We may have eradicated a number of diseases that once plagued humanity, and we tend to live longer than our ancestors, but the modern world has seen a rise in mental disorders, particularly depression and anxiety. Even those living in highly developed countries with a high quality of life are not immune to depression, as those little demons that lurk from the depths of our subconscious and keep putting us down are a lot more powerful in some people.
There are a number of thinking patterns that are really counter-productive and can lead to depression, even in people who haven’t had previous problems with their mental and emotional health. It is important to identify these bad patterns as soon as possible, and work hard on making a positive change.
1. Jumping between two extreme ends of the emotional spectrum
A classic sign that you are on the path leading to depression is the inability to see the complexity of each situation, with grey areas and a number of potential drawbacks, but positive outcomes as well. You start to view the world in black and white, and things are either perfect or your life is in complete shambles. Since perfection is quite difficult, if not impossible to achieve, you end up falling into a dark mood more often, and you keep getting sucked deeper into that pit of despair.
It is important to take a step back when you see this happening, and try to rationalize the situation. It might not be the instant cure you are looking for, but trying to stay rational and reinforcing the belief that thing are not all bad is an important first step in dealing with depression. It is a proactive approach that can really help you get that initial spark of motivation you need to get out of the house and seek out some help.
There are some indications that medicinal marijuana can alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, and that it can be used as a way of kick-starting your recovery or as a method of prevention if you are exhibiting some early signs like those mentioned above. Whatever strategy you decide to use, just know that the first step is being aware of your negative behaviour and having a desire to change it.
2. Creating defeatist scenarios and giving up before you’ve even started
Sentences like “What’s the point?”, “I’ve tried everything” or “I know it won’t work out” should never roll off your tongue. This is the epitome of defeatism, and you start to get into this kind of habit as you start to fall into the clutches of depression. Because your energy, happiness and motivation are in short supply, and you’ve been focusing on all the bad experiences from the past way more than you should, you start to give up as soon as you are faced with a challenge. While lying in bed and doing nothing may seem like an incredibly safe move, it is the worst thing you can do.
I remember a friend being torn about the fact that some of the neighbors in his building complained about his dog. He dismissed all suggestions about going to the neighbors and having a face-to-face talk to try and see what the problem was and how it can be resolved, and he did it in the worst manner possible – by explaining to us what he knew would happen, and why there was no point in doing this.
“They’ll just say this, they’ll do that, then the landlord will do this, and I’ll have all kinds of extra trouble on my hands, so it’s best if I just leave the dog with my parents in the suburbs.” – this kind of reasoning leads to poor decisions and reduced quality of life, and that’s the last thing you need when you feel depression lurking around the corner.
3. Falling victim to self-loathing
A particularly destructive way of thinking, self-loathing is the fast track to developing depression. It often hits us when we are alone with our thoughts, e.g. after coming home from work/school or before going to bed, and it essentially paints the worse possible picture of our lives.
Instead of identifying problems and trying to find solutions, we begin to hate ourselves for not being able to perform, for making mistakes, for being afraid, and even for being negative all the time.
You find yourself hating the fact that you hate everything, and there seems to be nothing to look forward. It’s best to have someone with you at low moments like these, but if you don’t feel like talking to or facing anyone, you can get a pet you can cuddle up with. Dogs are particularly good at helping you keep depression at bay.
As long as it’s a smart and small to medium sized breed, puppies can be effectively house trained, so you won’t have to worry about them causing a mess. In fact, these loving creatures will not only make you feel less lonely, but you’ll have to take them out for walks, and this added physical activity is another good way to fight depression. Just taking your mind off those toxic thoughts will help you calm down and take a more rational approach.
4. Seeing only the bad side of things
Nothing brings about feelings of hopelessness quite like turning a blind eye to all the good things in your life and the different possibilities and focusing just on the bad things. The truth is that you can find a fairly positive solution to almost any problem, but there can be times where you forget all about the great progress you’ve been making at work or the good times you’ve had with your partner and just think about your debts, that one deadline that you almost missed and the fight you and your significant other had last week.
I have a close friend who was in a similar situation, and no matter how many examples of him doing good we’d come up with, he’d just shut them down by stubbornly sticking to a few things he saw as major problems. Look, a lot of these life problems can be solved through some intelligent budgeting, a bit of exercise and a willingness to do the research and find effective solutions.
There are always options – if you’ve worked in public service for a decade you may be able to apply for student loan forgiveness, if you give up smoking and cook your own food you can save some money, if you take the time to talk to your partner and schedule regular date nights you can work through problems, if stop watching TV shows late at night you’ll be able to get up earlier and feel fresh and focused at work, etc.
Look at the positives, sing a song of praise to all your accomplishments in front of the mirror every morning and look at all the options available to you, instead of laser focusing on one or two bad things in your life.
5. Becoming Captain Hindsight
There is a great episode of South Park with a powerful superhero called “Captain Hindsight”. He swoops in after a big disaster and tells everyone what could have been done to prevent it, and has three trusty sidekicks: could’ve, should’ve and would’ve. As you slide further down the slippery slope of depression you will find yourself evoking these sidekicks yourself, constantly relieving the past and re-evaluating your decision, dreaming of what your life would look like, if only a specific set of magical circumstances all fell into place.
It’s kind of like a kid who gets shoved around by a bully at the playground and spends the afternoon vividly imagining a situation where he fought back and pounded the bully into submission. Well, here the bully is your own mind and it is never too late to stand your ground and tell it to back off.
It’s one thing to learn from your mistakes, but you shouldn’t let the past eat away at your confidence. A good way to deal with the issues is to keep your mind engaged with new projects, household chores or learning new skills, so that you’ll have a way to anchor yourself in the present and a good incentive to keep moving forward.
6. Holding yourself responsible for everything wrong with the world
Things never quite work out as planned, and life is full of unpleasant little surprises. While you can directly or indirectly affect some of these things, a lot of it is out of your control, and there is always that freaky random factor some like to call luck. There was a time when I took everything a little too personal and blamed myself for every little thing that might have gone wrong at work, at home and in my relationships.
This is an offshoot of that could’ve mentality, but unlike moping and thinking up different scenarios that seem more pleasant, I was just left a chilling feeling of regret and sorrow. Totally irrational, yet completely unshakable, it burdened my mind and left an acidic taste in my mouth. I eventually shook it off through many a long serious talk with good friends, fueled by generous amounts of whiskey and vodka.
I’m just being honest here, but I have to categorically state that alcohol is not a solution or cure for anything – I knew that I could drink it responsibly, and that it was the only thing that would allow me to truly open up. Find people who care about you and are ready to listen, and schedule a night where you can get some alone time and engage in a bit of “real talk”. You’d be surprised how much better you’ll feel afterwards.
You won’t find yourself on a crossroads where one path is shiny and paved with gold, and the other is dark covered in weeds and thorns – the road leading to depression often looks like the easier option, and the feelings of emptiness and sorrow can just creep up on you if you don’t know what to look for. This is why you should look out for these destructive thinking patterns, and prepare some serious counter-measures when you find yourself turning to this kind of defeatist mindset.