Depression can be described as a self-reinforcing cycle of despair. In this pattern, the sadness and inability to change the situation leads to isolation. Then that withdrawal leads to an even greater inability to take meaningful action, fatigue and the whole pattern is reinforced as failure leads to failure until the dark hold of depression steals one’s entire purpose away. This is the pattern we want to break free from.
There are a few ways to break free. The first is by changing the way we respond to the world by taking medication. Doing this attacks the problem at a biological level, altering brain chemistry so that the spiral can’t take hold.
When successful, our lives do not change so much as our moods and feelings about our lives change. It is, after all, a mood disorder. This can free us from the cyclical, downward nature of depression which promotes even deeper depression.
A second way to break free also utilizes a biological mechanism, although one not as readily seen. Just as a lack of activity spirals into a pattern of indolence and fatigue that spawns even more withdrawal, so too can getting out and moving change the meter the other way round.
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So, for example, forcing ourselves to get out of the house and take a walk in the sunshine not only temporarily alters the equation, but exercise has been shown to actually reduce the weight of depression. Our bodies seem to respond to the higher activity level by mobilizing resources we didn’t even know we had.
That seems backwards, but it’s true. The remedy for the constant fatigue and loss of energy is to force yourself to expend energy.
On the mental front, the same trick can work. By forcing ourselves to participate even when we don’t feel like it, our mood can be improved just because we did. That means forcing ourselves to do things and participate in activities we’d much rather avoid. It does take effort and it is taxing to interact with others. But that’s the point – breaking the pattern means doing something different.
Commit to something
Another great way to break through when we just don’t feel like participating in our own lives is to make a commitment we can’t easily get out of. First of all, it’s fairly easy to promise something that we won’t have to act on until some future time – after all, we aren’t actually doing anything now.
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That same promise, when the time arises, can then act as a motivator to get us out of our isolation. This is an important mechanism, committing to something you know will help but don’t feel like you can do right now.
Set a sleep schedule
Breaking the pattern also can mean establishing a new and healthier pattern. For depression, this means establishing a sleep schedule (and sticking to it) based on scientific recommendations about sleep hygiene.
Diet is also a pattern that bears attention – just because we don’t “feel” like eating right doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Putting good habits in place on the “taking care of ourselves” front will pay benefits and has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression.