With 322 million people suffering with depression worldwide, it’s not surprising to learn that in America, depression is among the most common mental disorders.
The cause of depression is often simplified as a chemical imbalance in the brain, but the reality is that the disease is far more complicated. Scientific research has yet to completely understand the biology of depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
Do you ever think anything like “I have no reason to be depressed” or “I can’t tell anyone about my depression; I have to suck it up and be strong.” If so, you are not alone. Men, in particular, are raised to be strong, confident, logical people. Having depression can be seen as a sign of weakness.
However, in today’s world many women are taught not to rely on men, and they can do everything a man can. Many go back to work after having children instead of staying at home. These changes in women’s upbringings can bring up the same thoughts as men – “I have to be strong.” “I can’t show that I’m depressed.”
Often we go about our daily routines, pushing down the thoughts and feelings we don’t want to admit we are thinking and feeling. We ignore them, hoping they will magically disappear. Sometimes they do. But we realize it isn’t that way for long; they come back…and they come back strong.
It can start to feel very scary and you may even start to feel hopeless as you realize this black hole is staring you in the face. You don’t know how it got so big and you have no idea how to get out of it.
Although you may not believe it right now, you do not have to feel this way forever. There is a way out. You have the opportunity to get out of your head, feel confident, feel at peace, and retrain your thoughts to be more realistic.
It isn’t a quick fix and isn’t always an easy fix. No change that we try to make within ourselves is a quick easy fix. Think about trying to exercise, or eat healthy. We’re good at slipping back into old habits. However, with a little guidance and support, we are able to maintain and sustain the changes we really want within ourselves.
WHAT CAUSES DEPRESSION
Unfortunately, right now you are stuck in what feels like an endless black hole. It is affecting all areas of your life, whether obviously or not at this moment.
Knowledge is the key to just about everything. When we understand something, it is much easier to do. The same goes with the mind. When we understand what is happening, it makes it easier to do what we need to do. It makes it feel more real. It is less obscure.
The problem with depression is it can seem very obscure. The disease of depression is the complicated combination previously described. This disease gives you the predisposition to fall into a depression after having experienced a negative external event. For example, getting fired from a job might send one person into a deep depression, which another simply bounces back after experiencing the initial sadness and disappointment.
I CAN’T GET OUT OF MY OWN HEAD
If you think that it is very hard to get out of your own head with depression, you are not wrong. Often depression is accompanied by negative thinking. These thoughts may be about yourself, other people, a situation, or the world. Often, however no matter what they are about, these thoughts are frequent and all inclusive.
Many experts in the cognitive behavioral field believe that depression is caused by, and worsens, with distorted negative thinking. The emotions you experience during an episode of depression are created by negative thoughts and perceptions. Your feelings will result from the meaning you attach to those thoughts.
The emotions come from a very primitive part of the brain. For example, you can say to your dog “who’s the worst dog on the planet? Who’s so stupid?” If you say it in a higher pitch, sing-song tone, the dog will respond very differently than if you say it in a harsh tone. The dog is perceiving “safe” or “unsafe” based on your tone of voice.
Human brains respond similarly. If what is said to you (either externally or internally) is PERCEIVED as harsh, mean, rude, inappropriate, etc, we will respond very differently than if what is PERCEIVED is warm, loving, etc. It is not about what you say, but how you say it.
If I perceive someone to be mad at me because they are not answering their phone when I call, I might start to think “I did something to make them mad. I always do this. I’m so stupid sometimes. I’m just not going to call them again.”
What if instead of thinking that, I say to myself “I know I’ve called several times, but what if they’re busy? Or they want to have a longer conversation and don’t have the time right now.” Even if I say “Maybe they had the intention to call me back, couldn’t right then, and genuinely forgot later.”
I don’t know at that very moment if they are mad at me or if they were honestly busy and forgot. So if it’s possible they forgot, what good does it do for me to blame myself thinking they’re made at me? It causes me distress which may not even be founded.
In a simple explanation, if you eliminate distorted, negative thoughts, you will find it easier to cope with the negative event that triggered your depression.
WHY DID I FEEL FINE YESTERDAY
If you felt fine yesterday, but today feel depressed and hopeless, again, distorted thinking may be to blame. As an example, let’s say you woke up late and had to rush to work. This put you in a bad mood, and you started thinking distorted negative thoughts: “I’m always late. I’m a loser. My boss is going to be angry at me all day. He probably hates me anyway. I’m going to get fired.” As the day goes on, every event will be processed through this negative filter, causing you to feel worse.
Many things can cause us to feel differently on different days. How you slept. What you ate yesterday. What you’ve eaten today. How much you’ve eaten today. How busy you are. How much support you have to get things done today. What your overall stress level was when you woke up. How you dealt with stress during the day.
These factors will all play a part in how we perceive the event that distresses us. Many of us don’t respond to people as nicely or patiently when they are hungry. Thus someone coined the term “hangry.” We may respond drastically differently when we are hungry or tired than when we are fed and awake.
Additionally, the more stressed out we are, the less we are able to respond in a positive way to events. The more stressed we are, the harder it is to stay objective.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps you challenge negative patterns of thought. By challenging these thoughts, you can improve your mood. For example, “I’m always late.” This is an overgeneralization. More than likely, you have not been late “always”. If this is something you want to change, you can alter your schedule and habits to become more punctual. I am not saying it is easy; just that it can be done.
Cognitive behavioral therapy works with your thoughts (cognitions) and behaviors to change your emotions. If you think differently and act differently, you will feel differently. It only works when you incorporate thoughts and behaviors. If you only change behaviors or only change thoughts, it will be very hard to change the emotion as you will not be enjoying what you are doing; may think it pointless; and thus the depression will continue.
Take a look at this list of negative thinking patterns. How many of them are a “pattern” for you?
- Only focusing on the negatives
- All or nothing/black and white thinking (there is no gray/middle)
- One negative event generalizes to everything being negative
- Thinking you know what others are thinking; usually you think they think something negative about you
- Expecting disaster
- Magnifying your problem; blowing it out of proportion
- Feeling like you should do something
- Blaming yourself when you are not at fault
- Feeling something is true, therefore it must be true
- Seeing yourself as the cause of a negative event
- Predicting the future (usually negatively) – I’ll fail the test, etc
- Minimizing the positive experiences
- Putting a negative label on yourself or someone else (they’re stupid, I’m a failure)
If you notice yourself doing this a little bit, it is not generally a problem. But if you notice yourself doing one or more of these on a more regular basis, and finding that you are fighting with depression; the two are linked. Negative thought patterns are a trademark of depression.
Although you feel out of control and unsure any of this will work, there is hope. I will hold that hope for you until you are ready to take it for yourself. I have worked with many people, just like you, fighting to regain control of their thoughts and depression. I have seen the change people can make with and without medication.
Sometimes medication is necessary ongoing, sometimes medication is necessary only for a certain time, and sometimes medication is not needed at all. We can talk about whether an appointment to determine if medication is appropriate for you.
Depression is a complicated illness, and as such is best managed by comprehensive treatment. If you’re suffering from depression, a licensed therapist can help you understand your mood and develop strategies to cope with and improve your symptoms. Together, we can develop a plan for you to create the life you want to live. Give my office a call today, and let’s schedule a time to talk. 941-462-4807.