The National Institute of Mental Health (MIMH) estimated that approximately 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least 1 major depressive episode. This is 7.1 percent of U.S. adults. So, if you are someone who struggles with depression, you are not alone. In this article we will discuss the signs and symptoms of depression and 5 things you can do immediately to feel happier. Remember we need to take depression seriously. If you feel suicidal, you need to immediately reach out to someone and seek professional help.
Where to Start?
So, you have been feeling down for quite a while and you consider yourself as being depressed, now what? Seeing a counselor is a good option. At Bend & Boise Counseling & Biofeedback we often treat individuals for depression. But let’s say for some reason you can’t or don’t want to see a therapist, but you want to feel better fast. Here are some simple, but powerful tools that can help.
Mindfulness is your friend
Often when people feel depressed, they just want it to go away, judging the feeling, and seeing the depression as the enemy. Research in Interpersonal Neurobiology suggests that this is the last thing we want to do. When we are critical and judgmental towards how we feel, we end up feeling worse. Here is a great tool that I learned from Dr. Dan Siegel in his book, The Mindful Brain. It is an acronym called COAL that works with both depression and anxiety.
C stands for Curious. When you are feeling depressed or anxious, imagine being curious about how you are feeling. In a self-compassionate way try to find the experience has being interesting.
O stands for Open. Instead of closing-down the emotion, try to be open in regard to how you are feeling, and be present with the experience moment by moment.
A represents Accepting. No matter what you are feeling, try to be accepting of it. Don’t see it as good or bad, just accept it for how it is.
L stands for Loving. Try to have compassion for the part of you that is feeling down. Imagine becoming your own best friend throughout the process.
When using COAL, try to be patient with yourself. Unless you are experienced with Mindfulness-Based approaches this endeavor can feel weird or awkward at first. Most of my clients struggle with the Accepting and Loving steps when they first get started.
Change your Posture
When someone feels depressed, their posture is different than when they are happy or upbeat. When visualizing a depressed mood, think of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. A depressed posture consists of slouching, drooping, looking down, etc. So, what happens when we change our posture in a positive way? We may feel more upbeat and more energized.
A recent study from the University of Auckland. Elizabeth Broadbent, Ph.D. and her colleagues found that when individuals with mild to moderate depression were asked to sit upright, it reduced their fatigue and increased their enthusiasm. In addition, participants sitting upright spoke more words in total during a stressful speech task, and the words that they used were more positive.
Make a point to check in with your emotional state. If you notice you are in a low state, lift your head, straighten up your posture, look up, not down. Try to open up your chest and take long deep breaths.
Loving Kindness Meditation
In most cases we see antidepressant medications and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as standard medical treatments for depression, however, there are powerful options that are gaining the public’s attention. One of them is Loving Kindness Meditation.
There is a large amount of evidence that shows meditation is an effective treatment for depression. Johns Hopkins University researchers reviewed over 18,000 mindfulness meditation studies and concluded that, of all the benefits of meditation, its three best uses are for depression, anxiety, and pain relief.
Loving Kindness Meditation is a powerful type of meditation. Try an app, like Headspace or check out Jon Kabat Zinn’s guided meditations.
Maybe I’m not really Depressed
The idea of conquering depression can seem daunting. Often clients come into my office who have already self-diagnosed themselves with depression. I ask them to give me an example of a typical day. Depending on what they tell me, I ask “Are you sure you’re not just bored?” I usually get a puzzled look. We then begin to explore the concept of boredom vs. depression.
Wouldn’t seem easier and more simple to address someone’s boredom apposed to tackling the monster of depression? Ask yourself “Am I depressed or just bored”? If the answer is boredom, it is something you can immediately change. Think of things you have done in the past that were exciting, start a project, plan a trip. Do whatever it takes shift out of your bored state.
Try this Cognitive Reframe
A great tool I learned that is quick and powerful was from a book by Barbara Fredrickson, PhD. The book was called Positivity. In her book she gathered a tremendous amount empirical data. Her research found one way in particular, that proved to move folks out of a depressed state very quickly.
It is based on two questions that you can learn to ask yourself. One, “Could the situation be worse?” And, two “Can I learn or gain something from this situation?” To put this approach to the test, try thinking of something fairly significant.
Here’s one that have used as an example in my sessions with my clients, I imagine I get in a serious accident and my leg needs to be amputated. After some time, I need to get fitted for a prosthetic. So here I am depressed has hell, sitting in the waiting room with half of a leg. The door finally opens, and a person is leaving their appointment in a wheel chair with both their legs amputated from the upper thigh down!
Wow, my situation could be way worse! But what can I learn or gain from this? Perhaps it will lead to me having more compassion for others who have physical challenges. Maybe it will help me to teach my kids how to push through adversity. The list is endless.
Practicing Gratitude Leads to Happiness
Feeling grateful and happy are two topics that have a long history of research but only recently became a popular point of discussion. As more and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of applying Positive Psychology evidence-based approaches to their daily life, gratitude and happiness are rising to the top of the priority list.
In the field of Positive Psychology, happiness can be defined as experiencing frequent positive emotions, like joy, pride, and interest with less negative emotions like anger, sadness, and anxiety (Lyubomirsky, 2008). Furthermore, happiness is related to life satisfaction, moments of pleasure, and appreciation of life (Khoda, 2016).
When you think about it, it’s hard to be grateful and depressed at the same time. In fact, according to neuroscience, it is impossible. You see, the brain can only fire one thought at a time. If you are thinking about something troubling, you can’t at the same time think about something you are thankful for. The same is true the other way around!
It’s the same thing with our emotions. Can you feel happy and depressed at the same time? NO! Our thoughts affect our emotions and our emotions affect our thoughts.
Some of my clients like to make a list before they start their gratefulness meditation. Come up with your own list of things you were grateful for growing up, things you are grateful for in the present, and things you are grateful for what’s to come.
Here is the list of tools for review:
- Use the COAL Method to tap into the powers of Mindfulness
- Change your posture to shift your emotional state
- Confirm if you are depressed or just bored
- Ask yourself “Could it be worse?” and “Can I learn or gain something from this?”
- Practice Gratitude to move into a happier state
Good luck with these simple but powerful tools…