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

How you can be triggered into depression…without even knowing it

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 17th 2008

depressed womanIn an earlier blog I discussed ways to recognized Seasonal Affective Disorder and what you can do about it. In this blog, let's go a bit deeper into recognizing depression and 4 steps to relief. Just last year a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 118 million prescriptions for antidepressants were filled. While many people filling these prescriptions are in deep need of them, others may just be feeling unhappy or tense.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • A loss of interest in pleasurable activities that you once enjoyed

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Disrupted sleep, including insomnia or not being able to get out of bed

  • Decreased energy

  • Feeling worthless

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Overeating or undereating

If you've experienced depression in the past, you are susceptible to experiencing it again. Why? Depression is experienced as a combination of thoughts in the mind, emotions, and physical sensations. The thoughts may be self judgments like I am worthless or hopeless, the emotions may be sadness, guilt, and shame, and the sensations may be tiredness and tension. During a time of depression these all get tied in together, when one gets ignited the others do too. For example, if you felt extra tired one day, this might spark off memories of when you were depressed. The thought may arise, "Oh no, maybe I'm getting depressed again". Your mind may flow with a snowball of memories and associated thoughts from the time you were depressed and how difficult it was along with emotions of sadness and shame.  At this point, your body is either feeling tense or even more tired and you don't feel like being around anyone, so you isolate which is a behavior that can deepen depression.  In the end, you're on the road to a self fulfilling prophecy of depression and anxiety. This may also happen if you catch yourself crying, which sparks off memories of when you would cry when depressed, and the same scenario ensues.

The first step to intervention here is being aware of this cycle and noticing when it is occurring. If you catch your mind caught in self-judgments, see if you can notice those judgments as part of an old conditioned cycle. If you catch this cycle occurring, you may already be a bit affected by it as it can be scary to have thoughts and feelings of heading into depression.  

So here's a formula that can help:

  1. Notice the cycle occurring, naming it is the first step

  2. Acknowledge that it scared you if it did. Opening yourself up to uncomfortable emotions can have a healing effect as it helps you cultivate compassion for yourself.

  3. What are other reasons you might be feeling tired? You may also ask yourself, what may be some other reasons I feel tired? Think of a pie chart and see if you can fill in the other pieces of pie. You might have gotten a bad night's sleep or maybe were more active the day before, or maybe there are some extra stressors in your life.

  4. Try and treat yourself with an extra bit of kindness that day. You may also remember the things that helped you get out of depression the last time and try and make sure you are integrating those practices into your life as well.  

Feel free to contribute what helps you become aware of your depressive cycles? What helps you get out from them? Please share your wisdom and questions below.

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.

- - Nov 18th 2008
I think you approach is very revolutionary.  I never thought that having a sense of curiosity would expose toxic emotions to the light.  How can you approach something that is distrubing you with curiosity?  When you hate something you just want to stay away from it or ignore it.  But, I can see that your approach makes sense.  When I was a child my parents used to send me to the corner store.  In order to get there I needed to get though an area where there was a real dangerous dog.  That dog chased me so many times.  This dog inflicted so much fear on me that everytime my parents mentioned my name to go to the store, I started to shake.  But one good day when the dog was chasing me I got fed up of running so I turned around and faced the dog while grabbing a stick.  The dog stopped in front of me quitting its chase.  From that day that dog learned that it did't have power over me anymore :)

Reply to very accurate - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Nov 18th 2008

Thank you for your comment here and I'm glad you identify with the key points of the article. By saying 'escape' the emotion, I'm guessing you mean escaping the downward spiral of depression. One thing I just want to clarify is that when dealing with difficult emotions, we want to try and acknowledge them and instead of trying to avoid them, we want to approach them as sensations in the body. We can bring an attitude of curiosity and openheartedness as we approach these emotional sensations. It is this very act of approaching, rather than avoiding or escaping that breaks the chain reaction and allows the emotion to come and go sooner as it naturally would. 

very accurate - - Nov 18th 2008

This article is very accurate.  I have been suffering from depression since I am a little boy.  I have gone through several episodes over my life-span.  Over and over I have been noticing that similar situations always triggers a chain reaction of bad emotions.  I think being aware and create and ability to escape this emotions is the key

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