Tips for Battling Depression

The Magic Triangle

Everyone struggles with negative emotions at times, but not many people really know what to do about them, or the mechanics of how emotions and behaviors that go with them work. Many people have the illusion that their emotions come from outside of themselves, and that emotions in turn cause a person to behave in a particular way. How many times have you heard someone say: “He makes me so mad” or “I got so sad, the feeling made me do it.” Both of these very common approaches to emotion and behavior are untrue, and operating on these myths tends to complicate our lives.

When you stop and think about it for a moment, you can readily see that emotions come from inside yourself. Ideally, we should have a high degree of choice in which emotions we feel, as well as the duration and intensity of the emotion. The ability to control, or choose our own emotions, and the length of time and intensity that we feel them is one measure of mental health. When we control our own emotions, and hand the control of our emotions over to others, or situations, we feel much more in control of our lives and operate at a far more ‘even keel’.

People live at relative levels of mental health, meaning that everyone has some degree of control over their emotions; some lesser, and some greater. Those of us who struggle with negative emotions related to mental health issues (depression will be used as an example here) can do much to regulate our negative feelings with properly administered medications from our doctors, but medication rarely solves the issue of negative emotions completely. That’s where the Magic Triangle can become helpful; it is a simple tool that can be used to help manage negative emotions and give you self control over them.

Imagine a triangle (or even make your own picture of one), with the points labeled: Thinking, Behavior, and Emotions. Now first draw arrows going from ‘emotions’ to ‘thinking’ and ‘behaviors’. This is how most people engage with the world. They experience an emotion, and they allow the emotion to drive their thoughts and behaviors. When you allow this to happen, your thinking and behavior tend to reinforce your emotions, and in the case of negative emotions, makes you feel even worse.

Now make the arrows you drew into double headed arrows, with arrow tips at both ends of the arrows. Can you see how this now represents how thinking and behavior also affect your emotions, and not just the other way around? This is closer to reality for most people, but still not the very best way to engage with the world around us.

Now erase the arrow heads that point to thinking and behavior. Now you can see how things really should be for someone who struggles with negative emotions from their life situation or their mental health issues. The most effective way to engage with the world around us is to have our thinking and behaviors in charge of our emotions. An example, using the negative emotions of depression, appears below. The first example is one that allows the emotions to drive the thinking and behavior, and the second example shows how thinking and behavior can alter the negative emotions.

Example #1

I wake up with a feeling of great sadness and depression. I begin to think about how useless it is to get out of bed, how no one really cares about me, then about how many bad things have happened to me lately. I tell myself: “There is no reason to do anything, because nothing really matters.” I make no move to get out of bed, but pull the covers over my head. The darkness is somehow strangely comforting but also confirms my depression. I don’t get out of bed until noon.

Example #2:

I wake up with a feeling of great sadness and depression. I tell myself: “The depression has awakened with me, so now I have to watch how I think and get moving. But I don’t really want to do this, so I tell myself: “Just do it. Put your feet on the floor, and go get a shower, you know if you do, the feeling will ease.” I swing my feet out of bed, and head for the shower. By the time I am finished in the shower, I feel just a tiny bit better. I tell myself: “See, it worked, but the depression is still there, watch what you are thinking and doing.” I proceed to brush my teeth and look at my schedule for the day; the negative emotion is lifting and becoming manageable.

Some readers may balk at the concept of using your thinking and behaviors to alter your emotions, noting that their negative emotion is so strong as to disallow them to have the self discipline to alter their thinking and behavior. As someone who lives with depression, I certainly agree that it can be quite a challenge at times, but have found that if I exercise the Magic Triangle daily, and in all my affairs, it becomes easier and more effective.


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