Empowering Yourself with Depression

Why skills work better than pills

Kayla Douglas
Dec 19, 2019 · 7 min read
Photo by pawel szvmanski on Unsplash

Popping that first anti-depressant when I was around 14 years old caused mixed emotions. A part of me expected it to be like a switch that flipped and made me feel deliriously happy. Another part was wary of all the side effects the doctor had warned could make my sleeping condition worsen. On top of that had been the discussion about how it would likely take a long time to find the right dosage and balance things out.

There is nothing wrong with taking medication for depression. I’ve done it before, and it helped me for a while. However, since most of us don’t like the idea of taking medication to manage our moods forever, it's good to also have some tools that can move us out of a depressed state. So let’s talk about depression.

Who gets depressed?

Anyone who has moods can become depressed. Depression is simply a mood disorder. This may sound bleak knowing that literally everyone is vulnerable to depression, but it also means we can all learn some skills to fight back.

What medication can’t do

While medication may be useful for getting you into a state where you can take action, it cannot take the action for you. No amount of medicine will teach you effective coping skills. There is no pill for teaching you to build and maintain positive relationships. Relationships are important for happiness so that alone shows us that no pill is going to make us happy.

Medication cannot teach us new cognitive skills or realistic thinking. While it may regulate our moods, it doesn’t control our thoughts. If you have ever tried to meditate, you know how difficult it is to prevent thoughts from popping into your head. Since we can’t prevent the thoughts, it’s important that we learn the cognitive skills to deal with them once they appear. Because we know they will appear.

Medication that is not accompanied by action will not change our lives for the better. Expecting it to do so may just set us up for disappointment.

Self-regulation

Managing your moods or self-regulation is easier for some people than for others. Just like cooking, or running, or swimming is more natural for some people, it doesn’t mean those of us it doesn’t come naturally can’t do it, or shouldn’t try.

I was not a natural self-regulator. In my natural state, I was depressed. I stayed in that state for so many years because I didn’t know how to regulate my moods or what to do with emotions. Here are some things I was doing that I had to learn to stop:

Dwelling on the past
Comparing myself to others
Catastrophizing
Leaving important things unsaid
Analyzing things too deeply and getting stuck in them
Ignoring my own needs
Being passive
Isolating

How to tackle this

This looks like a lot of things to stop doing, right? It didn’t happen overnight. Just like you don’t exercise once and ‘complete’ the exercise thing, managing your moods is an ongoing process that you have to work on every single day. So here are some things I do to address the problems above.

Regulate my reactions to emotions
Challenge my thoughts by asking, “How do I know?”

Learn to Relax!
Practice
gratitude
Do fun things and do them often
Get connected to a community and stay plugged in
Be goal-oriented in important areas
Be realistic
Prioritize and problem solve
Get help when you need it!

Some of these may sound really basic and others may sound too complex to even get started. It’s important to know how to break things down. If I asked you to explain to an alien who has never experienced a shower, “How do you take a shower?” What are the steps you would tell them?

Breaking it down even more

If you can break down every step, starting with locating a bathroom with a shower, turning on the light, closing the door, taking off your shoes, socks, pants, and so on, then you will be able to break down the steps you need to do this.

It’s important not to leave anything out. Imagine you forgot the step where you turn on the light, that will leave the alien fumbling around in the dark causing a lot more stress and frustration than necessary. Don’t do that to yourself. Break down the steps until it’s so simple it’s a no-brainer to do it.

For example, “Learn to relax,” sounds very vague. Define what that means for you, and make it a habit. Research what relaxation looks like, or do something you know works for you. Break it down into as many steps as you need to make it happen. Whether that means taking a meditation course or seeing your therapist to vent, there are steps involved. Write them all out, even the most menial.

Adding to the toolbox

Each skill you acquire adds a tool to your box for when you experience undesirable moods. Once you learn how to relax, you can pull out that tool on a stressful day and avoid plummeting into a hole. Once you learn to challenge your own thoughts, for example…

“I’m worthless…. wait… How do I know I’m worthless? Who said it? What did they really mean? What actually happened? What is true about that? Did I fail or did I learn something new? Ah, actually what happened is, I took a big risk. It was partially successful and partially a failure, but I know how I’ll do it differently next time. So I’m not worthless, I’m imperfect. Everyone’s imperfect.”

This goes on in my head on a regular basis, and it may seem silly but it's a whole lot less silly than just taking in the “I’m worthless” and believing it. We cannot trust every thought we have. Just like we can’t trust every feeling we have.

Do what you don’t feel like doing

When you have depression, you know you aren’t going to feel motivated. You know that there are things you should do, that you just don’t want to do when you are depressed. Maybe you don’t want to do them when you are NOT depressed but you do. That’s good practice. You have to get comfortable doing things you don’t FEEL LIKE doing.

We can’t trust our feelings. If I only did what I felt like doing, I would never take a shower or brush my teeth. I do those things because I feel gross when I don’t do them. The same goes for the things that prevent depression. If you need to exercise to not get depressed, exercise even when you don’t feel like it. If you need to dance or paint or sing to prevent depression, do it even when you don’t feel like it. You have to know how to do things you don’t feel like doing.

If there is some way to make the things you need to do fun, do that! If you hate the treadmill but love Zumba, by all means, choose the Zumba class! For me, swimming is my favorite movement activity. But I don’t always have the motivation to put on my swimsuit and go to the pool knowing that I’ll also have to take a shower after, wash my hair, and do all of this “extra” work. If I’m meeting a friend, I can combine something fun and social with the exercise I know I need.

Empowering yourself

Once you have mastered some of these skills, it gets easier to keep going down the list. The more empowered you feel, the less likely those feelings of depression are going to creep in. But when they do show up, pull out your toolbox.

If you find yourself sitting in the depression and not taking action against it, ask yourself why? What purpose is depression serving in your life? Do you only take time for yourself when you are depressed? Are you self sabotaging? Look within and find out why you are allowing yourself to feel bad.

If you need help examining these feelings, look for a coach, hypnotherapist, or therapist that is willing to help you prioritize moving forward and finding your own path out of the hole of depression. I would suggest avoiding therapists that focus on your past or traumatic events. Learning how to accept those things and move past them is useful. Blaming events that you cannot change on your current state doesn’t give you any power.

Avoiding depression is all about being empowered and having the tools you need to fight back. It’s a journey that we are all on for life. Once you learn about the tools you have to work with, you become empowered to take back your life.

As someone who spent more than 15 years of my life with chronic depression, I’m happy to say that I will never be depressed again. Now that I have a full toolbox, I may have periods of difficulty in my life, but I will not let depression get ahold of me. If I fall in the hole, I know how to get back out. It’s a powerful feeling and I want everyone to experience this power.

This is not a comprehensive list of strategies and tools, so if you have additional ideas for empowering people to take back control of their emotional state, please comment below!

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

Kayla Douglas

Written by

Life Coach, author, lifelong learner, travel enthusiast, narcolepsy advocate, living in Myanmar, she/her https://www.kaylamdouglas.com

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

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