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

Depression: Getting Back to Basics

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: May 25th 2011

basicsDepression is gripping and all encompassing. It’s like walking through a thick wall of tar unable to see any clarity or light that may help us get out. The landscape in front of us appears increasingly overwhelming as life’s responsibilities begin to pile up.

If you’re feeling depressed, it’s not the time for critical thinking. The automatic negative thought filter is cemented into the brain giving us the sense that nothing’s going to work. So what we need is a very simple action plan that breaks things up into a continuum of do-able action items with a single line written at the top of the list.

“When feeling depressed, do one of these tasks even if your mind says it’s no use.”

Now, how do you make the list?

Pick things in your life that give you a sense of accomplishment or pleasure. Remember, these need to be on a continuum of difficulty because at times you’ll feel like you can do one thing and at another time you’ll think that same thing is overwhelming or uninteresting.

For example, you might pick something as simple as cuddling with your cat or dog as a source of pleasure. This has very little barriers if you are a cat or dog lover.

You may also write down, clean a corner of my room, do a stack of dishes, go to the post office, organize one file, clean out the refrigerator, take out the trash, go to the grocery store, etc…

Some of these are more difficult than others and that is exactly the benefit of having a list. Your mind no longer has to really think hard about options and has the ability to choose ones that have very little barrier or it can challenge itself with a higher degree of difficulty.

The purpose of all of this is so you can just take action. Reverting back to inaction or isolation is often the way to remain stuck. It’s important to maintain some form of forward movement; it simply sends the message to the mind that “I can do it.”

I believe it was Henry Ford who said, “Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

It’s when we’re depressed that the mind jumps in with “No, no, stay away from that, we can’t do it.” Because emotions are involved we fall for it hook, line and sinker. The thought seems so credible and believable, yet at the end of the day, it’s just a thought.

Thoughts aren’t facts and actions speak louder than words.

So make it easier on yourself, create this list and put it somewhere you can see it. Choose to engage one or a few of the things on the list when you notice yourself not feeling well. Be kind to yourself through the process because after all, that’s a lot more restorative than those piercing self-judgments.

This is a practice, don’t expect to be perfect at it, treat it as an experiment and see what you find.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 

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
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thank you - - May 26th 2011

Finally someone understands exactly what I go through daily!  I keep asking myself what is wrong with me because there are so many things, many simple, that I need to do and that I know I'll feel a sense of accomplishment once they're done no matter how insignificant they might be, but when it comes down to it, I'm the perverbial knot on a log.  So starts a viscious cyycle of anxiety and guilt.  Overwhelmed at the amount of things I need to do because I keep letting them build up instead of just taking one at the time and dealing with it.  Then feeling guilty when I just sit frozen as life passes me by and I'm just unable to do anything at all. 

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