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Published on November 17, 2020

6 Self-Help Methods to Help You Overcome Depression

6 Self-Help Methods to Help You Overcome Depression

Depression is something that so many of us experience, and something that so many of us struggle against. How do we help ourselves through self-help methods?

Depression can last quite a long time, crippling a person’s ability to live their life. If you’re suffering from depression, you’re not alone – it is the most common mental health difficulty in the world for both men and women.

Depression is not simply a matter of feeling sad. We all have “normal” periods of feeling sad, or low, and most of the time these will pass after a few days. Actual depression is often consistent with other significant symptoms, including these:

  • Apathy
  • Negative thoughts
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Self-loathing and/or a lack of self-esteem
  • Fear
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Procrastinating

The Depression Cycle

Our thoughts produce feelings, and our feelings dictate the behaviors we choose to engage in. Depression causes negative, automatic thoughts to be fired off at a near constant rate. These thoughts contribute to an increase in depressive feelings, which in turn leads to negative behavior choices.

This, of course, feeds back into this vicious cycle and increases the negative intensity of thoughts, feelings, and the resulting behavior. It’s a hard cycle to break, but these 5 self-help tips could be a way out of this.

1. Cultivate Self-Acceptance

When people feel depressed, they often set high, unrealistic expectations for themselves, striving for perfection. Trying to be perfect means you are putting yourself under constant pressure, and will constantly be criticizing yourself, which will make you feel bad and believe less in yourself. This will lead to a lack of motivation, which will make things seem unachievable and can lead to feelings of failure.

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In depression, this cycle can go round and round, keeping you locked in a negative and exhausting pattern. Accepting that making mistakes is an important part of building confidence, resilience, and self-compassion can be helpful.

For the first of the self-help methods, spend some time thinking about people you know and admire; do they make mistakes? Do you think less of them for their mistakes, or do you accept them as they are?

Now, try to apply the same acceptance to yourself. Understanding that we all make mistakes can free us from the struggle of trying to be perfect and mistake-free, which will always make us feel more depressed.

2. Manage Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are a frequent occurrence in depression. They cause you persistent pain, and you can feel as if you are being bullied by them. We often believe what our negative thoughts tell us, especially when we are feeling depressed and hopeless. Not only that, but we might join in with them and beat ourselves up more.

Try to remind yourself that thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are simply our ideas, opinions, or judgments that we are making because of how we are feeling, and that when we have felt differently, we haven’t drawn the same conclusions. You have the choice to consider an alternative perspective to the one you are being told by your negative thoughts, and I highly recommend trying this.

For example, if your negative thought is telling you that you are failure, examine that thought by looking at reality. Do you have any achievements or accomplishments? Are you right to believe the negative thought you are having, or does your evidence show that you need to reword it to something more reflective of your actual reality?

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3. Try a Visualization Exercise

Visualization is a self-help method where we imagine certain images, scenes, and pictures in our minds that help us unwind and relax. Visualizing helps move our mind away from depression, so we are not giving negative thoughts as much attention, which can obviously make them grow.

You can visualize using all of your senses. Choose a scene, place, or memory that you find comforting. For many people this is a special holiday or a childhood memory. Once you’ve pictured this place in your mind, use each of your senses to go into as much detail as you can about what you see, as if you were there again.

Start by looking all around. Turn yourself around slowly, walking around, noting in detail everything you see. What sounds can you hear? What smells do you notice? Find something to touch; what is it and what does it feel like?

If you’re not sure where to start, check out this article to learn about several simple visualization techniques.

4. Process Your Emotions

Depression brings with it lots of complicated emotions and reactions. Our natural tendency is to avoid facing up to these awful feelings. After all, who wants to think more closely about the things that are making them feel bad? However, you can’t process or gain control over your emotions without paying closer attention to them. Try dealing with your emotional pain using these techniques.

Accept Your Emotions

Accept the emotions you are experiencing, and know that they are there for a reason. Allow them to be present so you can work with them. Remind yourself that discomfort is a normal part of life for everyone, and it is not dangerous, though it might feel unpleasant.

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Label the Emotions

One of the great self-help methods you can practice is to identify and label the emotion you are experiencing by saying “I am angry,” “I am overwhelmed,” “I am very anxious,” etc. Then, identify what has caused that emotion. Giving it a name helps us distance ourselves from it, allowing us to realize it is separate from who we are.

Remember That Emotions Are Temporary

Recognize that the emotions you have right now are temporary. Emotions arise and fade, which can be hard to remember when they are very intense.

Practice Self-Compassion

Ask yourself “What do I really need right now?” “What does this emotion want/need to help it?” “What can I do to nurture it/myself?”

What would be a compassionate response, and what would be self-critical response from me; which one will help me work through this best?

Let Go of Control

We don’t need to control our emotions. Instead, try to be compassionate to what they are telling you. Observe what is happening and be mindful of your experience by giving yourself what you need instead of punishing yourself further.

5. Tackle Avoidance

Depression can cause negative avoidance. This includes withdrawing from society, ignoring the phone, ignoring family and friends, avoiding your emotions, oversleeping or hiding in bed, refusing to engage in chores or tasks that might challenge you, etc.

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These behaviors lead to consequences – you avoid seeing others because you’re ashamed of your presentation or because you can sense their frustration, you grow more annoyed with yourself. You get caught up in a vortex of trying to escape shame or feelings of being a failure. As a result, depression deepens, and the downward spiral continues.

Try to tackle the negative behaviors you’ve retreated into with self-help methods. Set yourself small goals that you can build on day by day, like committing to sending one email, or making one phone call. Then, the next day commit to one more thing.

Start to plan out small but achievable steps that you can take to help lessen the avoidance. Don’t try to do everything at once. Go slowly, and make it easy for yourself – schedule goals you can manage for the short term. It’s not a race; you are trying to gradually move yourself away from avoidance.

6. Get out in Nature

When people are feeling depressed, they retreat inside themselves, and often indoors, too. Ask yourself how much time you have spent in nature lately. When was the last time you went outdoors for your mental health and wellbeing, rather than just to complete tasks?

Being outdoors has huge mental health benefits and is a great self-help method for depression. Research shows that spending 120 minutes a week outdoors can really help us feel better mentally[1]. This doesn’t have to be all at once.

You can go out a few times a week, or even every day for a short periods of time. Try walking around the park, taking a photography walk, or heading over to an open field to watch a sunset.

The Bottom Line

Depression is powerful, but once you begin to practice some self-help methods, it will get easier to bear. Pair these methods with professional therapy and you will be well on your way to overcoming this disease once and for all.

More on Overcoming Depression

Featured photo credit: Caroline Veronez via unsplash.com

Reference

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Dr. Kirren Schnack

Dr. Kirren Schnack is an experienced clinical psychologist.

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Published on November 17, 2020

What the Marshmallow Experiment Teaches Us About Grit

What the Marshmallow Experiment Teaches Us About Grit

Ever wonder what you have in common with a four-year-old left alone with a marshmallow?

Turns out… a lot.

Whether we are four or 44, the age-old temptation to choose immediate gratification in favor of the patient path to eventual success surfaces multiple times a day.

To save our birthday money or let it burn a hole in our pockets? To increase to 6% matching on our 401k or splurge on the trip we have been seeing on Groupon?

It can feel like the devil is on our shoulder and yet we know the path of most resistance will likely lead toward success.

But how? How do we quiet the gluttony, greed, and impatience that will us in the direction of the here and now so convincingly?

Turns out, what we are really in search of is GRIT.

According to Angela Duckworth, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Grit is the:[1]

“passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission.”

She coined the term in her quest to understand what distinguishes the success of some from the failure of others regardless of IQ. But, where do kids and marshmallows come into play?

Enter: The Marshmallow Experiment

The earliest study of the conditions that promote delayed gratification is attributed to the American psychologist Walter Mischel and his colleagues at Stanford in 1972. They designed an experimental situation (“the marshmallow test”) in which a child was asked to choose between a larger treat, such as two cookies or marshmallows, and a smaller treat, such as one cookie or one marshmallow.

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After stating a preference for the larger treat, the child was told that to obtain that treat, it would be necessary to wait for the experimenter to return.

The child was also told that if he or chose to signal the experimenter, the experimenter would return and the child would receive the smaller treat.

Thus, the smaller treat would be available now, but the larger treat required waiting. To get a larger treat, the child had to resist the temptation to get an immediate treat.[2]

What Happened?

The researchers studied the choices that the children made in real-time and correlated them with performance when they reached High School.

Children who were best able to wait for the larger treat in the experimental context at four years old also turned out to be more socially and academically successful as high-school students earning higher Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores.

What we know is that each child who held out for the larger treat was practicing grit. We know that this is the intangible that prepares us to resist temptation and muscle through the tough stuff in life….and the good news is ….we can get better at it.

What can we do to enhance our own grit and achieve success in life?

Visualize And Verbalize the Goal

Practicing grit is only worth it when it is in service of a worthwhile outcome. You will want to be clear with yourself about what you are aiming for and explicit about why it is so important to you.

  • Does achieving this goal bring you closer to who you want to be?
  • Does it help you access new opportunities or skills?
  • Will it change your legacy?
  • If you were trapped in a time loop would you be willing to do this way forever? You have to want this for YOU and only YOU. Attempting to practice grit in service of someone else’s dreams will get you nowhere.

Decide If the Juice is Worth the Squeeze

You know this process is going to involve giving something up, feeling FOMO, and settling for alternatives — it was going to be easy everyone would do it…

So, the question is, are you willing to sacrifice now in service of the goal you have committed to?

If you say, yes…you are ready to tackle the task at hand.

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Examine Your Circumstances and Surroundings… Don’t Set Yourself Up to Fail

Comb unnecessary visual reminders from your environment

– out of sight, out of mind!

Successful four-year-olds who resisted the marshmallow went so far as to cover their eyes so they didn’t give in to temptation— we can do the same! Scour your immediate surroundings for visual reminders of the thing you are trying to resist.

ie) put the donuts inside the cabinet, your cell phone in another room, or your favorite shopping alerts on silent. What isn’t staring us in the face, won’t tempt us quite so hard!

Make space for creative and fun alternatives

Bring alternatives closer. Plan for the moments of weakness and meet the moment with something else you enjoy instead. Try an adult coloring book, a notebook for journaling, or your favorite record for an impromptu dance-a-thon. Focusing your energy elsewhere may be just what you need to let the tempting moment pass.

During the most difficult moments, learn what you need to get through. Is it yoga? meditation? time alone to reset? Just like the gritty kids in the experiment who sang to pass the time or imagined the marshmallow as a cloud, your ability to distract yourself from the hardship in front of you dictates your ability to surmount it.

Self-Soothe

Whether this means taking a conscious breath or practicing positive self-talk, our ability to recognize our own discomfort, confront it head-on, and redirect ourselves is a muscle that will grow stronger the more we lean into grit.[3]

Work to Build New Habits

Resisting immediate gratification often requires us to replace quick fixes with long-lasting and consistent behaviors that stretch our physical and mental abilities.

Staying home from that high school rager to study for exams, taking a pass on happy hour to stick to the Whole-30, or signing up for the latest Salesforce certification instead of the boozy volleyball league takes grit.

In place of what we would otherwise have been doing, we will need to establish rituals, practices and follow through tactics we may not have needed before.

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We might need to learn proactive study habits like flashcard making, begin tracking meals in our fit-bit, or schedule time to take weekly quizzes online.

Whatever the habit is– we should build it slowly.

According to Roy F. Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, when we effectively build strong habits, it gives us the ability to practice will power long term.

It is less about resisting temptation one marshmallow at a time, and more about proactively creating a series of habits that help us achieve the goals we prioritize.

“People use their self-control to break bad habits and establish good ones, and then life can run smoothly and successfully, with low levels of stress, regret, and guilt.” As he writes, “willpower fluctuates,” but habits don’t — that’s their defining trait.

So how might we do this?

Try microsteps.[4]

They’re small, incremental, science-backed actions we can take that will have both immediate and long-lasting benefits to the way we live our lives.

We know that success fuels success and that when we are able to delay gratification in small ways and feel successful at it, we will be willing to work toward it in bigger and bigger ways– it is when we attempt to make a drastic change all at once that we fail.

Pick out a single step related to the habit you wish to build and do it regularly for a pre-scheduled amount of time.

For example, if you are working toward the goal of earning a promotion and you know that you will need to be consistent studying for your latest certification, you can start to carve out a half-hour after dinner every night to sit down at your desk and spend two weeks carving out that time, going to your desk and showing up for that moment.

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Once you are successfully able to do that for a week you can add in downloading the course and reading 3 pages per evening. This approach will help you to develop the habits that underpin your capacity to be gritty in very real and ongoing ways.

Learn to Impress Yourself

Pursuing your goals may be a lonely road. There may not be glory in the trenches–validate yourself, remind yourself why you are doing it, and know that the payoff will be there on the other side.

Don’t Be All or Nothing About it

You will slip up…. unlike the marshmallow experiment real life does not have a final reveal or last data set. When you are practicing grit in real life you will have to be forgiving. There may be times you forget to show up for yourself, your goals, and your newly built habits. Life is messy.

That is OK.

Grit is all about getting back up when you have been knocked down and trying again. In search of perfection, we will become our own worst enemy. Stay focused on your vision, be forgiving, give grace, and keep moving.

Be Your Own Cheerleader

It is up to you to maintain your momentum so you will have to be the one to celebrate yourself. Notice when you are trying your hardest and validate that effort.

Be Unwavering

Know who you are. Know what you stand for. Know that no obstacle in your way will be too great to prevent you from getting to where you said you were going.

Bottom Line

Trust your gut. Follow your heart. Don’t look back.

Next time you see a marshmallow– remember there is always S’more to the story.

More About Developing Grit

Featured photo credit: Joyful via unsplash.com

Reference

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