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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Three things you can do immediately when you find yourself getting depressed

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 4th 2008

depressing abandoned coffee cup

Depressive disorders are one of the most ubiquitous issues of our time. I think we can also fairly say that almost 100% of people will be affected by depression in their lives whether it is personally or someone they know. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that by 2020 depression will be the 2nd largest killer behind heart disease. There can be many reasons why depression arises in any individual and often times trying to analyze why we feel depressed on our own causes a downward spiral. Why? Because when we're depressed we tend to interpret things from that mood state and consequently, that affects our physical body, emotions, and behavior, continuing to spiral down. I'm going to give you a brief scenario exemplifying the power of interpretation and then give you 3 things you can do immediately to support you when you're feeling depressed.

I often ask my own clients, "Let's say you were walking down the street, feeling depressed, body was lethargic, nothing seemed to be going your way and not a lot of hope for things getting better." Many of them recognize this state of being. I continue "Then you notice someone that you know walking toward you. As they get closer, they look at you, then just continue walking without saying hello or any recognition. What would you think?"

Most people who are depressed would take it personally, the fault would go internally, and they think that the lack of recognition was because of some defect of their own. All kinds of negative self-judgments come up and dwelling continues as they try to figure out why the person didn't acknowledge them and what did they do wrong. What follows is physical lethargy, uncomfortable emotions or continued numbness, and more isolating behavior.

Then I turn it around and have them remember a time when they weren't feeling depressed, in other words, when they were feeling well. I play the same scenario back to them and most often they say that if the same thing happened when they were feeling well, they might think that an issue resided with the other person, maybe something difficult happened to the other person that day. But it wouldn't have this self-judging effect and the downward spiral would not occur. This is the power our mood states have on interpretation of events. It's really important to be aware of this so we can begin to treat our interpretations as guesses when we're not feeling well and stop the downward spiral dead in its tracks.

So here are 3 things you can do when you find yourself getting depressed:

  1. Treat interpretations as guesses - If you can, hold the image of a pie chart in your mind. When your first interpretation to an event pops up (usually a negative interpretation), treat it as a guess and mentally place it in one pie of the pie chart. Then ask yourself, what's another interpretation? Beginning to widen our lens to greater possibilities here can be enormously helpful.

  2. To-Do Lists - I often ask my clients, do you have a to do list? Many of them do. When I have them write out the list, I follow with the question, "Now, where are you on this to-do list?" Usually I get a quizzical look. "Me, what do you mean?" We are so focused on the busy things we need to get done that we don't take time for restoration or taking care of ourselves. This is critical when it comes to depression because when depressed we're often beating up on ourselves which is unhealthy nutrition for our minds. Pick something pleasurable for yourself and put it near or at the very top of your to-do list. Put your feet before your head which may say "I don't have time for this" and as Nike says "Just Do It!"

  3. Be Present - When we're feeling depressed we figure the last thing we want to do is be present to this discomfort. However, like not attending to a physical wound, trying to avoid or get away from our discomfort only causes tension and aggravation of that discomfort. Paying attention to ourselves sends the message internally that we care about ourselves and this is good nutrition for our depression. Learning how to approach our unpleasant feelings helps bring about more calm and peace. I run a Mindful Healing Community in Aliveworld where you can get more information on how to do this.

Try these and as always feel free to comment, ask questions, or share stories.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    sleep - julie graf - Jan 11th 2010

    I was dienose with depression/ anxity with panic attacks now with biopoler and have a hard time sleeping i have doststerving dreams and dose alot of talking out loud and dose squareing in my sleep my dreams can be about anything from family to the past from parents passing away to my husband what can i doto get a good night sleep so i dont wake up feelin desterve in the moreing and not week up though the night like wright when its 3.30 in the morning and tyeing this in.sign julie

    Thank you! - Hannahh - Aug 21st 2009

    Thank you very much for the expert tips.

    As a part of my contribution, I would like to recommend to you all, this article on11 Warning signs of depression. Do go through this - http://www.caring.com/articles/depression-signs

    Thanks,

    Hannahh

    Resistance to help - Zee - Jul 23rd 2009

    The three things are very good basic help.  The examplified change in thinking is very true, from my own experience.  However, I see Jennifer's comment and have also experienced similar attitude in myself at the beginning of my journey trying to change my help.  After having had depression for most of my life, my viewpoint about life and everything became bitter and cynical, and I tended to resist a change in my mood (this one could be physio-chemical? Like a child started crying and don't want to stop but don't know why).  Also, to take up suggestions felt like rendering control to someone else, and my mind was very good to come up with reasons that appeal to my "nobler motive" (as Dale Carnegie said), rather than reasons that are factual.  To change, we have to want to change.

    what should i do about this depressin? - david - Jul 4th 2009

    i´m completly depressed and i feel that all my freinds hate me.I can´t lought, talk. i can´t do nothing pls help me

    Talking can be beneficial if you do it for the right reasons - Jill - Jun 22nd 2009

    Just my thoughts on the last comment posted ("can't get my mind out of the past").  It sounds like you may be analyzing on your own why you're feeling depressed, which is one of the things this article talks about.  Taking a step forward to go talk to someone can be scarey, and it sounds like you feel like nobody will understand what you are going through.  There's good news!  The truth is, they don't have to understand - their job is to help YOU understand what YOU can do to help ease you out of these feelings of depression.  Try to think of them more as a coach, rather than someone who's supposed to empathize with you.  It may make all the difference!

    can't get my mind out of the past - - Jun 9th 2009

    its very easy for someone else to say that everything will be ok but it wont and the advise they tend to give does not help some people. i am experiencing depression now. i just cant get my mind out of the past and the good moments but i cant even walk ahead to the future. i have always thoght of talking to someone but i feel no one will understand so whats the point so its better to just suffer on my own because i feel i have gotten used to it and should just stay this way. its probably fate and it was meant this way. sonetimes i feel a bit better but other days i just dont know what to do. i give up and i dont want anyones help coz i prfer to live in the past coz it was the best part of my life.

    Don't Completely Agree Here - Jennifer - May 27th 2009

    First of all, I will preface my comments with letting you know that I have had depression most of my life.  However, I am currrently on medication which is helping immensely with the benefit of a wonderful psychiatrist.  I also have been in therapy on and off for several years.  Two weeks ago, I developed mild to moderate symtoms of depression.  I have experienced this many times so I know the symptoms and start of a downward cycle.  Here's my response to the three things mentioned.  Firstly, the interpretation of events - such as the non acknowledgment of a friend is not relevant to me.  I don't interpret motivations differently because I still have my cognitive capacity and reasoning functions.  I'm just dark and anti-social.  Number two is a little iffy too.  If you're truly depressed, it's difficult (if not impossible) to make a to-do list.  I try to do things on my to do list - but it's in slow motion.  There seems no point.  I have learned to take care of myself over time.  Taking walks, reading books, listening to music (if it's not too dark) and taking baths helps.  Sorry...but the mindfulness stuff is mumbo jumbo.  I've tried it and it doesn't work for me.  I've tried DBT in therapy and I have a bunch of books.  The last thing a depressed person needs is performance anxiety. It's emotional not cognitive.  Trying to "think" about depression differently, trying to stay "present" with depression keeps someone stuck.

    i know how you feel - toya - Dec 16th 2008

    I can relate to being deppressed I have been diagnosed with BPD and BiPolar. I am off my meds and Im very sad, angry, fustrated, I am messing up at work and I dont want to get fired but I feel sometimes I just need a moment, but I work in the medical field and I cant do that so I take my fustration out on the parents which get me in trouble. But anyway I have started exercising but Im still sad all the time, I cant remember the last time I smiled or have been happy about something. I am a cutter and I have not cut in 3 months and I am happy about that but i feel those feelings coming back on me. I dont want to be on medication but Im drowning here. Every relationship I have with a man I have ruined, they think Im crazy b/c I am so needy and clingy. I feel I will always be alone and never be happy and I dont want to live my life this way. What can I do?

    prayerful mediattion is powerful - - Nov 25th 2008

    You are not alone. One of the best things I have done is to read self-help books and focus on the things that you are passionate about in life. Sounds like you are a religious person and this will work to your advantage, because prayerful mediattion is powerful. Two books that come to mind immediatley are The Power of Now and The Secret.

    Hang in there.

    what can i do - Malik a. Hilliard - Aug 16th 2008

    hello my name is malik hilliard i am asking what should i do about this depressin. sometimes i think that i am fakeing to give myself attention but when i ask myself what am i doing i find myself siting doing nothing. i would probly be thinking about the past or good times i hane had and thinking that, that was a once in a life time thing and i would never be able to do it again. i will adimit that i have thought about what would happen if i died or cummited sucided but for my religous reasons i probuly would never would do such a thing. please help me i don't want to live like this for the rest of my life.

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