Breaking the Cycle of Depression
by Annie Hay
Most of us at some time feel depressed. We feel low, sad, tired, miserable, under the weather, and usually these feelings pass. This low level depression may not interfere too much with our lives other than making things seem joyless and less worthwhile. But sometimes these feelings persist for several weeks. Sometimes they recur, and often they seem to get worse, making life hard to bear, or even seem pointless. Sometimes the feeling of sadness and despair can be overwhelming. It is important to bear in mind, however, that it is possible to change and to feel better. You can break the cycle of depression.
In my counselling and psychotherapy practice, I see people at different stages of depression, displaying various symptoms. Depression can show itself in different ways, sometimes in ways which seem more physical than psychological, e.g. headache, generalised body pain, loss of appetite or exhaustion. This can mean that depression may not be recognised initially, and symptoms get worse before it is diagnosed. I have often heard people say they regret having wasted so much time to depression. It consumed chunks of their lives. Having not recognised it early on, the opportunity to seek early help had been missed.
But it is never too late to take action and look for ways to break out of the hold of depression.
What is Depression?
Depression is an emotional symptom which often takes the form of low mood, negative thinking and loss of interest in people or events. Depressive disorders affect approximately 10% of us at any one time, affecting both men and women.
Some signs of depression are:
- negative thoughts much of the time
- poor eating habits with weight loss or gain
- poor sleep
- feeling empty, numb, lifeless
- feeling tired with no energy
- feeling weepy
- lack of concentration
- poor memory
- feeling bodily aches and pains
- keeping away from people, not wanting to share your feelings
- feeling you are pathetic or helpless
- irritable and impatient
- no longer finding pleasure in things previously enjoyed
- loss of interest in sex
- smoking, drinking or using more drugs than usual
- low self confidence and self-esteem
- self-blame, guilt
If you experience one or two of these, it may be nothing at all to worry about, but if you have several of these symptoms, you may be suffering from depression.
Many of us have a friend or colleague, or are living with someone who is depressed. This can be very hard to deal with, and difficult to know what to do for the best. Sometimes, just being there, asking and listening, can help. Other times, we might support them to take steps to alleviate the symptoms, or to seek the help of a professional.
Causes of Depression:
There is no one cause for depression and often several things occurring together can lead to the onset. Past experience may contribute, and often, incidents in childhood or events which interfere with normal developmental patterns may contribute. Some people seem to be more prone to depression than others. Some have a world view or frame of reference which is quite negative. Sometimes negative thinking patterns can develop. These can contribute to deterioration in mental health. Often life events can trigger the onset of depression. Death of a loved one, children moving away, retirement, redundancy, some other life transition or an injury or illness can signal the start. Often it is not so much the event as much as how we cope with it that causes the depression. Sometimes if we can’t express our feelings and keep them bottled up, they can build, layer upon layer, and may lead to depression.
As with most things, there are different schools of thought about depression, each offering their views. Sometimes it has been considered the result of chemical imbalances in the brain which requires anti-depressant medication. Sometimes the cause of depression is considered to be physical, e.g. in post-natal depression. Having it’s source in physical problems, it is believed that the depressive symptoms can be resolved by addressing the physical issue. Sometimes it is considered to be the result of emotionally generated problems and therefore requires emotional solutions such as counselling or psychotherapy.
Body and mind operate together, one affects the other
It is always worth bearing in mind that some physical issues may underlie emotional symptoms, and that many biochemical factors impact mood. These may include:
- Food intolerance, eg wheat, lactose or gluten
- Hormones which out of balance can contribute to feelings of deression
- Anaemia a condition of low red blood cells where body cells, including the brain receive a reduced supply of oxygen
- Deficiency of Vitamin B needed for brain and nervous system functioning
- Under-active thyroid which can make you feel tired, sluggish and depressed
- Diet, lack of exercise and illnesses such as flu can all contribute to depression
- Low blood sugar level. Balancing the blood sugar is very important. A balanced diet of protein, carbohydrate and fats is best to keep the blood sugar stable.
What you can do to help yourself:
Break the cycle: Depression feeds on itself and can be self-perpetuating. You may experience negative thoughts much of the time. These may seem like the natural way to be and therefore difficult to challenge. But you can challenge them. First you need to recognise them. This is not a walk in the park, it is hard work and needs energy and time. This can be especially difficult because when you are depressed. Energy is just what you don’t have enough of. But you can take an active part and find ways to control that which has controlled you.
Get Active: Activity is good for the mind. 20-30 minutes a day of exercise can stimulate the brain and reduce symptoms of depression. This can include walking, cycling, sports, going to the gym, even housework can help!
Tip – The more you are on your feet, the more you exercise. Take the stairs, walk rather than drive to the local shop. Make sure you are wearing the right shoes. You won’t get moving if your feet aren’t happy.
Occupy your Mind: Look for other things to occupy your mind. What did you like to do when you were younger? Maybe you could reactivate an earlier interest.
Sleep Well: Take some time to disengage and unwind before trying to sleep. Calm down and relax about an hour and a half before you go to bed. Try not to watch anything or think about things which are overly stimulating or worrying. Train yourself to think about positive things last thing at night.
Eat for Mental Health: Make sure you eat foods which provide a balanced diet. Mineral and vitamin deficiencies can affect our emotional well-being and mood. Oily fish, nuts, fruit and brightly coloured vegetables are all good. Be mindful of caffeine and alcohol both of which can destroy vitamins and interfere with sleep.
Look after yourself: As well as reducing negative thinking, you need to increase positive thinking. Think of the things you like, things that boost your energy. Treat yourself, a new haircut, some seriously good chocolate, something that reminds you that you matter. What gives you a sense of achievement? – try to do more of those things.
Share: Share your thoughts and feelings with people who can understand or empathise. Sometimes talking can externalise feelings so you can see them in a different perspective. Speak to people who make you feel good, people whose energy lifts you, not people who sap your energy.
See a Psychotherapist or Counsellor: Psychotherapy focuses on how past events contribute to and affect your current thinking, feelings and behaviour. It helps you understand underlying factors of depression are, what contributes to it, what the triggers are, and what maintains it. As a psychotherapist and Counsellor, my job is to help you to recognise the underlying factors, recognise the symptoms, the patterns, the recurring negative thinking and self-doubt, and to find the best strategies to help you to conquer the debilitating effects of depression.
(Credi: Rido Fotolia)
How to Cure Writer’s Block
Many of us who have experienced Writer’s Block will recognise the feeling of frustration coupled with self-recrimination. The internal nagging voice which says, “Do I have anything of worth to say?” or “Will it be good enough?” stops us in our tracks. The accompanying feeling of anxiety, agitation and self-doubt can be debilitating.
A Personal Journey
Writers block can be agonizing for people who experience it, students, researchers professional and amateur writers alike. However it is has other widespread negative consequences. Speaking from a first hand perspective, there are many things I would like to have expressed but hit a wall instead. I hate to think now of the ideas and projects that have remained stuck, wasted. Instead, I have cleaned the fridge, weeded the garden, rearranged the furniture and all manner of “crucial” tasks which suddenly become much more important. Frustratingly, my procrastinations have been costly. A recent idea for a business development was scuppered by someone with a similar idea, who had not been bogged down by wanting to get the text “just right”.
From a Psychotherapy Perspective:
It is unfortunate that so many people live with these life-limiting problems when they can be quite easily and effectively worked through. From a psychotherapy perspective, different factors may be at play. One such factor is grandiosity where we purposefully exaggerate some aspect of reality, and thought processes where the details required to define the problem are ignored.
Another factor is driver behaviour where the “Be Perfect” driver raises internal demands “to get it right” before risking committing to paper. Failure to be perfect can lead to extreme anxiety.
Procrastination, where we protect against the fear of “not knowing enough yet” by endlessly drawing out the planning process, taking copious notes, and allowing the project to become so out of hand that it never happens, is also often present
Revealing our ideas can be exposing, leading to feelings of shame and a need to hide or escape.
Psychotherapy addresses the feelings of threat and the underlying conflict which have been stirred up at an unconscious level.
How Writer’s Block can be Tackled:
For those of us affected by writer’s block or other forms of creative block, there are several ways we can help ourselves.
- We can give ourselves permission to be imperfect. Perfection is the enemy of creativity.
- We can learn to enjoy the ebb and flow of our activity, enjoying the process, rather than focussing entirely on the end product.
- We can release the tension in our minds by changing focus, exercise, play an instrument, listen to music, make a jigsaw.
- Explore your strengths and your vulnerabilities. Our inner voices are often at the root of creativity. By listening to the creative force of our inner Child, we can experiment with playfulness and pleasure, allowing for mess and chaos. It is important to not always get it all right or to be perfect.
- Start to write again. You will find new energy. Ideas which previously were held back as if in a mist will start to come to the fore. Experiment. Just put something down on paper. While the underlying conflict may be heightened by the prospect of putting ideas on paper, the very act of writing can be cathartic. Writing is really a healing process.
As a psychotherapist and counsellor, I have met many people who get stuck in the process of putting thoughts and ideas onto paper or canvas. Meaningful and relevant work get blocked in their heads, held back by psychological issues. With help this can become unblocked.
Writer’s Block is responsible for the loss of many new ideas and potential developments. The loss of their creative energy is our loss.