“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.” ~Buddha
You know the feeling …
When out of the blue your mood switches.
One moment you’re feeling upbeat and optimistic; next you’re feeling down in the dumps.
You can’t think clearly and struggle to put things into perspective. The bright outlook on life of a moment ago has vanished, and in its place now resides an intense longing for its return.
You feel disconnected, lost, and confused, and everything around you looks and feels dark and bleak. And even though you have no reason to feel this way, it feels all too real to you.
And you know where that leads. You’ve been there many times before and don’t want to go back.
I know the feeling too.
Recovery is such an illusory term.
It implies that once recovered, the depression is gone. But those who have recovered know this is false.
Recovering from Depression Is Not the End of the Battle
Having spent half of my life depressed, two years after recovery, I still find myself waging the battle of relapse. A battle that at times seems harder to fight than the recovery—just as you tasted the sweetness of the non-depressed life, you never again want to taste the bitterness of depression.
On the surface, a mood swing looks like “having a bad day.” The kind everyone experiences and snaps out of quickly. But for those with depression, the consequences of mood swings can be severe and lasting.
First, there’s the sudden change in mood, the one that is more than “feeling-down-soon-will-snap-out-of-it,” followed by a drastic change in outlook. One moment you’re looking at life through clean lenses, and now dirty ones blur your vision.
Then the inevitable guests start showing up—low self-confidence, paralyzed will, self-loathing, and the most dreaded of all, inertia.
Not getting completely trapped in the spell of this depressed mood is key in preventing relapse, which is not always easy to do.
How to Keep Depression from Disrupting Your Life
I used to believe depression was about “feelings,” so my focus was on understanding and managing my emotions. An approach that not always kept me from relapse—until I learned about the connection between thoughts-feelings-behaviors and about mastering one’s mood, which gave me a new perspective on depression.
We think. We feel. We behave.
“It is an obvious neurological fact that before you can experience any event, you must process it with your mind and give it meaning. You must understand what is happening to you before you feel it.” ~David D. Burns, M.D.
So, how do you master your mood? Well, it’s not that hard. It involves the following:
1. Detecting the mood change, its severity, and duration.
For me, the most severe of mood changes, when I’m most vulnerable to relapse, is when it lasts more than a couple of days.
2. Knowing the consequences of giving in to the depressed mood, as this is key in forcing you to take action.
In my case, it always leads to the vicious cycle of procrastination, guilt, regret, and self-loathing. A cycle that, once started, is difficult to break.
3. Taking action to keep the depressed mood from lasting too long.
The longer it lasts, the more debilitating it becomes, and the harder it is to get back to normal.
One of the things I used to do as soon as my mood changed was write about how I felt, a strategy that didn’t always keep me from relapse. But when I came across Feeling Good by Dr. David D. Burns and learned about the thinking patterns of depression, I found a new way to battle it.
The 10 Thinking Patterns You Need to Recognize to Prevent Relapse
A few weeks ago, I found myself close to relapse after having completed a major project—one I’d been working on for a while that needed to be done—which put all other work on hold. When it was done, I felt pretty good, but the feeling didn’t last long, and I soon found my mood changing.
One moment I was feeling happy and proud of what I’d accomplished; next I was miserable and beating myself down.
I had no reason for feeling the way I did, and this was confirmed when I put the thoughts behind the feelings to the test using the ten thinking patterns of depression to challenge them.
At the core of perfectionism is the tendency to evaluate ourselves in terms of absolutes and nothing in between—good or bad, winner or loser, smart or dumb. In this situation, not being able to do both—complete my project and keep up with other work—pointed to not having achieved the “perfect situation.”
Believing that if something bad happened once, it will happen over and over and over. “I did it again,” the thoughts that reinforced the belief it will always be this way—unable to manage and prioritize my work.
3. Mental filter.
The tendency to focus on one negative aspect of a situation while ignoring all other positive evidence. In spite of having completed the project, my focus was solely on “how behind I was.”
4. Disqualifying the positive.
More destructive than mind-filtering, this involves taking a positive experience and turning it into a completely negative one. With all the distorted thinking already stewing in my head, the sense of achievement from this moment was replaced by a sense of failure for not being able to keep up with everything else.
5. Jumping to conclusions.
Automatically jumping to negative conclusions without any basis for it. The immediate assumption here was that “I’ll never be able to catch up,” even though I always have in similar past circumstances.
6. Magnification and minimization.
The tendency to magnify our mistakes and weaknesses while minimizing our successes and strengths. The heightened sense of failure for not being able to keep up obscured my abilities and skills to overcome this and any other challenges.
7. Emotional reasoning.
Looking at life through painful eyes where everything looks bleak and dark. Once the wheels of distorted thinking were set in motion, everything I needed to do to get caught up appeared daunting and impossible.
8. Should statements.
The useless mind-noise resulting from being disappointed with ourselves and the world, reminding us of what we could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve done differently. “I should’ve tried harder to keep up.” “I must do all of this to catch up.” These were the thoughts that began popping into my head.
9. Labeling and mislabeling.
The constant labeling and mislabeling of ourselves in a self-deprecating manner. Once trapped in this way of thinking, the usual self-loathing terms to devalue myself showed up—loser, not smart enough, can’t do anything right.
Feeling responsible and guilty when there’s no reason for it. Even though I had a valid reason to do what I did (postpone other work), I blamed myself and felt horrible for finding myself in the situation I was in.
Everyone thinks in this manner at one time or another.
But for those with depression, it’s a way of life, with each distortion feeding and supporting the others, keeping us in a constant state of emotional turmoil.
Transforming the Distorted Thinking of Depression
Giving the insane thinking of the depressed mind a name, an identity, takes away its power to make us depressed. A power that lies in its obscure nature and that, once exposed, can be seen and defeated.
This new way of understanding how the depressed mind thinks revealed how most (if not all) of the time when I’m depressed, it has nothing to do with what’s going on in my life but rather the result of distorted thinking.
Today, armed with this knowledge, whenever I feel the depressed mood coming on, I immediately start jotting down the thoughts that pop into my head. I give them form by labeling them, and then I replace them with rational ones by questioning their validity.
In this situation, the negative thoughts “I am so behind, and I’ll never catch up” kept me from acknowledging the positive aspects of having completed a major project. A form of mind-filtering, they persisted, making me feel overwhelmed, guilty, and anxious, all potentially leading to relapse.
On the surface, “falling behind” was true. However, the underlying assumption—that I intentionally procrastinated—was wrong.
When I realized this, the distorted thoughts lost their validity giving way to a more accurate and rational way of thinking: That this was a major project that needed to be completed and required all my attention. And that “putting everything else on hold” was a conscious choice made and not due to procrastination.
Master Your Mood and Stop Being Victimized by Depression
One by one, I challenged and transformed every distorted thought until there were none. As a result, my mood improved, and I went back to relishing the joy and pride the moment warranted for having completed the project.
You can do it too.
Master the mood of depression so it doesn’t take over your life.
Learn to master it, and never again feel the fear of relapse.
Break the chains of its prison by giving form to its formless thinking, and free yourself once and for all.
And never allow depression to keep you from fully and uninterruptedly savoring the joy that life brings!
*This post represents one woman’s unique experience of preventing a depression relapse. If you’re struggling with depression and nothing seems to help, you may want to contact a professional.
Depressed image via Shutterstock