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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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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Last Updated on February 17, 2021

15 Meditation Benefits That Will Make You Successful

15 Meditation Benefits That Will Make You Successful

What could be better than reaching your big goals? Well, it turns out that meditation—something you could be doing daily, at no cost and with little effort—offers benefits that success can’t bring. Meditation benefits can seep into every area of your life and improve your overall wellbeing in the long-term.

Meditation as Mindfulness

The studies on meditation generally focus on a broad type of meditation that could be called mindfulness. Mindfulness simply means keeping one’s thoughts focused on awareness of a single thing or moment. It could be your breath (a typical point of focus in meditation), or it could be a single image, word, or emotion.

It sounds simple, but when you try it, you realize how much your mind wants to jump around. That’s okay: “When a ‘stray’ thought arises, the practitioner must be quick to recognize it, and then turn back to the focus of their attention,” says George Dvorsky, writing about meditation[1]. “And it doesn’t just have to be the breath; any single thought, like a mantra, will do.”

Here are 15 ways meditation benefits can improve your life, whether or not you ever reach those big goals.

1. Handle Stress Better

According to one source, “When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress.”[2]

Much of our stress comes from too much input and a lack of time or tools in handling the input. We take in information and build emotions, and we get overloaded. Our brains don’t know what to handle first, so they just keep cycling through all the information.

Meditation helps your brain to let things slide away by simply giving it time to rest and meander through the information, bit by bit, letting go of what is unimportant.

2. Improve How Your Brain Functions

A 2012 study showed a brain process called gyrification happening more in people who meditate[3].

Gyrification is “the ‘folding’ of the cerebral cortex as a result of growth, which in turn may allow the brain to process information faster. Though the research did not prove this directly, scientists suspect that gyrification is responsible for making the brain better at processing information, making decisions, forming memories, and improving attention.”

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If that’s not enough, there is also evidence from MRI scans that meditation can reinforce connections between brain cells. One study showed that meditation “may be associated with structural changes in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing. The data further suggest that meditation may impact age related declines in cortical structure.”[4]

In other words, meditation may not only make your brain work better, but it might also slow down the aging process within the brain.

3. Get in Touch With Yourself

The busyness of modern life, along with the perpetual onslaught of media that tells us how we ought to look, feel, and behave, can leave us feeling detached from ourselves. It can be difficult to connect with our own values and emotions. We see standards put into place, and we want to meet those standards, so we pretend to be a certain way even when, perhaps, we are not.

Meditation benefits can help us with that. According to researcher Erika Carlson,[5]

“Mindfulness helps us to see our authentic selves in two ways: nonjudgmental observation, and attention. Nonjudgmental observation enables people to really get to know themselves without feeling any negative feelings.”

4. Improve Your Grades

Whether you’re a part-time student, a full-time student, or someone who just likes to take tests for fun, meditation can help you learn and retain what you learn.

One study[6] showed that mindfulness training resulted in “improved accuracy on the GRE and higher working memory capacity.” The researchers concluded that “the improvement could be explained, at least in part, by reduced mind wandering during the task.”

The researchers estimated that mindfulness training resulted in the equivalent of a 16 percentile-point boost on the GRE, on average.

5. Increase Productivity in High-Performance Situations

A study done in 2012 set participants up in a real-world multitasking situation. They had to do several activities that required various forms of input in a typical office setting, and they had to complete them all within 20 minutes.

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Some of the participants received mindfulness training, and some didn’t. Then, they tested them all again. “The only participants to show improvement,” reported the researchers, “were those who had received the mindfulness training.”[7]

Another study showed that “daily meditation-like thought could shift frontal brain activity toward a pattern that is associated with what cognitive scientists call positive, approach-oriented emotional states — states that make us more likely to engage the world rather than to withdraw from it.”

Handling high-stress, high-performance situations like a pro could certainly be a handy skill to have, and it’s one that meditation benefits can help you cultivate. If you need more motivation to increase productivity, check out Lifehack’s free guide: Ultimate Worksheet for Instant Motivation Boost.

6. Appreciate Music More

Do you love but find yourself drifting off and missing out in the middle of a concert or show? Meditation can help you to stay tuned in and aware, one study showed[8].

The majority of the people in the “mindfulness groups” in the study said that the mindfulness task had “modified their listening experience by increasing their ability to focus on the music without distraction.”

7. Positive Effects Even When Not Meditating

Researchers have found that the way meditation helps your brain to work better is consistent, staying with you not just when you’re sitting on a cushion with your eyes closed, but all the time. According to the research, “the effects of meditation training on emotional processing might transfer to non-meditative states.”[9]

The researchers point out that this may mean that the benefits of meditation are not specific to a task or certain stimulus (such as that cushion or a mantra) but are process-specific, meaning that they “may result in enduring changes in mental function.”

8. Reduce Isolation and Feel Connected

It’s strange that in the age of constant connectivity, isolation and loneliness can feel even more poignant. But it happens, and when that sense of isolation descends, it can be overwhelming.

However, meditation was shown to reduce feelings of loneliness in a study on older adults[10], and those who have been practicing transcendental meditation, even for a very short time, say that the practice of meditation provides a feeling of being connected and whole, a “fundamental level of unity”[11].

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9. Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Meditation can help you feel connected and handle stress, but what about an ongoing anxiety disorder? What about overwhelming negative feelings or that debilitating sense of depression?

Well, a study done on high school students showed that a mindfulness and meditation benefits could help a lot with both: students who stuck with a mindfulness program “exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program”[12].

10. Fight Disease and Stay Healthier

Meditation benefits can be useful for both the brain and body. Being able to handle stress better can reduce its impact on your body, which can decrease symptoms and physical aggravation of various health issues, including chronic pain.

A researcher at one of Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospitals[13] notes that “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.” Health benefits abound when you devote yourself to meditation.

11. Sleep Better

Let’s do a quick review: meditation can help you cope with stress better, help you know (and like) yourself more, and help you lessen anxiety and depression.

With those meditation benefits alone, it seems pretty likely that you’d be able to get a better night’s sleep. After all, if you can stop your brain from racing and your emotions from raging, you’ll be much more likely to drift off into sweet dreams. Research concurs[14]:

“Meditation practices influence brain functions, induce various intrinsic neural plasticity events, modulate autonomic, metabolic, endocrine, and immune functions and thus mediate global regulatory changes in various behavioral states including sleep.”

Guided meditations, especially, can help lull you into sleep, so give it a try today.

12. Help With Weight Loss

When a group of psychologists were asked to recommend a few strategies for reaching weight-loss goals, 7 out of 10 said meditation, or mindfulness training, would be beneficial[15].

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The popular meditation app, Headspace, notes that meditation can help you focus on mindful eating, which encourages you to eat when you’re hungry, not when you are stressed or upset[16]. When you develop this skill, it can help you lose weight the natural way, which is one of the most useful meditation benefits for many.

13. Make You a Better Friend

It makes sense that being able to know and accept yourself better might help you to know and accept others, as well. Other studies have also shown that meditation increases the “mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion”[17].

In other words, people who meditate tend to respond with more positive emotions rather than negative ones. They have a stronger sense of empathy and compassion for others, making them an overall better friend to others.

14. Increase Your Attention Span

Studies show that mindfulness training helps the brain to connect better. What that means for you is that your brain, after meditating, finds it easier to access and process information. Along with that, mindfulness trains your brain to release the information that’s not important, and quickly[18].

Therefore, meditation benefits help you get better at collecting information, processing it quickly, and discarding the stuff you don’t need. Doing that well is what allows you to keep your attention focused on the information and tasks in front of you.

15. Generate More Ideas

If you wish you could access the creative, idea-making part of your brain more easily, it’s time to quit stalling and start meditating. The “catch-and-release” nature of mindfulness, that ability to let a thought in and let it go, turns out to be very helpful for what one study calls “divergent thinking”[19].

The meditative practice helps your brain to be less judgmental and more accepting, while exercising less “top-down control and local competition.” Your brain opens up to new ideas and inputs, which, say the researchers, “facilitates jumping from one thought to another – as required in divergent thinking.”

The Bottom Line

Meditation benefits are wide-ranging and can have a positive impact on many areas of your life. Whether you’re looking to increase your focus, develop more compassion, or get healthier, meditation can help with it all, especially if you become a long-term meditator. To get started with meditation, find a local or online meditation program, check out this simple 5-minute guide.

More on Meditation Benefits

Featured photo credit: Darius Bashar via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Gizmodo: The science behind meditation, and why it makes you feel better
[2] Mayo Clinic: Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress
[3] Science Daily: Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain
[4] Neuroreport.: Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness
[5] HuffPost: Mindfulness Helps Us Understand Our True Personalities, Study Says
[6] APS: Brief Mindfulness Training May Boost Test Scores, Working Memory
[7] The New York Times: The Power of Concentration
[8] Psychology of Music: Mindfulness, attention, and flow during music listening: An empirical investigation
[9] Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state
[10] Brain, Behavior, and Immunity: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: A small randomized controlled trial
[11] Medical News Today: Does meditation have benefits for mind and body?
[12] HuffPost: Mindfulness Programs In Schools Reduce Symptoms Of Depression Among Adolescents: Study
[13] Bloomberg: Harvard Yoga Scientists Find Proof of Meditation Benefit
[14] Frontiers in Neurology: Meditation and its regulatory role on sleep
[15] Consumer Reports: Lose weight your way
[16] Headspace: Meditation for weight loss
[17] PLOS One: Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise
[18] The New York Times: Study Suggests Meditation Can Help Train Attention
[19] Frontiers in Psychology: Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking

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