Everyone feels ‘low,’ ‘down in the dumps,’ ‘blue,’ or like they ‘can’t be bothered’ from time to time. Depression is essentially a more extreme form of this. For example, depression tends to describe when these feelings last for most of the day, over an extended period of time. When depressed, people also find that their motivation is low, their appetite is reduced, their sleeping patterns are disrupted and their concentration and memory are poor. Other typical experiences include feeling irritable, weepy and lonely.
People who are low or depressed normally have a critical way of thinking about:
- I’m boring
- I’m Ugly
- I’m a failure
- No-one likes me
- Everyone is better than me
- Things will never get better
- What’s the point?
People’s behaviour patterns also typically change if they low or depressed. For example, they tend to spend a lot of their time indoors (often in bed) and don’t socialise or do as much as they used to.
What causes depression?
We can feel depressed for a variety of reasons. However often depression can follow difficult experiences (such as a bereavement, being bullied or the end of a relationship). It is normal to feel low during such times and often these feelings pass naturally with time, but unfortunately sometimes they stick around for longer and become problematic. On the other hand, sometimes depression can seem like it comes ‘out of the blue’ for no particular reason at all.
One theory suggests that the way we interpret, or think about things, can lead us to feel depressed. This is because how we think affects our emotions. For example, if you walked past a friend in the town centre and they ignored you, it would be easy to think this was because you’ve upset them, or that they dislike you. Of course having such thoughts would naturally cause you to feel upset and bring you down. On the other hand, if you instead thought; “perhaps they were daydreaming and didn’t notice me,” you would likely feel better about yourself. When we are depressed, we commonly think about situations in an overly negative manner (as described above) and this has a negative impact on our mood.
Another popular theory is that depression can occur because we stop doing many of the things we used to enjoy (such as socialising with friends and participating in our hobbies). This often means we have little to look forward to which can make our lives seem boring and meaningless. Instead when we are depressed we tend to spend most of our time alone or sitting in front of the TV and this can become very unrewarding and unsatisfying.
It has also been shown that depression can have familial ties. For example, if someone in your immediate family has experienced depression, there is an increased chance that you will develop similar feelings. It is therefore thought that our genetic make up plays a role.
In reality it is likely that a combination of all these factors play a role in people becoming depressed or low. However, in some ways it is less important to know what causes depression and more important to know what stops us moving past it.
What Keep Depression going
When people are depressed, they often have a negative way of looking at themselves, the world and their futures. Some believe that people’s tendency to think in this negative fashion is one of the important factors in ensuring their depression continues. It clouds the way they interpret situations and helps ensure they continue to have a negative outlook on life.
Furthermore when people feel depressed or low, they often stop being as active as normal, and spend less time socialising or engaging in their hobbies. This means that they have less pleasure in their lives and little to look forward to on a day to day basis, which too can keep them feeling low. Furthermore, when they are inactive, it normally leads to them feeling even more lethargic, which makes it even more difficult to escape this trap and a vicious cycle occurs.
Similarly, people who are depressed or low, often spend a lot of time lying in bed or sitting around watching TV. Often this leads to people feeling as though they have wasted their day and have achieved very little which makes them feel even worse. It also leaves them with plenty of time to beat themselves up or worry about their problems, which of course also makes them feel worse.
How can i overcome Depression
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that we can use to overcome depression and low moods. These include:
- Learning how to challenge your unhelpful thoughts and see things in a more realistic light.
- Learning strategies that can help you become more active and make good use of your time.
- Improving your problem solving skills.
- Learning ways to help you notice your qualities and achievements.
It can sometimes be more helpful to try out the ideas above one at a time, rather and trying to learn them all at once. However simply take things at your own pace.
Challenging unhelpful thoughts
The way that we think about things has an impact on our mood. Many of these thoughts occur outside of our control, and can be negative or unhelpful. It is therefore important to remember that they are just thoughts, without any real basis, and are not necessarily facts. Even though we may believe a lot of our unhelpful thoughts when we are depressed, it is good to remember that they should be questioned as they are often based on wrong assumptions.
The following section will help you begin to recognise if you are thinking about things in an unhelpful or unrealistic way, and discuss how you can start to make changes to this. By doing so, you can learn to see things in a more realistic light which can help to improve your mood. You might have unhelpful thoughts about all kinds of things. Here are some examples:
- I’m boring
- I’m ugly
- I’m a failure
- No-one likes me
- People are out to get me
- Everyone is better than me
- Life is unfair
- The world is a horrible place
- Things will never get better
- What’s the point of continuing
- I’m destined to fail
It is clear to see how this kind of thinking might bring your mood and confidence levels down. Do you ever think in any of the ways outlined above? Try thinking about a time when your mood changed. Consider what was running through your mind at that time.
Patterns of unhelpful thinking
First you need to be able to recognise an unhelpful thought. Then you can challenge it. Being aware of the common patterns that unhelpful thoughts follow can help you to recognise when you have them. Here are some of the common patterns that our unhelpful thoughts follow:
Predicting the Future:
When we are depressed, it is common for us to spend a lot of time thinking about the future and predicting what could go wrong, rather than just letting things be. In the end most of our predictions don’t happen and we have wasted time and energy being worried and upset about them. For example:
- You have an exam and spend the week before predicting you will fail, despite all your hard work studying and your previous good grades.
This means that you make assumptions about others’ beliefs without having any real evidence to support them. For example:
- My boss thinks I’m stupid.
- People think I’m weird.
Such ways of thinking can soon lower our mood and self-esteem.
People commonly ‘catastrophise’ when they are feeling low, which basically means that they often blow things out of proportion. For example:
- They assume that something that has happened is far worse than it really is (e.g. that their friend is going to dislike them because they cancelled a night out).
- They may think that something terrible is going to happen in the future, when, in reality, there is very little evidence to support it (e.g. I’m going to get into serious trouble for calling in sick).
Taking Things Personally:
When people are feeling low, they often take things to heart. For example:
- Because one of your workmates seem quiet, you assume that it is down to something you said. Instead, in all likelihood, they are probably just having a bad day and will be back to their usual self tomorrow.
People often imagine how they would like things to be or how they ‘should be’ rather than accepting how things really are. For example:
- I should have more friends.
- I should be more confident at parties.
Unfortunately when we do this, we are simply being critical of ourselves which brings us down. Instead it can sometimes help to accept that things can’t always be perfect.
Based on one isolated incident you assume that all others will follow a similar pattern in the future. Basically, you find it hard to see a negative event as a one off which can leave you feeling hopeless. For example:
- After failing your driving test, you assume that you will fail everything else that you try in the future.
What If Statements:
Have you ever wondered “what if” something bad happens? For example:
- What if I go to a party and no-one talks to me?
- What if I make no friends when I start my new job?
This type of thought can often make us avoid going places or doing things that we would like and enjoy which too can contribute to us feeling low.
Black and White Thinking:
Often when feeling low, people see things as either black or white, there is no in between. For example:
- They will only accept an A in maths as good, a B or anything lower is a complete failure.
This too can make people feel as though things are never good enough which can contribute to low mood.
Ignoring the Positives:
Often people can ignore the positive aspects of life or situations, and instead focus on the negative elements. For example:
- You focus on the one person who dislikes you and forget that you have many friends.
This style of thinking stops us feeling good about ourselves and lowers our confidence.
People who are low often label themselves in negative ways. For example:
- I’m no good.
- I’m not worthy.
- I’m a failure.
- I’m boring.
It is easy to see how labelling yourself in such a way would lower your confidence and mood.
Challenges to an unhelpful thought
Now you can challenge your unhelpful thoughts by asking these questions.
Is there any evidence that contradicts this thought?
- We were recently talking about moving in together one day.
- We’ve been getting on really well lately.
Can you identify any of the patterns of unhelpful thinking described earlier?
- I’m catastrophising. Based on their failure to call, I’m jumping to worst possible conclusion.
- I’m also mind reading and ignoring the positives.
What would you say to a friend who had this thought in a similar situation?
- I’d say – they’re probably just busy, stop stressing; they’ll no doubt call soon.
What are the costs and benefits of thinking in this way?
- Costs: It’s really getting me down and I can’t concentrate on anything else. I’m also feeling sick with worry.
- Benefits: I can’t really think of any.
Is there a proactive solution to this unhelpful thought?
- I could give them a quick call to see how they’re getting on.
Is there another way of looking at this situation?
- They’re probably just busy and will call soon
Once you have asked yourself these questions, you should read through your answers. Try to come up with a more balanced or rational view. For example:
I’m sure there’ll be a good explanation as I don’t have any evidence that suggests they’re fed up with me.
Try to apply these questions to the unhelpful thoughts that you notice. It can help to improve your mood. You can use this technique to test your thoughts are realistic and balanced.