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12 Things You Should Never Say to a Person Struggling with Depression

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12 Things You Should Never Say to a Person Struggling with Depression

Depression can be a tough illness to understand, especially for those who have never experienced it themselves. Many people misunderstand the difference between clinical depression and feeling sad or blue. Approaching depression like the physiological illness it is is key to supporting a friend or colleague with depression. It’s also helpful to realize that medical treatment for depression often does not include medication, and professionals will know better how to react to someone in crisis. While clinical depression is a shifting, troublesome illness, it is something you can approach helpfully and supportively by avoiding some key missteps.

1. “You’re freaking out over nothing.”

Depression and mood disorders tend to involve peaks and valleys of extreme emotions. If you belittle the problems someone is experiencing, they’ll feel attacked and it may make the problem worse. While you might have a different perspective on their situation, that doesn’t change how strong their feelings are, which is the real problem. The chemical and electrical imbalances that cause mental health problems will still be present, even if the person struggling has no responsibilities.

Instead, try to be a sympathetic ear. Understand that this person’s mood will bottom out without any change in external factors. Identify with the person and let them know you understand that their health is often independent from outside problems. Most of all, let the person vent without judgement.

2. “It’s your own fault.”

Never tell a depressed person that they are struggling because of their own actions. Just like most other illnesses, people with depression have no say in whether or or not they are affected. Scientists suspect mood disorders are a result of both genetic predisposition and social factors, so people who struggle with depression did not choose to become sick and shouldn’t be treated as such.

In place of accusing a depressed person of not trying hard enough, acknowledge what a struggle it is to keep going when you are ill. Let the person know that you think they’re brave for sticking it out.

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3. “It will pass.”

Never tell a person depression will pass on its own. Every illness will fluctuate with how serious it is, but illness generally doesn’t go away by itself. Medical treatment is necessary for most people struggling with depression. Even if someone is in a depressed state, but doesn’t struggle with clinical depression, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Additionally, many voices today condemn those who struggle with clinical mood disorders.

Be a supportive voice that lets your friend know what they deal with is a real problem. Try telling the person that depression is a real medical issue and must be difficult to deal with. Encourage them to seek medical treatment, even though others may be misinformed about how serious mental problems are.

4. “What about your lifestyle?”

Don’t look for a scapegoat for your friend’s medical problems. Sure, some actions have an effect on our mood, but a perfectly balanced life would never have the power to completely cure a pre-existing medical problem. In this way, poor lifestyle decisions are often an effect of clinical depression, rather than a cause. Making different choices in the future might help your friend with depression, but first, they need to recover enough to even make well-thought out decisions.

Rather than questioning the persons lifestyle, empathize, then highlight some things that may help them. Remind them that small decisions can aid their recovery. Offering to regularly go for a walk with them for example, is more encouraging than putting down their current decisions. Ultimately, remind them that small acts help recovery, but don’t take the place of medical treatment.

5. “Being depressed is better than … “

Minimizing a depressed person’s problems may seem like you’re giving them perspective, but in fact, it makes the depress person feel as though you think they are making up their illness. While a healthy person can step outside their perspective and change their attitude, clinical depression prevents normal thinking.

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Instead of reminding the person what they don’t have to deal with, try to listen to their concerns and validate that depression is a troubling medical condition. Again, regardless of outside stress, mental problems will sometimes be worse than others. Simply showing concern for the person is much more helpful, and won’t make them feel like their condition is being minimized.

6. “Try thinking positive.”

Even though mental problems exist in the brain, a change in thought is not enough to overcome the problem. Studies show that mental health problems of all kinds, including depression, are caused by chemical and electrical imbalances in the brain. This means a depressed person’s brain does not have the capacity to dwell on positive thoughts and feelings. Telling someone with depression to think their way out of it is a bit like telling a diabetic to think happy thoughts, instead of giving them insulin.

As an alternative, try telling the person it must be incredibly grueling to lose the ability to think positive. Validating the illness of a person with depression is helpful because as they learn more about what causes their condition, they will be better equipped to manage it.

7. “Have you tried exercise?”

Much like positive thinking, exercise is not a cure for health problems, but rather, merely an action with positive effects on health. Exercise is helpful in providing some mood boosting chemicals to a person, but only if their brain is already mainly healthy. Someone with depression needs medical treatment, much of which does not involve medication, in order to get healthy enough to have energy to exercise.

In place of suggesting exercise as a cure, sympathize that it must be hard to have a condition that zaps your energy and motivation. Validate that this person’s condition has a massive effect on what they can accomplish, and new habits will not be enough to overcome it entirely. You can offer to accompany this person regularly for a quick walk or jog without suggesting that exercise is a cure all for their condition.

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8. “Find a new job.”

Another seemingly helpful suggestion that actually isn’t very useful is suggesting that the depressed person get a new job. While work related pressures can certainly exacerbate mental health problems, a lack of stress does not cure serious medical problems.

Instead, show concern that work pressure isn’t making it easier for them to recover from depression. Validate their problems, which may include work stress, but still get to the root of the issue, which is physiological brain imbalances they can’t control.

9. “Count your blessings.”

Again, usually someone is trying to give the person with depression perspective when they say this, but ultimately, it can just make the person feel worse. Someone with depression isn’t just feeling down; they’re experiencing a state of illness. Though numbering the good things in life might help too accentuate the positive, it isn’t a whole solution for someone with medical problems. Not only that, the person has likely already tried many times to pull themselves out of depression with no success.

In lieu of suggesting that this person’s attitude is the problem, let them know that depression gets in the way of someone realizing the positive things in life. Empathize that it must be terrible to have your brain play these kinds of tricks on you and you realize that the person is trying their best to recover. Offer support, and let them know you will always be willing to lend an ear if they need to talk.

10. “Everyone has problems.”

By equating someone struggling with depression to someone with responsibilities, we misunderstand the root of depression. Someone with responsibilities is capable of overcoming problems with hard work. Unfortunately for all of us, hard work is not the only thing needed to overcome illness. When you compare other problems with depression, you run the risk of belittling a depressed person’s struggle.

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A better way to approach this would be to remind the person that they’re not alone in struggling with mental health. Remind them that depression is a real, physiologically based illness that affects many. Because so many people are affected, many treatment options are available to help them recover, even though depression can feel like a tunnel with no end.

11. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself.”

This is also a misunderstanding of where depression comes from. Clinical depression is different from getting the blues, and requires much more than a change in perspective to turn around.

As an alternative to telling your depressed friend to avoid feeling sorry for themselves, acknowledge that they are likely not able to think beyond the curtain of depression. Identify that it must be difficult to be forced into such a state of being.

12. “I know how you feel.”

Although this phrase might seem helpful, saying you know how your depressed friend is feeling can actually be patronizing. Feeling depressed as a healthy individual is very different from clinical depression, so equating the two is harmful. Clinical depression is not a temporary state, and can sometimes last years. The person in question is struggling to feel any hope for months and months on end, which is something you really only experience if you’ve had clinical depression.

Instead, try telling your depressed friend that you’ve had periods where you felt depressed and it was awful, but that experience only begins to show you how serious their condition is. Empathize that a bigger, more complex version of your feelings must be truly punishing to get through. If you have struggled with clinical depression though, it is usually helpful to let them know that you really do know how they feel.

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Featured photo credit: ryan melaugh via flickr.com

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Alicia Prince

A writer, filmmaker, and artist who shares about lifestyle tips and inspirations on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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