Depression is a heavy word. It’s easy to trivialize just how debilitating it can be for someone. Depression is a clinical condition, and I don’t mean to offend those who face dark thought-loops that can end in disaster.
But everyone feels some level of depression. It might not be maxed out at 10, but each one of us has a range. Some days we’re happy, and other days we’re a bit dejected and despondent. On those days, I think it’s fair to say that we’re depressed. Or at least having a depressing day, if nothing else.
It’s normal. In fact, not feeling depressed from time to time is extremely abnormal. So, if you’ve ever felt depressed in life, rejoice, because you’re a human and these things happen.
But it’s important to become aware of the fact that you’ll face down days. Times when you feel as if nothing’s going (or ever will go) right. Moments when you lose your sense of direction and wonder about the point of it all.
And if you know you’ll have these days, that they’re normal, the next logical step is to figure out what makes you depressed, and preemptively deal with it so your depressing days are farther and fewer between.
We can’t stop depression from happening. But, if we’re intentional about it, we can learn to control it, rather than letting it control us.
A Look at What Stops Depression
Before we discuss what causes depression, let’s work our way back and start with what stops depression.
According to WebMD, people can pull themselves out of their depression using the following advice:
- Get in a Routine
- Set Goals
- Eat Healthy
- Get Adequate Sleep
- Take on More Responsibility
- Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
- Try Some OTC Supplements
- Do Something New
- Try to Have Fun
Lol at that last one, right? If you’re depressed, how can you have fun? More importantly, if you’re depressed, how can you do any of these things? Depression makes you want to curl up in a ball and keep the shades drawn ’til well past noon.
Funny enough, but the very 10 things that pull you out of a depressing day or episode of depression, are the very things that caused you to become depressed in the first place.
When you’re feeling depressed, it’s usually because your life isn’t firing on all cylinders. In effect, you’re omitting one – or more – of the above ten from your life. This, of course, causes you to feel depressed, which makes it harder to commit to the list of 10, which makes you more depressed, and so on and so forth.
Do you overeat when you’re feeling down? Me too. It’s a great example of the cycle. You start feeling down in the dumps, so you stay up late and binge on some ice cream. You wake up the next day tired and lethargic, which gets you out of your routine, which makes it harder to achieve your goals, which makes you want to eat more, which causes you to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.
Depression is like groundhog day. Before long you forget what a healthy life even looks like. You feel as if this state of depression is normal, and so it subsists.
And it is normal, but sustained levels of depression can be avoided. All you have to do is head yourself off at the pass.
You’re Causing Your Own Depression
Let’s do a test. Think about the last time you felt depressed. What caused it? What happened after?
I’ll let you think for a second…
Chances are that there was an acute event that made you feel depressed initially. Maybe you got fired. Maybe you broke up with someone special. Maybe someone close to you became ill.
From there, it became harder and harder to live a productive and fulfilling life. Which basically means that it was hard to slog through your negative emotions and focus on the list of 10, above.
Because when you’re firing on all cylinders, you’re doing each of the ten. The feeling you get when you have maximum momentum and absolute joy comes from nailing each one. Conversely, the feeling of depression comes from the anguish felt by overlooking each of the ten.
Think back to that depressing moment again (sorry, don’t mean to open old wounds, but it’s important). Chances are that you became unable – or unwilling – to focus on maximizing the list of ten. You got out of your routine, which caused you to stop going to the gym, which caused you to eat unhealthy, which caused you to sleep worse, which caused you to repeat the cycle.
Depression is a cycle. The only way to get out of it is to break the cycle, even if it feels impossible or futile. Because when you’re depressed, most things feel as if they don’t matter. It’s up to you to break through.
An Anecdote of my Own Depression
I’m neurotic. Ask any of my friends and they’ll verify. I worry about stuff that rarely ever actually happens (sound familiar?).
Sometimes the crushing dread I feel about the future causes me to become depressed.
When this happens, the first thing I do is abandon my routine. “What’s the point?” I ask.
Part of my routine is going to the gym, so of course, I throw that out of the window. Which causes me to lose focus on healthy eating. This, of course, affects my sleep patterns, causing me to wake up completely unmotivated. This will happen for a few days until I realize that I haven’t made any progression toward my goals.
This depresses me further so that when a buddy calls me to hang, I graciously decline. I’d much rather eat pasta and watch rom-coms, thank you very much. From there, my negative thought loops take hold and I become amazed at the fact that I ever had friends, seeing as I suck and I’m a loser.
Press the repeat button and you’ve basically seen a two-week episode of my depression.
What I hope you see, however, is this: Depression comes first from the abandonment of your routine. Once you get out of your daily set of activities, all is lost. You become depressed, making it harder to jump back into your routine.
A nasty cycle, I know. But still, you have the power. You’ve always had the power.
Before you feel depressed, focus on maximizing each of the ten above. Place increased focus on your routine. Get in the daily habit of being generally awesome. Be the person today that you want to be in the future.
And then, eventually, you’ll face a bout of depression. When this happens, take stock of your life and see which of the ten you’re not doing. Start at square one with your routine. Force yourself back into it, even if it seems stupid and pointless. Over time, the simple act of acting like you aren’t depressed will cause you to actually not be depressed.
And why preemptively focus on the ten if you’re going to get depressed anyway? Well, if you do, you guarantee that your episodes of depression happen with less frequency and duration.