 9 hours and 15 minutes and adults over 25 need 9-9.5 hours per night for optimum function. Go to bed at the same time and wake up the same time each day. Clear your bedroom of distractions like the TV and computer. The bedroom should only be for sleeping (and sex). If your sleep is disturbed by snoring or apnea get a sleep study done. If you have trouble falling asleep, eliminate caffeine from your diet after noon. If you are struggling with hormonal changes or having trouble falling or staying asleep talk to your holistic health practitioner.
Get Professional Help. If depression persists and nothing you try seems to work, then seek help from a psychotherapist. He or she will do an assessment of your symptoms and help you decide what treatment options might be the best for your situation. Often the symptoms of depression are relieved by traditional ‘talk therapy’. Sometimes other options should be considered such as Neurofeedback or anti-depressant medication.
I would love to hear your personal experiences with this topic.