When I feel a little off, I find it terribly difficult to motivate myself into doing anything constructive. Admittedly over the past few days, I’ve been feeling quite depressed for a number of reasons and each time I’ve simply acknowledged how I’m feeling rather than fight it.
My 4 stages of depression and how I manage through it can often look like this:
- I ruminate. It begins with me sitting quietly alone in my dark apartment listening to how empty everything sounds. I feel heavy and loath doing anything other than sit and ruminate in whatever depressing thoughts I might have: work, my family’s health, missing my ex, wishing I had a healthier childhood, etc. I’ve noticed for me that this stage is strongest by 2-4 pm or in the evenings around 7-8 pm, particularly on Sundays (the day before going back to work).
- I center myself. I do my best to stay focused and grounded when I recognize that my mind’s ruminating. I listen to my breath and I’m also aware of the surrounding noises (this is part of what being present is about). I recognize any bodily sensations that are attached to these thoughts. This might include: clenching of the teeth, heaviness in my legs, a tight frown or a shallow breath.
- I allow and flow. I allow my thoughts to go through my head without resisting or judgment. However, the key is to remain conscious and aware that these are only thoughts and not to drown in them. For example: I’ve been thinking and missing my ex girlfriend a lot lately. I begin thinking about the great times and love we shared and also the times where the relationship struggled immensely. I allow myself to remember a couple of examples in my head without getting carried away and falling deeper into the rabbit hole with endless examples after another. I acknowledge that I’m feeling sad, lonely, empty, bored and upset but I don’t judge myself for feeling these things.
- I validate myself. Once I’ve allowed a reasonable amount of time for my thoughts and feelings to enter and flow through my mind, I continue listening to my mind and gently tell myself something like this, “…everything is OK, Jason…you’re here now and you’re going through a lot. Allow yourself to feel it all and when you’re ready, you can let go of those thoughts…”
Only after successfully sitting with my thoughts and feelings, I am able to move on to the next stage which is what I call Distracting the Mind. Distraction is a healthy way to take my mind off of my depression because it helps me focus on another goal or task. Although I may still feel a bit depressed, I manage to reach a point where I’ve generated enough energy and motivation to do any of the following things to keep me distracted.
- Exercise – I enjoy hiking, swimming, tabata workouts and circuit training anywhere from 15 mins to 1 hour. Sometimes I’ll just do a really short and easy workout just to distract myself.
- Grocery shop and look at new things. For you, this might be shopping at the mall or hardware store. By looking at different things on the shelves, my mind gets distracted. Though often times when I feel depressed, I have no desire for any of the things I see, but it still offers some stimulation just to see things outside the home.
- Go for a walk and grab a coffee – Regardless of the weather, going for a walk to get the feel of fresh air through my lungs and face makes me feel a bit more rejuvenated.
- Take a nap – A nap can sometimes freshen me up and reset the mind.
- Clean the apartment or even just taking out the garbage keeps me busy and distracted.
- Blog and journal – It’s cathartic to write because I transfer and empty what’s in my head onto paper (or a computer screen).
- Meditate and simply be mindful – Being present and mindful can help me recenter and also bring more awareness to myself. I think of meditation as a form of “getting to know myself more” rather than a solution to my problems. By doing that I look for a different outcome when I meditate.
- Take a nice long bath – Like napping, i feel this can help me reset the mind.
- Yoga – A good stretch shifts my mind to focus more on my body which is a great distraction.
- Get out of the house – staying in my home when I’m feeling depressed can sometimes remind me that I’m feeling depressed, so getting out of the house changes the environment and so can my feelings.
Tonight after I went through my personal 4 stages of depression, I chose to go for a walk to the nearby community center and exercised for 30 minutes. Afterwards, I went over to see my son and his mom, had a nice dinner together and chatted. I honestly feel a lot better now and more like my usual self again. It’s amazing how our minds can wander and cycle through different stages of emotions. Here are some other helpful ideas as distractions:
- Phone a friend or family member to talk.
- Go out for a meal or cook at home.
- Paint, draw or play a musical instrument.
- Listen to music.
- Play a video game.
- Watch a movie.
- Build or craft something.
I’m not particularly a social person (which makes it challenging at times battling depression and loneliness), but I do want to emphasize the wonders of being around people whom you connect with. I’ve seen it first hand with my son and I also recognize the shift in my own mindset whenever we are around friends.
In summary, pay attention to when you are having depressing thoughts and gently acknowledge your feelings. Make peace with yourself without getting overwhelmed and carried away by your thoughts and depression. Once some clarity is regained, take the next steps to distract your mind and shift your focus on the task at hand. And always remember to acknowledge what you’re going through is difficult but not unusual. We all face difficult days from time to time. Just remember that you’re not alone when it comes to depression, so hopefully that will bring some comfort just by knowing that.