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What you believe about the possibility of depression recovery?
What other steps have you tried to improve your low mood and feel a bit better?
You may have taken up more exercise, promising that you’ll go to the gym three times each week after work, only to find that it is just too hard when you’re too exhausted at the end of the day.
You may have thrown out all the processed foods from your fridge, promising to eat healthier, only to find that it’s just too hard to cook nutritious meals when you can’t even decide what to eat.
Maybe you’ve taken up meditation or relaxation exercises to calm your stressed brain, only to find that the rumination, the ‘broken-record player’ of thoughts is turning again and making you feel anything but relaxed.
I want to acknowledge your attempts at depression recovery and to let you know that nobody wants to be depressed.
Nobody would choose to experience chronic despair, sadness and frustration and when your efforts take a nose-dive and you don’t feel much better, that has nothing to do with not wanting to feel better.
This may sound counter-intuitive but I really believe people living with chronic low mood are some of the strongest folks around, because you can manage, just, to get through some of your days despite the negative feelings that drag you down like a boulder.
That takes real inner strength.
You might feel like your inner strength has completely dwindled by the end of the day, if you even woke up with any, but let me reassure you, you have that strength within you.
Perhaps those efforts at depression recovery were not as successful as you’d hoped because you need to build your skills.
Let’s go through them one by one.
Step 1: Believe (or pretend to…) that you can live without overwhelming and chronic low mood.
Did you know the brain doesn’t know the difference between true belief and pretending to believe
It is the determination to believe something that activates the brain’s frontal cortex region, part of the brain which is less active in depression.Have you imagined what your future life may be like after depression recovery? Click To Tweet
Or do you tell yourself, ‘Don’t be stupid. You’ll never have a life like that because you’re …stupid, old, fat, thin, dumb, hopeless, unlovable, crazy, undeserving, pathetic, loser…’ or any other lies?
Imagining your life being brighter, more joyful and more rewarding than it is right now can be helpful when you want things to improve but don’t really believe that they can. Try overriding the negative messages that have been imprinted in your brain by pretending that you’re just looking into the possibility that one day, maybe, you might live a more joyful, satisfying life.
Making 100% statements are often unbelievable. “After living with chronic low mood for 34 years I’m gonna beat it by next Saturday!”
Your mind will tell you it’s not possible and you are likely not to take any sustained action.
But compare that with:
“After living with chronic low mood for 34 years, I’m going to make a decision that I will try to implement one tiny strategy, just for today, (which will help me beat this condition in the long-term), but just for today, I’m going to do this one tiny thing, even if I don’t believe it will work, because maybe, just maybe, it will move me towards a better future”.
Is that more believable and doable?
How will your life be different in your physical health, your living environment, your relationships, your work, your interests and hobbies…as you move towards depression recovery?
Have fun with this! Put on some upbeat music, grab a cup of your favourite hot drink and make a list of the changes you want to see in your life. Find pictures or photos to illustrate these changes.
Don’t censor or stop yourself from writing something down. Dream a little. Go off into a pleasant daydream. Make notes in a beautiful journal you can refer to again and again.
When you visualise something, really implant an image of something in your mind, your brain responds by creating new neural pathways that are built on positivity.
You are not your low mood, even if your depression has made you believe that you cannot live without it. You may begin to believe the lies our negative moods create about ourselves. They become real to us, but they are not. Read more here about looking for evidence.
Think about when you were a child. What were you like? What did you enjoy? Riding a bike, climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek? Were you adventurous? Did you enjoy playing dress-ups? Building things? Reading, dancing, doing little plays? Did you have hobbies? Play with the local sports club? Go camping in the holidays? Photography? Guitar? Go to the library (like me)?
Then, sit down in a comfortable place, free of noise and distraction and have a good long think about the following:
Try to reconnect with the young you. The young you was more in tune with her values, likes and dislikes, her true self than you may be today. What values have been lost in depression?
A good way to do this is after a walk. If you can go for a brisk walk, or a gentle walk, or even do some stretching, your brain releases serotonin and dopamine which helps you feel better and focus on the task.
In the end, what have you got to lose but your chronic sadness
Finally, step 3 is to deal with any negative thoughts or emotions that come up, any resistance to the idea of imagining that you can feel better or that doing these exercises will help.
When we have a certain way of thinking for a long time, the brain creates neural pathways that are used all the time.
Think of a path through the forest. Generally, there is only one path in any one place and all the hikers use it. They use the same path that all the other hikers use. It becomes well worn.
In order to go into another part of the forest you need to create a new path.
When you think in a certain way, that is, have certain negative thoughts that come up over and over, you have created a neural pathway in your brain and it is not serving you well.
You need to create a new neural pathway when you notice these negative thoughts arising.
You need to change the record.
You can switch off negative thoughts by becoming aware of when they arise by using mindfulness techniques, letting them go like leaves flowing down a stream and resuming your activity.
Have a conversation with yourself. It might go a bit like this:
“I can’t do this. What’s the point? My life will never change. What a waste of time….Oh wow! Negative thoughts. I’m having negative thoughts again! How about that? Well, I don’t want or need them right now, so off you go. Sure, come back another day! But I’m not listening to you right now… OK, back to daydreaming. Yes, I’ve always wanted to learn French and visit France one day…how great would that be? I wonder why I put my French language book…?”
The best ways I know for challenging and changing negative thinking is Emotional Freedom Techniques which you can read about here. It’s a physical, but gentle process which can reduce the impact of painful negative thinking in a remarkably short time.
Combine it with mindfulness for a really powerful way to reduce negative thinking habits.
These three actions are designed to be active and enjoyable. Take as much time as you need. Days, even.
To sum up: how to get yourself on your way to making a decision to creating a better, more joyous future is by:
Taking the time to do these steps until you reach a heart-felt ‘Yes, I want to live a depression-free life’ is the crucial first step to making lifestyle and thinking changes.
Most people who struggle with persistent low mood and have struggled with it for a long time, are willing to try anything to make the unbearably painful and distressing experience go away.
Try the exercises above, but there is so much more than just changing the way you think.
If you have found this post useful, I’d be grateful if you would share it. Also, why not leave a comment below and let me know how it has helped you? Thank you for helping start the conversation!
If you'd asked her 15 years ago if she believed life could be a wonderful as it is today, Vickie would have answered, 'I just don't know, but it doesn't seem likely.' Now she knows that if she can turn her life around, it's possible for you too. Ask Vickie how she can help you design the life you'd really love to live and say goodbye to depression forever.