Online sessions now available.Kristian S. Nibe - clinical psychologist and ISTDP practitioner.
How to overcome depression – tips and strategies.
Depression drains a person for energy, hope, and motivation, and this makes it difficult for the depressed person to do the things that need to be done in order to get better. But even though overcoming depression is neither easy nor a quick-fix, it is far from impossible.
To get out of the depressive state requires action, but to act with discipline and decisiveness while depressed is difficult since the energy level is so low. The will power needed to get started on constructive tasks that may lift the person out of depression is significantly reduced due to the lack of energy.
Just the thought of getting up from the couch and do the constructive steps necessary in order to feel better can be exhausting. This is the negative circle of depression; the low energy level makes it hard to act and make constructive decisions, and the lack of constructive actions and decision lead to an even greater loss of energy. This destructive pattern is the first that needs to end in order to overcome the depression.
How to increase the energy level in the body.
It is our feelings that give us our life energy. Therefore, to get out of the depressive state try to make it your top priority to use what will power is present in order to feel your feelings, rather than having the depressive mechanism continue to depress (i.e. put a lid on) them.
Ask a depressed person when he was last really angry or really sad, and the reply would most likely be that he hasn’t felt neither feeling in a long time. Feeling, in this context, means to have a physical activation of the feeling rather than just thinking about being angry or sad. How this is done will be explained below.
Depressions doesn’t by coincidence or out of nothing, but as a response to feelings that an unconscious part of the brain suppressed during the period when the depression started.
When the depression came, what might have happened in your life or in your relationships that might have made you angry or sad or triggered other feelings (i.e. happiness, guilt, disgust)? Reflect over what changes or conflicts that were present in your life prior to the onset of the depression.
Common triggers of depression are conflicts with or betrayal by spouses, girl/boyfriends, family, friends, bosses, or co-workers, illness occurring to oneself or to other close acquaintances, death, divorce, break-up, physical injury, traumatic events, being subjected to violence, changes at work, losing a job, getting retired, being promoted, graduating, moving to a new place, starting a new job or study, pregnancy, birth, or marriage etc.
Depression occurred because a trigger created intense feelings that the body is still processing inside you. The depressive mechanism put a lid on your feelings and gave you low energy and other depressive symptoms instead, and it did this in order to protect you from overwhelming and uncomfortable feelings. It is this lid that now keeps you depressed since you no longer get the energy the feelings used to give you.
Visualizing – a technique to increase bodily energy.
Even though you barely have energy to get up from the couch, you still have energy to deliberately point your attention to where you want. You can use your capability to direct your attention to visualize a scenario in your mind with a person you suspect might have triggered strong feelings in you. This person could typically be a parent, coworkers, family member, or spouse, and the scenario you try to visualize could include yourself and this person in a situation of conflict, stress, or emotional acting out.
You may have a clue as to what might have happened in your life at the onset of depression that you might not have fully accepted, recognized, and worked through. Maybe someone disappointed you, treated you unfairly, left you, betrayed you, or treated you with a lack of love and respect during the period when the depression started.
Find some place where you can be comfortable and make sure you will not be distracted by others (or your cell phone). Close your eyes and imagine through your inner eye (i.e. visualize) a specific situation with this chosen person. What is the setting and what is being said and done? Try to sketch this movie in your mind as detailed as possible. It might even be a specific situation that happened between the two of you that you know triggered you. What kinds of feelings are triggered in you as you visualize the scene and “hear” the dialog? Notice your body and the changes that are occurring while you continue to visualize the scenario. What do you want to say or do towards this person if you didn’t censor yourself and if you let your feelings come out? Let your fantasy go where it wants to take you without holding back or resisting the visualization. Talk and act directly to this person in your mind and do not be afraid if the scenario takes a dramatic, emotional, or violent turn.
Visualizations of this kind will trigger feelings in your body that will release energy in you. For example, does it give a lot of energy to let yourself become really angry inside yourself since there is a lot of strength and power in anger.
The main challenge is to continuously direct your attention and visualize uninterrupted over the duration of a few minutes since a part of your brain wants to distract you away from the visualization by other irrelevant thoughts every 20 seconds or so. Remind yourself that your attention is something you can consciously direct. Refocus your attention back to the chosen scenario even though there is some resistance towards this. It is by passing through this resistance that the feelings in the body starts to become activated and begin to give you back your energy.
Allow yourself to max out feelings.
Our feelings are stronger and more intense than we think. Just observe small children or animals and notice the physical force that potentially is present in feelings. It is of vital importance to try to intensify the feelings during the visualization as much as possible. This means to allow yourself to be really furious and filled with rage, rather than settling for experiencing slight annoyance, or to allow yourself to be truly sad and grieving, rather than holding back the tears.
Our feelings may be compared to a wave that has a beginning, a middle part with a climax, and an end part where they calm down. There is a limited amount of energy in this feeling wave, and if you’re able to ride this wave or max out the feeling that arises, then that will release a lot of bodily tension, provide you with energy, and be very beneficial in order to overcome depression. This is accomplished by allowing yourself to continue to visualize your chosen scenario and feel the feelings that arise even though you notice that the body gets uneasy and activated. Allow yourself to go where the visualization takes you without controlling the outcome of it, censoring yourself, or holding back the emotional experience.
The visualizing and the maxing out of underlying feelings must usually be done several times (typically 3-10 times) in order to kickstart your energy level. This can be done at home by yourself, or you can order a session and I will help you with this process so that you will get more energy again.
Physical activity may trigger feelings and energy.
Physical activity, preferably out in the open air, that gets your heartbeat raising and your muscles working, can trigger feelings that will provide you with energy. Even though the thought of shoveling snow or chop wood wouldn’t enter your mind in your current state, the intention behind such an exercise is to trick your defense mechanisms into letting go of the resistance towards feelings that the unconscious is harboring.
You will notice that there comes a point when the tiredness and the physical exhaustion from such an activity often transforms into frustration, anger, sadness, or other feelings. This is a good thing. Allowing yourself to continue with the activity even though the feelings keep on coming allows the feelings to be maxed out. This will feel energizing afterward.
Awareness of defense mechanisms, assumptions, and thought patterns.
Depressed people have many dysfunctional defense mechanisms, assumptions, and thought patterns that maintain their depression. Some of them are:
* All-or-nothing thinking. Depressives often view themselves, others, or situations in an either-or, black or white mentality. Thoughts such as; “nothing works”, “everything is hopeless”, and “it will always be like this” are all-or-nothing thoughts that ensures passivity and lack of initiative.
* Worrying. To worry is to cultivate worst-case scenarios about what the future will bring. They are hypothetical thoughts and therefore not a reality. Unfortunately, you can neither predict the future nor read the mind of other people.
* Passivity. Depressed often give up tasks or completely avoid situations where it is required to take responsibility in order to turn the depression into energy.
* Lack of self-assertion. Depressed people rarely state directly what they want or feel.
* Perfectionism. If situations or developments doesn’t go exactly how the depressed wants it to go, then it can all be the same, a lot of depressed people believe.
* Self-criticism. Depressed people berate themselves and doubt their own decisions constantly.
* Victim-role. Those who are depressed believe that they have no influence on how their life develops. They have given up taking charge of their own choices and priorities.
Depressed people usually often have a whole range of other defense mechanisms that keep their energy at a low level and maintain the depression. It’s therefore recommended to read up on defense mechanisms and learn about them and their function so that one may more readily spot them in oneself.
Depression gives everything a negative spin. This includes the way the person views himself, others, situations, and expectations of the future. One doesn’t get out of this vicious circle just by “thinking positively”. Part of the trick is to learn to observe your thoughts rather than getting too involved with them. Congratulate yourself when you detect a dysfunctional behavioral pattern or defense mechanism, and try to get a balanced view of your problem, rather than just focus on one aspect of it. Ask yourself if you would have said what you are thinking about yourself to someone else. If the answer to that is no, then that is an indication that you are being too hard on yourself.
A list of gratitude.
Studies show that people that every night before going to sleep writes down five things they are grateful for, over time learns to appreciate the small things in life and therefore overcome their depression at a significantly faster rate. Such lists of gratitude creates a more positive view of self, others, and life in general, and is an exercise it is possible to dedicate to every night even with a low energy level.
If you at first can’t find something to be grateful for it might help to be as specific as possible. You can be grateful for having a comfortable couch, that the remote control to the TV works, etc. Over time it becomes natural to be grateful for more important things like not starving, having someone around that cares about you, that you live in a peaceful country, etc.
This exercise might seem simplistic and superficial if you haven’t tried it before, but force yourself to write down five things every night for three weeks, and notice any changes in your energy and spirit.
Avoid negative influences.
If depressed, the last thing you need is additional negative influence. Spend time with positive people that sees opportunities, rather than negative people that drain your energy with their pessimism and self-centeredness. See a good movie, rather than pointless reality shows, and treat yourself to a healthy meal rather than stuffing yourself with junk food.
Remind yourself that your innocence and childlike character traits are a strength and not something to be embarrassed about or shameful of.
Negative people often either consciously or unconsciously want to pull you down to their negative world, but ask yourself what purpose it serves to not be fundamentally kind, compassionate, and positive towards your surroundings.
One of the main symptoms of depression is sleep disturbances, either by not being able to fall asleep at night, waking up several times a night, or by oversleeping and not being able to get up in the morning. Through effort and discipline it is possible to correct nonconstructive sleep patterns and learn healthy sleep patterns instead.
Stress management and relaxation.
Not only can stress both prolong and worsen a depression, but it can also trigger it. That is why a big part of overcoming depression is to learn to minimize stress and learn to regulate it and get in contact with the feelings that it is covering up.
Find out what in your life that contributes to stress. It might be a too heavy workload at your job, destructive relationships, heavy consumption of alcohol or other drugs, taking on too much responsibility, being unwilling to prioritize and set boundaries towards others, health problems, or financial problems etc.
In order to consciously regulate stress it’s important to become aware of your pace and tempo and deliberately slow down your movements, speech, and thinking. Practice breathing slowly with your stomach rather than using the chest to breathe. It is optimal to breathe in for 6 seconds while filling the stomach with air, and then exhaling for 6 seconds while making the stomach as small as possible.
Exercise, nutrition, and sun.
Be physically active, either through regular exercise or just by walking everyday and you energize the body which helps overcome depression. Physical activity increases the secretion of mood lifting neurotransmitters, increases the level of endorphins, and reduces stress by relaxing the muscles. It’s recommended to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
Nutrition is also extremely important as more and more research shows a link between psychological disorders and the state of our digestive system. Try to maintain a diet consisting of food that have not been processed but has been produced organically. This means eating what is found directly from nature, rather than food that has been made in a factory.
Lack of sunlight also negatively affects depression. Make sure that you get enough sunlight during the day by getting out while the sun is up.
Prioritize time to do things that you enjoy doing and that gives you a sense of mastery and skill building. Try to find an activity that does not involve looking at a screen.
Even though you can’t force yourself to have fun, you can choose to do things that previously brought learning and meaning. Pick up an old hobby, express yourself creatively through music, writing, or other arts, go to a cafe with a friend, get out in nature, go fishing, go to a ball game, and do something different than just staying indoors by yourself.
Isolation and loneliness only make the depression worse. Therefore, try to stay in touch with people that give you energy, even though just the thought about doing so seem pointless. It’s easy to buy in to thoughts that you will be bothering other people or that it is pointless to meet others, but this is just the depression talking.
The people that love you care about you and will want to cheer you up. So even though it seems more comfortable staying home alone, this will only result in you going over the same negative thoughts again and again which will only make you more depressed.
Online consultations available.
Use the contact form below for any inquiries. Please state briefly the nature of your problem, when and how you are available, and how you prefer to conduct payment (Credit Card or PayPal).
Consultations are available for either 45 minutes or 90 minutes, and are conducted by video either through Skype or appear.in. Alternatively I also offer sessions through chat/e-mail.
The price per 45 minute consultation is 160 Euro. The price for a 90 minute consultation is 300 Euro.