A go-to guide on how to deal with depression and sadness

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Depression is a modern reality and a quite common mental illness that more and more people experience at some point in their lives. Failures, unfulfilled desires, genetics, drugs, and numerous other factors can cause depression. The issues caused can be mild, moderate, or severe.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 1 in every 15 adults suffers from depression in a year and on average 1 in every 6 people go through a depressive episode in their lives. As per the World Health Organization’s recent estimates, around 264 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Out of which, almost 800,000 commit suicides, including a vast majority aged between 15-29 years old.

Medically speaking, one episode of depression lasts at least two weeks and anything lesser than that cannot be qualified as depression (that sounds partly true, but what if I disagree with this?). The common symptoms of depression, which can vary from person to person, are feelings of sadness, loss of interest in the activities a person normally enjoys, loss of appetite, low self-esteem, weight gain or weight loss, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and many more.

There is struggle – but there is also good news

The good news is that mild to moderate depression can be treated without medication. As Dr. David D. Burns writes in his book “Feeling Good” that cognitive therapy is much more effective in treating depression and the chances of relapse are also pretty low compared to medications or antidepressants, which sadly is a normal practice in many countries.

In this article, I am going to share some of the tools that I found immensely useful in treating my own depression. These tools were the result of my DIY trial and error efforts, which, to my surprise, were later confirmed authentic when I read “Feeling Good”. It turned out that in my quest to find the cure for my own depression, I somehow became my own therapist. But before I share these tools, I would like to briefly share my journey with depression in order for you to understand and believe that if I can fight it and cure it, so can you.

Sharing my struggle and experience

Like many of you, I have also been fighting depression for many years. As far as I remember, I suffered from it periodically even as a 7 or 8 years old girl (I used to sleepwalk), during my teens, my twenties, and lastly in my thirties, when the stink of my depression became intolerable, I said, ENOUGH!
It still comes to visit me (like a loathed guest) in waves, but now I know how to make it leave without letting it tear me apart. The solution that I found was the result of my deep longing to live this life fully. After decades of struggle, it turned out that I had been looking for the remedy at all the wrong places, while it resided so close to me, always approachable and free- in my own mind.

The day I found out how powerful our minds are and that we can either be a slave to it or harness it was the day that changed my life. This revelation led me to learn in detail how the mind works. By simply changing the way I think, I started noticing visible improvements not only in my mental health but also in other areas of life.

I became extremely mindful and selective about the thoughts in my mind and the way I communicated with myself. I made it a rule that I would think only about the desired outcome (no more what-ifs), work for it (only as much as I could conveniently do), and won’t force myself on things, interests, people, and situations. This allowed me to think only positive thoughts or the thoughts that served my major goals in life.

I also became quite sensitive about my own toxic traits and the way I thought about and interacted with other people. Doing so brought an immediate feeling of relief and peace, plus my relationship with people around me improved drastically.

Here is the key!

Although the struggle was real, it was not as hard and frustrating as giving up to the monstrous depression. To reform my internal belief system, I began by repeating motivational and affirmative statements to myself at least four to five times a day, sometimes louder, sometimes in the quiet, especially right before falling asleep and right after getting up. It felt quite cheesy in the beginning to have those positive and affirmative conversations with myself, but in no time it all made perfect sense. Just in a matter of a few months, I was able to recognize and fix most of my cognitive distortions (i.e., my thinking) and everything started turning in my favor one after another just like a domino.

Now if you are thinking that it’s not that easy or your situation is far too worse or this can’t be true, let me tell you briefly that I am somebody, who knows the pain of abuse, broken relationships, betrayal, joblessness, excruciating loneliness, empty pocket, social stigma, and much more that words cannot explain. But being an optimist by choice, I do not let my mind indulge in any of these past hurts. I am a true believer that one should only look back in order to analyze and learn, not to masochistically waste time and energy on something that is nothing but history.

Common Dos and Don’ts to cope with depression

1. Change your beliefs:

By changing the way you think, you will be able to reconfigure your mental beliefs, which will eventually change your physical reality. It will not happen overnight. You will have to keep a constant check on your thoughts and make immediate corrections as you notice distortions in the way you think. Normally, we take our emotions and feelings far more seriously than our thoughts, not realizing that emotion is the effect, not a cause. As Dr. David D. Burns quotes it: “your feelings are not facts! In fact, your feelings, per se, do not even count- except as a mirror of the way you are thinking”. So, in order to change the outcome, we will have to first address the root cause.

Below, I’m going to list 10 cognitive distortions that cause depression. If you read them carefully, you will be able to recognize and fix (by talking back) them immediately whenever they lurk in your mind in the form of random or automatic thoughts.

10 cognitive distortions that might be responsible for depression

1All or Nothing ThinkingIt is when you analyse your personal qualities in extreme black and white, while all we get in life is shades of grey no matter how hard we try.If a person does not land a certain job that he was aiming for thinks “I am a loser”.
2OvergeneralizationThinking that one bad thing that happened to you once will happen repeatedly.A person who did not get his desired job might overgeneralize by thinking that “I’m so unlucky, I will never be able to get a better job and live my life in misery.”
3Mental FilterIt is when you pick up a negative thing from an overall better situation and dwell on it.A student answers 86 out of 100 questions correctly in an exam, but he keeps on thinking about those 14 questions that he answered wrong and concludes he would fail.
4Disqualifying the Positive“You reject positive experiences by insisting “they don’t count” for some reason or other. By doing so you maintain a negative belief.”When a colleague appreciates your work, you tell yourself “He’s just being nice, there is no truth to it.”
5Jumping to conclusionsYou interpret your experience negatively even though you have no supporting evidence.One evening you notice your partner is very quiet and lost in his thoughts, you conclude, “he finds me a bore therefore, he’s losing his interest in me.”
6Magnification and MinimizationYou either overestimate and overvalue, or you underestimate and undervalue some things. You exaggerate your own flaws and other peoples’ achievements. Or you underestimate your abilities and other peoples’ shortcomings.“My God, I overcooked the meat again, I will never be a good wife or a mother.”
7Emotional ReasoningYou think your negative emotions truly represent how things really are.“Since I feel it, it must be true”. 
8Should StatementsYou think in terms of “should” and “should not”. As if you or other people who go against these “should statements” must be punished. Consequently, you feel guilty regarding yourself and angry towards others.“I should be able to get this task done by tomorrow”. “He should not make me wait”.
9Labelling and MislabellingWhen you or others make an error, instead of describing the error, you label yourself or others.“I’m a loser”. “He’s a fraud”.
10PersonalizationYou hold yourself responsible for a negative external event even though you are not.When a mother gets to know about the poor performance of her kid in the school, she says, “I’m a bad mother. It’s my failure that my kid is not doing well in school”.
Credits: Feeling Good (Dr. David D. Burns M. D.)

2. Be aware of your own toxicity (don’t just point fingers at others):

Unlearn everything that doesn’t serve you. Bring compassion, empathy, forgiveness and authenticity into your life by being sensitive to other people’s needs and suffering, staying true to yourself, and embracing a kind and non-judgemental attitude towards others.

3. Let the life flow:

Do not force anything into your life. What is good for you and meant for you won’t pass you by.

4. Nothing is random, everything has an effect:

Be very choosy and mindful about everything you interact with, no matter if it’s something or somebody you are having fun with. Whatever goes to your mind influences you and your physical world. You will have to decide what songs you would listen to, what movies you would watch, what sort of people you would interact with, what books you would read. Be very selective about what you feed your mind, body, and soul with. Stay away from things and people, whose interaction awakens the negative in you or drains your energy. Do not watch or listen to the news unless you really have to because believe me or not the important news will find its way to you no matter what.

5. Be a giver, but do not drain yourself:

Start doing small things for others. It could be as small as offering your place to an elderly person on a train or helping a person in a wheelchair in a grocery store at your corner. However, while doing so, don’t forget to take care of yourself and to remember “you can not pour from an empty cup”.

6. Talk to yourself with compassion and love:

The way we talk to ourselves matters more than we realize it does. Talk to yourself as if you are talking to a dear friend. Do not be overly critical or unforgiving. Counter your internal critic with positivity and logic every time it comes to question your self-worth.

7. Stop forcing yourself:

Be very mindful and know when you need a break. Cancel a dinner plan if you feel like not going out, sleep if you feel like that’s what you need.

8. Do not expect:

Expectations ruin everything. Have faith in your abilities and the love of God. You can have all you desire by relying on your own abilities.

9. Find an activity that detaches you from the rest of the world at least for an hour daily:

To me, that activity is putting my headphones and favorite songs on and going out for a stroll.

10. Healthy eating and exercise:

You might have already heard about the positive effects of a healthy lifestyle, especially physical activity, on our moods and emotional well-being.

11. Time to consult a therapist:

If you are having suicidal thoughts or feel like hurting yourself or others, know that you are suffering from severe depression, which cannot be treated on a self-help basis, and it’s time to seek professional help.

If you want to have a clear idea of how depressed you are, you can use the “Burns Depression Checklist”, which I have copied below.

This is how you calculate your result

The maximum score for each of the 25 questions is 4. The maximum score for the whole test is 100 (which indicates extreme depression) and the minimum score is 0 (which indicates no sign of depression). Put the score at the end of each question (i.e., 0 or 1 or 2 or 3 or 4), and lastly, add up the score for all 25 questions. (Copied and extracted from Feeling Good by Dr. David D. Burns)

Interpretation of your result after filling out the checklist

(Copied from Feeling Good by Dr. David D. Burns, pp.20-22)

13. Don’t give up:

Lastly, consistency is the key. Despite doing all I listed above and some more, you would experience periods of gloom and melancholy. In those weak moments, don’t give in to your internal demons when they show up to test your willpower.

Bringing it all together

Depression is tricky to handle because sometimes it takes more time to diagnose than other physical illnesses. We tend to discredit our feelings and try to locate external reasons for our state of mind. However, once we stop gaslighting ourselves for the way we feel, the road to recovery begins. The journey is not easy but as long as you take even baby steps towards recovery, you will get there eventually, and you will realize at the end that each and every step was worth it. 

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