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23 Things to Remember If You Love Someone with Depression

23 Things to Remember If You Love Someone with Depression

You’re in love with this wonderful person–a man who truly gets you, or a woman who makes you laugh every day. There’s a kind of connection you feel in your solar plexus and you know this is someone you want to stay with, be loyal to, and love with your whole heart.

Your relationship grows and deepens.  But after a while, something seems not quite right with your beloved.  Maybe he snapped at a waiter over nothing, which he’s never done before.  Or maybe she has started to doubt that you love her, which makes no sense because you’re more in love with her than ever.

Eventually it becomes clear:  your loved one is suffering from depression.  And precisely because it is depression and not, say, gallstones, your beloved is having trouble reaching out and explaining the experience to you.

Below are 23 things your loved one wishes you understood about depression and how it’s affecting them.

1.  They’re suffering from a brain imbalance, not a character disorder

Research has shown that in some depressed people an important part of the brain (called the hippocampus) is 9-13% smaller than in people who do not suffer from depression. And the more bouts of depression the person has suffered, the smaller it is. To complicate things a little more, research also shows that a heavy load of stress over a long period of time can shrink this area of the brain.  So, depression can start from intense emotional strain and become biological over time.

2.  Their motivation is impaired

The brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) responsible for that the feeling we call “motivation” are dopamine and norepinephrine. If you’re lucky enough to have ample amounts of them surging through your brain, you get up every morning feeling ready to tackle your tasks and responsibilities for the day. But many who are suffering from depression have low levels, leaving them devoid of even enough motivation to get out of bed. Telling these folks they just need to start exercising or find a job is like telling someone with the flu they just need to stop throwing up. It’s not something they can instantly control.

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3.  The worse the depression, the less they care…about anything

Motivation isn’t the only casualty that depressed people experience. As the brain becomes increasingly depressed, the person often experiences apathy—a lack of interest in life’s activities and relationships. Barrie Davenport gave the best description of it in her blog post on Live Bold and Bloom: “It’s white noise. Dead air. You feel like a chunk of flavorless tofu. Not happy. Not sad. Not angry. And certainly not passionate.” It is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of depression, because it creates so much interpersonal upset: loved ones fret more and more about the person’s wellbeing, but the person cares less and less about their fretting.

4.  They often feel “broken”

You may even hear them use this term about themselves. There is a sad finality to this word, so it’s important to disagree with this judgement. People with depression are not broken any more than people with diabetes or cancer are broken. It is a condition, an illness—something to address and manage. It might be a life-long challenge, but it does not mean the person is condemned to life-long pain.

5.  They don’t want to be a burden

Depression is not a ploy for attention. The last thing people with depression want is to inconvenience people they care about. They already feel bad about themselves; becoming a burden only deepens that. And yet, they need help. They need people to show up for them. So the trick is to convey your unwavering love and support for them, regardless of what it’s doing to your life. Not easy, but crucial.

6.  Their illness may show itself as deep sadness

Most people equate depression with sadness. In fact, most people will loosely describe anyone who is bereaved and crying a lot as “being depressed.”  If the person suffered through abuse, abandonment, or a significant loss as a child, it may have imprinted their sadness deep into their minds, which they basically relive every day. Without these experiences being processed in adulthood, they stay stuck in their childhood grief, manifesting as depression.

7.  Or it may show itself as anger

In my work with combat veterans, I found that many depressed soldiers experienced their depression as anger or even rage and not as much as sadness…at least not initially. (I also often found that when they felt safe enough to dig into it further, underneath that anger was profound, almost unbearable, grief and sadness from all the layers of loss they witnessed and experienced.) Uncharacteristic anger is another way depression can show itself–a sign that can be easily missed.

8.  Or it may show itself as anxiety

Research is showing more and more genetic and neurobiologic overlaps between depression and anxiety. This would explain why 90% of people with an anxiety disorder have many of the symptoms of depression and why 85% of people with depression also experience anxiety. Is this because the experience of depression makes us worried that we’ll lose our jobs or our families? Is it because anxiety disorders are so difficult to deal with that we get worn down emotionally and start to feel hopeless? Hard to tell. But increasingly, we’re understanding that there are many complex issues at play.

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9.  They may be extremely sensitive to criticism

One of the least recognized symptoms of depression (specifically “atypical depression”) is an extreme sensitivity to criticism. What might have been meant as nothing more than an opinion, e.g., “Blue is a better color for you,” is perceived as a criticism that the person is wearing green. This is not a personality trait; once the depression is treated, this hypersensitivity resolves.

10.  It may have started with a specific incident

As I mentioned earlier, painful things that happen to us early in life can leave imprints on our brains that affect us our whole lives. The more powerful the experience, the more difficult it is for a child to understand and integrate it fully and therefore the bigger the impact it’s likely to have. But events in adulthood can be just as devastating, especially if it causes upheaval of one’s identity. Divorce is hard for almost everyone, but it’s hardest on those who feel that the meaning of their roles and lives have been altered because of it. A mastectomy is always painful and scary, but it can become a source of deep depression if it threatens the woman’s identity.

11. Or it may be cumulative from many incidents

Research shows that there can be a cumulative effect from a long string of “minor” events. For instance, being verbally criticized or ridiculed over many years almost always wears down the person’s sense of self-worth, which can become a depressive episode. Multiple job losses can create a new (but inaccurate) negative narrative that the person comes to believe, deepening into a depressive episode if it’s not robustly challenged.

12.  Or it may be chemical and not from any incident at all

Genetics play a role in pretty much everything, and those who have a long familial history of depression are more vulnerable to depressive episodes than those with no family history.  If the person was exposed to those family members directly while growing up, they may have also unwittingly learned negative patterns of thinking that contribute to depression.

13.  Their sleep patterns are usually way off

Some will sleep every minute they can, even to the point of sleeping through important events (like getting up in time for work!) And others have a terrible time sleeping, even when they’re exhausted. A change in sleep pattern is one of the classic signs of depression.

14.  Their eating patterns are usually way off, too

Like sleep, a change in their usual pattern of eating is almost a given. Again, some will eat compulsively trying to feel better and others have no energy or motivation to eat at all. It shows up as significant weight loss or weight gain.

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15.  They may also have a lot of body pain

Sometimes people present in the doctor’s office with body pain that ends up having no medical cause.  Headaches, back pain and stomach pain are the most frequently reported kinds of body pain associated with depression, and are frequently misdiagnosed.  Most of these improve as the depression is treated and abates.

16.  They feel profoundly alone

Our culture values productivity and strength, so being crippled with exhaustion and paralyzing emotion (sad, mad, or scared) puts the depressed person at risk of being ridiculed, criticized, or in some other way degraded, all of which creates a sense of being “different” and somehow “less.” Often, the depressed person thinks the “solution” is to use all their energy to hide what’s happening from their co-workers, friends, even loved ones, which only intensifies their sense of alienation.

17.  They may frequently think about death or suicide

Alienation—that feeling of being utterly alone in the world with no one to talk to or lean on—is one of life’s most painful experiences. For some, it is unbearable and leads to thoughts of suicide as a way to end the pain. People who are severely depressed think about suicide far more often than anyone would imagine, and certainly more often than they let on.  In fact, research shows that most people who die by suicide have been “rehearsing” it in their minds for quite some time.  So it’s essential that you take this condition seriously and help your beloved get some kind of intervention.

18.  Exercise helps about 30% of those who suffer from depression

Motion improves emotion. It helps reduce anxiety, it helps dissipate anger, and it helps ease depression. Even a 10-minute walk (in an environment that feels nurturing, not stressful) can mobilize the body’s fluids and the brain’s blood flow in positive ways. Research has shown over and over again that there is a segment of the population who can completely erase their depressive symptoms through exercise, and that the more exercise these folks do, the better they feel. It’s not true, or even possible, for all of us (for instance those who are wheelchair bound or chronically ill with another disease), and it is no small task to start when you’re seriously depressed.   But it has completely changed the lives of many.

19.  Psychotherapy helps about 30% of those who suffer from depression

People who have suffered neglect, abuse, trauma, great loss, combat, or assault often need someone knowledgeable and grounded with whom to talk through their difficult experiences. Even without those major events, some people experience a significant improvement in their symptoms through psychotherapy. Those of us trained in providing psychotherapy have studied and practiced this art extensively under expert supervision. There is a long list of helpful techniques a therapist can employ that helps ease depression, but there is an equally long list of things not to do, and only someone trained will be adequately skilled to provide safe care.

20.  Medication helps about 30% of those who suffer from depression

I suffered a terrible bout of depression in my 30s that no amount of psychotherapy could fully treat. When I finally accepted my doctor’s urging to try an antidepressant, the effect was nothing short of miraculous: within 3 weeks, I had a kind of mental resilience I had never known before. The best way to describe it is that it gave me a new kind of mental shock absorbers. Instead of every pebble in life’s road feeling like a boulder, I glided over them with grace. Sometimes, medication is exactly what the person needs.

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21.  It may take several weeks before an antidepressant starts to work

Don’t expect your beloved to “snap out of it” once he or she is on medication.  When prescribed, let’s say, fluoxetine (also known as Prozac), the capsule is not filled with serotonin. It’s a medication that rebuilds the serotonin receptors (among other things). That rebuilding process takes time; how much time is different for each person. For some, they start to feel better in a week or two. But lots of people take longer—up to 6 weeks—before they feel the effects.  So be patient.

22.  It may take several months to find the right medication

If the antidepressant the doctor has prescribed hasn’t improved the patient’s condition by 4-6 weeks, usually the doctor will prescribe another antidepressant. And then another, and so on, until the patient starts to feel significantly better. Unfortunately, there is no short-cut here—no blood work that will tell the doctor what to prescribe. There are some antidepressants that are better at certain things than others (for instance, escitalopram—“Lexapro”—treats both depression and anxiety, and bupropion—“Wellbutrin”—is used to treat atypical depression.) But there can be a significant period of trial and error.  They’ll need reassurance that you understand this and don’t blame them for not getting better.

23.  Friends and family who stick by them are treasured beyond words

Because of the alienation those with depression so often feel, the friends and family who stick with them and weather their storm of depression become their most trusted and appreciated allies. That kind of loyalty can be life-saving.

Depression is at nearly pandemic levels world-wide, so don’t hesitate to let others know these important points about depression.  The more we know and understand, the stronger we all are.

Featured photo credit: Josh/JohnONolan via imcreator.com

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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