There’s rarely a simple solution when depression sets it. Its not as easy as just finding what will make you happy again. Modifying diet and lifestyle to support the chemistry of both the body and the brain plays a huge part in how we think and feel, however there are 6 distinct ways of thinking that influence how we filter and process our experiences during depression. These ways of thinking perpetuate the mind body feedback loop, that is, the thinking makes us feel depressed, those feelings affects our thinking, which in turn makes us feel depressed. By taking a step back from depression and becoming aware of the thinking patterns we are adopting, without making any self judgement, we can interrupt the loop and create shifts in our mental and emotional state.
1. Permanent to Impermance:
The overwhelming feeling of hopelessness often accompanies depression. There’s often a belief that this will never end. Self talk tends to include words like ‘always’ and “never”. Use of these absolute terms, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: We believe our situation is permanent – we reiterate this out loud and internally – the mind collects evidence to support our belief it will never end… and so the cycle is perpetuated.
There is a Buddhist teaching, that nothing is permanent: Things are changing all the time. The weather, our enviornment and people are all evolving, in fact our world is changing faster than ever as we embrace new technologies and ways of understanding, being and doing. When we notice this universal truth in the seasons, the tidal changes, our monthly cycle, we start to witness things moving and changing all the time. Seeing the world through this belief empowers us to see that the only thing that is permanent is impermance. By observing the cycles and changes, we are reminded that the feelings we are experiencing now will pass and things will change.
“When things go wrong, its my fault.” Mary shared this in a coaching session and went on to express that when her sister didn’t like something, she immediately felt not only responsible, but at fault. She noticed that if someone cancelled at the last minute, she immediately blamed herself, what did she do wrong? How was she to at fault? When receiving feedback from her husband about a meal she prepared, she was unable to separate the feedback which was his opinion with how that reflected on her as an person. Personalising other people’s problems, opinions, feedback, values, preferences, that is making them about you, blurs the boundaries of personal responsibility. Re-establishing clear boundaries around what she was responsible for and what others were responsible for, allowed her to become free of feeling responsibile for things beyond her control.
3. Powerless to Powerful
Depression is a state of giving up. When things reach a point that you believe there is “nothing I can do” to change this, it activates a self-preservation intelligence as a means of facilitating acceptance. The only problem with this intelligence is when the belief – there is nothing I can do about… – is not true. Many people who experience depression simply dont know how to do something about it. Learning how to step into our personal power is like learning any new skill. It can feel uncomfortable and unnatural, however the more we practice, the easier it becomes. Question any taboos that leave you feeling that you don’t have permission to take control. Shift the focus from what you can’t do, to what you can do and start taking action.
Feeling like there is no point relates to losing a sense purpose for what we do. As humans we are make meaning around the things that we do, think and feel and its the quality of the meaning we bring to our actions that gives us a sense of purpose. For example if the meaning I apply to staying home and looking after my kids is that its a tedious and mind numbing waste of my corporate skills, my sense of purpose may feel like I just need to get through each day. However, if the meaning I bring to the role of being a stay at home Mum is to raise the next generation of ethical and well balanced, happy humans, there is a very different vibe to this purpose. Create meaning that’s inspiring and motivating so you have such a strong sense of purpose that it can overcome challenges.
The nature of helpless and hopeless thinking is that it can be pervasive, that is, it applies itself everywhere and to everything. When we recognise this thinking style, we recognise how it perpetuates the sense of sinking deeper into a depressed state because you will see it in every situation.
The key here is catching yourself when hopeless thoughts are at play. Feeling hopeless about being able or unable to do one thing, doesn’t need to apply to the next thing and the next thing. Compartmentalising experiences so you can put down one thinking style and pick up another in different situations develops the ability to “let go” and “move on”, getting some reprieve from never ending hopelessness.
We each have a mix of characteristics which make up our personality type. Everyone has their strengths and blind spots. For example, the perfectionist is a good reformer, creating order and structure however the blind side can be a sense of things never being good enough. The high achiever, focused on getting results and being competitive can excel, thriving on competition. Her blind side however may be over-identifying with her achievements and feeling that if she is not succeeding, she has no value. The care giver, who generously supports others, may feel unwanted, rejected and unappreciated when her efforts to help and nurture are not needed. The creative dreamer is highly sensitive and intuitively connected. Her capacity to experience great depth of emotions, means she may be no stranger to melancholy and a nagging feeling that something is lacking in her life.
Aware of how these qualities exist within ourselves, we can see the thinking of our blinds spots when they’re in play and not get so caught up in the beliefs about who and what we are or are not.
Depression is often perpetuated by ruminating over events that have already taken place and feeling sad or mad about them. In this moment, even though they have past, we recreate them in our mind and create additional layers of thinking to them, for example, you may feel sad about the fact that you were mad. Alternativly, you may be depressed about the future, projecting imagined scenarios in which you will not be happy because you anticipate events and experiences that make you feel inadequeate or disappointed. Then you feel sad about the prophecy you are making, which hasn’t actually happened. Anxiety and fear are born out of these imaginings.
Mindfulness teaches us to be completely present to what is here, now. We are invited to be curious, shedding judgements (which were formed from previous experiences) and enter each moment as if, like a child, we are experiencing it for the first time, open and without expectations. When our attention stays with what is happening now and we are not seduced into the past or future where we have no power to do anything, something magical happens and our state of mind shifts to enjoying being present with what is and letting go of everything else.