- Inna Khazan
How Depression Creates A Negative Spiral Of Isolation And Despair
When you’re struggling with depression, one of the main symptoms is a lack of motivation and energy. Nothing piques your interest or makes you happy, not even the activities you love. As a result, you feel like withdrawing—your mind and body go into a kind of hibernation-mode. You might end up saying no to social events and quality time with family. Because you don’t get any joy from these activities, you tell yourself it’s not worth the effort.
But the problem is that the less you do, you worse you generally feel. By shutting activities and people out of your life, you’re giving yourself more space to feel bad about yourself for not doing the things you should. In this way, depression creates a vicious cycle of loneliness and despair. Feeling depressed makes you want to isolate. Isolating makes you more depressed. Getting out and doing more would probably help you feel better, but you have no motivation to do so.
How can you break out of this negative spiral? The first thing that needs to happen is a change of perspective. You may tell yourself that you just have to “do more” or “get out more,” but this is not as easy as it sounds. Knowing that you should do something puts intense pressure on you. Going out and forcing yourself to have “fun” probably won’t feel very fun. To make lasting changes to your behavior, you need to change the way you relate to your experience.
How To Reframe The Way You View Depression
Although most people tend to see depression in a purely negative light, it’s important to remember that depression is an evolutionary adaptation. From a perspective of survival, depression serves several functions. For one thing, it helps our minds and bodies conserve energy. By taking our motivation away, it allows us to prepare ourselves for high-stress situations and recover from them. Additionally, depression protects against disappointment. Because depression makes you expect the worst to happen, you steel yourself against feeling sad when something goes wrong.
Understanding that depression exists for a reason can help you improve your self-compassion. By knowing that depression is trying to help you—even if its effect on you may be harmful—you can stop seeing your thoughts as a personal failing.
After all, depression is not your fault. It is often the result of genetics, brain chemistry, life circumstances, or unresolved trauma. Knowing that depression is not your fault is the first step towards rebuilding your sense of joy. Instead of telling yourself “I’ve brought this on myself, so I deserve to feel this way,” or “I’m broken and no one can fix me,” you can learn to reverse the negative messages in your head. You can remind yourself: “None of this was under my control, so blaming myself is not helpful,” and “I am human, and just like everyone else I struggle sometimes. It doesn’t mean I’m broken.”
Once you stop wasting your energy on self-blame and non-acceptance, you can devote your energy to taking steps that are under your control and will lead to meaningful change.
Alleviating Depression Often Means Doing Right In Spite of Your Feelings
One of the best ways to alleviate depression is to check in with your willingness on a daily basis. This means taking action in spite of the fact that you probably don’t want to do anything. Instead of relying on your feelings (which are not under your control) to dictate your actions, you can act based on what is in your best interest.
For instance, when you wake up, you probably know that getting out of bed and going for a walk would benefit you. But because you feel depressed, you don’t want to go for a walk. That’s why it’s good to do what is right in spite of your feelings. Instead of asking yourself: “Do I want to go for a walk?” you can ask yourself: “Am I willing to go for a walk? Is this action in my best interest?”
Over time, making a habit of acting in your best interest even when you don’t feel like it can help you rekindle your motivation. With enough practice, you may find that going for a walk and performing other helpful activities isn’t so hard anymore—you actually want to engage in them.
Training Your Heartrate Variability Can Help You Regulate Depression
Most of the activities that help with depression are fairly self-explanatory—anything that brings you pleasure, such as painting, reading, being in nature, and going out with friends. However, one activity that may be unfamiliar to you is measuring and training your heartrate variability.
Heartrate variability refers to the change in time that passes between each heartbeat. The greater your heartrate variability, the healthier and more resilient you are. When you are depressed, your nervous system becomes dysregulated, your heartrate becomes static, and you have a harder time responding to challenges in a healthy way. This is why being depressed makes you feel stuck, unable to muster up the energy to do helpful activities. Heartrate variability training can strengthen your body’s ability to regulate your motivation and energy level, helping you feel more willing to engage in life.
The best way to do this training is to get a heartrate variability monitor and connect to an app that will walk you through measuring your heartrate variability. OptimalHRV can help you do this training in a step-by-step practical way. As you train your heartrate variability and self-regulation, you may find it easier to be active and respond thoughtfully to what’s happening around you.
Depression Doesn’t Have To Hold You Back From Your Hopes And Dreams
If you’d like to pursue depression therapy with us, contact our Boston, MA office either using the contact form, or calling 617-231-0011. We're happy to provide a free, 15-minute phone consultation.
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