What your depression is trying to tell you
By Sean Grover
Depression. What a depressing subject! What an unwelcome guest! Whether it tumbles down on us out of the blue or is triggered by disappointment or loss, it’s surely a miserable experience. And the fact that it revisits us again and again only makes it worse. Where does it come from?
Many folks confuse sadness with depression. Sadness is a natural state, a necessary part of living. Friendships end. Death steals away loved ones. Life provides us with plenty of reasons to feel sad. Feeling sad is appropriate at such times — and indispensable. The need to mourn, to feel sadness, is an essential part of what it means to be human. When we honor sadness, it provides us with essential space for self-reflection. It may compel us to recognize difficult truths or it may inspire us to make different choices.
Memorial services, funerals, commemorative gatherings are all rituals cultures have created for honoring sadness. These are times for remembrance and contemplation. When we share our sadness with others, we forge closer bonds and we develop greater empathy and compassion. In such cases, sadness can even be enjoyed.
Depression, however, offers no solace. It brutally assaults us and promotes despair. This is because depression is not a pure feeling but an effort to ward off a complex mix of unwanted ones. Anger, frustration, irritation, and grief are feelings we tend to find intolerable. They’re unwelcomed in our lives and we don’t want to feel them.
The word depression springs from the verb depress, meaning to press down or keep out of sight. When we’re depressed, we’re engaging in a psychic battle to blot-out these unwanted feelings. Some of the most common psychic defenses against painful feelings are denial (ignoring feelings), projection (transferring feelings onto others), or rationalization (downplaying feelings).
These psychic defenses are helpful and sometimes, even necessary. But when they’re relied on too often, they become exhausting and may cause us to feel worse. The true causes of our depression remain unaddressed; and so it returns again and again.
Hunting Down the Cause of Your Depression
Rather than viewing depression as a monster to flee from, look that monster in the eye; investigate the feelings that you are “depressing” and avoiding. For example, you may say, “I feel depressed today.” The questions that follow should be: What choices am I making to encourage it? What am I ignoring? What issue am I not addressing?
Here’s a list of the most common situations that often trigger depression:
An Unresolved Conflict Is there a problem in one of your relationships? Is there something at work that is unsettling you? Unaddressed conflicts cause chronic psychological stress and are fundamental to many forms of depression.
A Repetition Compulsion Look for a common theme in your depression, one that repeats itself. This is most often a repetition of early experiences in your life. The most common themes I hear in my office include:
I’m always the outsider.
I can’t trust anyone.
Nobody understands me.
Without insight, we get trapped in a repetitive cycle and repeat the same problem over and over again. Find out what that unresolved part of your history is that you keep replaying.
Self-Neglect Burnout and depression go hand in hand. When you neglect yourself, everyone suffers. You’re no fun to be around; you don’t enjoy work or play; and you drag others down with you. Reward yourself, treat yourself, and give yourself the attention and TLC you crave. You’ll be surprise how much better you’ll feel.
Self-Slander Low self-esteem and self-slander are the major driving forces of all forms of depression. These negative internal voices shape your self-image and the way you see yourself and others. You’ll start to see others as better and more appealing than you, even when it’s not even true.
Such toxic affirmations drain your energy and leave you forever dissatisfied. After all, if you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re powerless or unattractive, you eventually will become both.
To loosen the grip of depression, you’ll need to take action — lots of it. Confronting depression is like going into battle. Here’s a list of areas in your life that may need attention:
Exercise: A 30-40 minute-cardio workout three times a week can reduce depression symptoms by 50 to 70%. Walking or running is also a great way to clear your head.
Sleep: Too little or too much sleep can trigger depression symptoms; shoot for a consistent 7-8 hours per night.
Diet: Research has shown a correlation between high sugar/high fat diets and depression. Try to avoid foods that make you feel sluggish as this might bring about negativity.
Creativity: Stimulate your imagination with new experiences; enjoy poetry, art, theater, music, or try to reconnect with talents you’ve neglected.
Psychotherapy: Invest in understanding yourself and breaking self-defeating patterns.
Education: Challenge yourself by acquiring new skills; take classes or attend lectures.
Meditation: Learn to calm your thoughts and relax your mind through chanting, meditation, yoga or other disciplines.
Altruistic Acts: Helping others will get you out of your head and inspire you; look for opportunities to volunteer in your community.
Faith: Consider spiritual matters; explore different philosophies and beliefs.
When depression appears in your life, think of it as a cry for help from your subconscious. Listen to it; find out what it’s trying to tell you. If you’ve been depressed for a long time, anti-depressants can give you the energy to make new choices. However, though medication may make you feel better, the cure to depression is still in your hands. Only when you confront and understand the true cause of your depression, then take action to address it, will you finally be liberated from it. www.seangrover.com