Contrary to popular belief, depression doesn’t need a trigger. I had a perfectly normal, storybook childhood. I have had your basic chick-flick type relationships. I’ve never really been through a traumatic experience. Yes, I have experienced loss, but that is a necessary part of life. This is the most frustrating part, there is no logical explanation for my depression. In my case it’s just there.
I think of it as a monster living inside my head. Sometimes it’s asleep, but it’s always there. The worst part is, it’s self-sufficient. It feeds itself with negative thoughts which causes me to doubt myself and my abilities. That feeds the monster even more and it just cycles like that, getting bigger and bigger and more out of control. This makes me want to hide from the world. Stick my head under the covers and hope that I disappear. This only makes the monster even stronger. How am I supposed to fight back?
I have to get out of my head. I have to change gears. I usually don’t have the motivation or energy, but I know it’s the only way to shut the monster up. I’ve learned that it is important to acknowledge how you feel and not avoid it or repress it. It is easier to use maladaptive strategies like sleep, drugs, alcohol or self-harm. These strategies relieve or distract you from your pain quickly, so they are often favourable, but they just end up causing more problems in the end.
What are some healthy strategies to deal with the monster in your head?
Exercise. It’s true. The hardest part is getting yourself to do it. Once you’ve gotten in to it for 5-10 minutes, the endorphins in your body take over. Cardio is usually the best form of exercise for depression because it gets the feel-good chemicals flowing the most quickly. If you don’t have enough energy for serious cardio, take a walk. You’ll get fresh air, new scenery, and it still raises your heart rate a bit. A healthy dose of vitamin D never hurt depression either.
Talk. I’m not very good at this one, but some people are. Talk to some you trust, who wont judge you. If you are alone, you can write your feelings down, or use social media to vent. I know some people get upset when people post negativity on blogs, facebook or twitter, but if that’s how you need to express yourself, so be it. I’d rather have your negative comments pop up in my twitter feed than have you harm yourself.
Meditate. It’s great if you are able to do it. If not, there are forms of moving meditation like juggling and martial arts. If you are religious, there’s prayer. Deep breathing and visualizing a calm place can work too. Focusing on rhythmic breathing or repetitive movement requires a great deal of attention, enough to move your brain away from the negative thoughts.
Engage. Be around people. Conversation and activity with other people can prevent you from over-thinking. You are also less likely to use one of the maladaptive strategies I mentioned earlier when you are around people.
Watch a movie or read a book. Focusing on the story line can often turn your thoughts. Reading involves scanning eye movements. Research has shown that these movements have a calming effect on the brain and reduce the effects of negative thoughts. Didn’t know that did you? It’s a new type of psychotherapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Originally it was used to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome, but it’s now being adapted for depression.