Strategy to cope with depression
Depression is a mental disorder that many of us experience. This is a mental disorder we can somewhat describe as a "negative state". Typically, people who experience depression will experience decrease in various parts of his life. It might be a decrease in energy, decrease in motivation, decrease in interest, decrease in self-esteem, and the various combinations from those resulting from a psychological cause. Sometimes, even lifting a finger or getting off the bed becomes very hard to do. Anger and rage are not typical symptoms of depression, and might be more closely related to bipolar disorder, substance abuse, PTSD, or other mental disorders.
When people meet professionals, such as psychologist or psychiatrist, the most commonly used treatments are psychoactive drugs and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). We're going to discuss the latter briefly. The purpose of this article is not to make the readers believe that they can do what only professionals can. We're only going to discuss very small part of the therapy that can be applied at home to handle stress or milder depression, so that it doesn't become major depression. When it becomes too much for you to handle, seek professional help.
Brain is a deceptive yet caring ally
Before we learn about CBT and it's purposes, we need to know a bit more about what human brain does during stressful condition. Most of us will think that brain is completely under our command and doesn't do anything without order. But we never ask it to process food or to control heartbeat. There are plenty of automatic processes that our conscious mind does not even know about. So what makes us think that when we are conscious, it doesn't process our thoughts through it's own mechanism?
We know that different chemicals affect our thoughts differently, like caffeine or alcohol. But many people don't know that our brain produces even more chemicals that affect our thought. In fact, every single thought we make is heavily dependent on chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Our thoughts and memories are passed from one part of the brain to the others via electric signals running through our nerve fibers, but the process is not at all similar to an electrical cable. The change of charges in nerve fibers happen because of the change of ion concentrations inside and outside the fibers. This generated charge is also unable to pass through synapse, which is a junction between nerve fibers. To get through this gap, nerve fibers need to produce neurotransmitters and send it to the other side of the gap. The amount of these chemicals greatly affect our thought process, without us even noticing.
Different process may happen after similar event
We aren't going to discuss neurobiology any further as it will deviate from our main issue. All we need to know so far is that brain is capable of affecting our thought while making us think that everything in our mind is voluntary. Now we will see an example about how different brain can process similar event.
Imagine there were two children playing in a garden. Each of them saw a caterpillar of the same size and the same color. But one of the child ran away while the other child played with the caterpillar. They both saw similar creature, but the resulting behavior was different. We can actually apply this concept to how a stressful condition can affect our mind.
Suppose there were three men working in a firm. All of them were fired at the same day. But the first man recovered and tried to get a new job. The second man could not even get out of his bed and felt that everything was worthless. While the last man became easily irritated and often woke up at night because of nightmares. Why was the result different when the given condition was the same?
It's possible that the second man had depression. But if we simplify the situation by saying that "his loss of job caused depression", we can see that we're missing part of the picture as we can't apply it to the first and third person despite similar situation. The same thing can be said if we say "caterpillar made her run away". If we consider loss of job as stressor and depression as a result, the missing part of the picture is the processing our brain does. We can now say that the stressor is processed and the result is depression. While the first person processed the stressor differently and doesn't get a depression.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Psychologists and psychiatrists are incapable of affecting your life events. What they're trying to modify is the process that leads to depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a therapy that attempts to control the process in the brain through sessions of consultations and some assignments you need to do at home.
Basically, what they're trying to do are:
- Make the patient realize that there are processes in the brain they are previously unaware of, and learn to take control of these processes.
- Make the patient learn to enjoy their hobby and improve social condition once again
1. Understanding your brain
Everything human brain does is actually an effort to protect the owner. There are times that someone encounters a stressor that is too much for him to digest. In this situation, brain will prepare the quickest mechanism to cope with the stressor. Often, the fastest way to deal with it is to deny the event. It will try it's best at making the owner forget, ignore, or reject the existence of the stressful event. Sometimes, this denial is so strong that the person fails to understand what depresses him. The memory that is too strong will be hidden by the brain and be stored somewhere hard to reach.
The problem happens because this denial attempt is just a quick solution, and is not a permanent fix. The memory remains despite being hard to access. When the brain gets overwhelmed, it can cause mental disorders.
Each of our brain is obviously not an enemy. It's just processing things wrongly. Rejecting your own brain and all the process within it will only make it worse. Try to take over the control, but don't try to despise "your inner self".
2. How to control it?
We need to know what to expect before we know how to try to control our own mood. As mentioned repeatedly before, brain has it's own mechanism, so it's unrealistic to expect that it will obey just because we give an order or to yell at it. Realizing the process is just half the journey, and the remaining part is much harder. It's not something to learn in a day or two. As it might take months or longer. Sometimes, the unrealistic expectation will make us hate our "inner thought" and everything related to mood and depression. As previously stated, it's counterproductive, as you reject something that is part of you and will always stay with you. After all, you cannot simply take off your arm just because it hurts. It's similar to that concept. You'll only worsen your arm by trying to remove it.
To control depression, we need to know what stressor is causing it, and process it correctly once more. This is a painful task as it can be like gurgling out bad food and swallow it again. But without reprocessing it, nothing will be solved. It will remain inside and do even more harm.
To know what stressor causes your depression, you need to trace back to the stressful events happening before the depression. Often, while denial is still occurring, you will find that it's one of the things that you don't care about, but you don't want to talk about. If there is such major event while you don't know what causes your depression, it's likely that it is indeed the source.
Once you find the cause, you can start trying to reprocess it. As previously mentioned, CBT relies on consultation session and homework or assignment. We cannot simulate the consultation part, but you can try to find someone close enough to share your problem. Let someone else know your burden, because handling it alone is different from handling it when you know someone else knows your struggle, even if he/she is not helpful.
One of the assignment you can do to process your stressor is to write it out on a piece of paper. If you have realized what the stressor might be, you now need to admit what you feel about it. Your brain might deceive you by saying that "It's supposedly something you don't care", "It's more normal to not care", or "logically, you don't care about it". For now, let's forget for a moment about what moral says, what logic says, what normal condition says, or what famous people throughout the centuries say. You need to write what you personally feel, however illogical or shameless it might be.
On the same piece of paper, once you have written your true opinion, prepare another part to write "what you're supposed to feel". It's when your logic comes into play. There is always a bright side to everything, but it's no one else has right to decide what's good about your life. You yourself should decide the bright side of your problem, not someone with famous quote on the internet. Even a glass half empty can always be seen as half full if you change the perspective.
You can keep the paper with you and write out more anytime you're feeling that a bad thought is reappearing. This way you can continually accept and combat your real feelings. Note that writing it out is different from thinking it out, because you can "half-realize" what you think on the paper. It's different from just thinking about it as time goes by.
At this point, you may realize that your brain might actually do a good thing by keeping your feelings from you. Having your deeper feeling come out is not a pleasant experience. Not to mention that you aren't doing it for several minutes. It might be for weeks. But if you don't properly face your inner struggle, it will hide back in and return like a vengeful ghost. If you can handle your inner feelings, you may gradually feel better.
3. Returning to Leisurely Activities and Social Life
Even if psychologists and psychiatrists cannot affect your life directly, they will assess how you're doing regarding your hobby and your social life. As mentioned before, depression is a disorder of negativity, so even the activities you find interesting will feel tasteless and you have no energy or interest to do them.
However, those activities can actually help with your depression. Once you are slightly better, it will be productive to try to do your hobbies once again. For people who likes sports, doing exercise 30 minutes a day can stabilize neurotransmitters in your brain and let it produce more serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that causes happiness. Other hobbies can help as well, although routine workout definitely has special mention. Cooking, writing, fishing, reading, or any hobby you previously like will help you stabilize your mood. Once you're feeling slightly better, try to engage in those activities again. Do it bit by bit if they still feel annoying to do.
Even if social life does not directly help your depression, it helps you control your life, and in a way, control your stressors. You need to assess how you feel about social life, and gradually blend with other people once again. Try to do one productive activity after one leisurely activity, so that you can gradually work everything out without getting too overwhelmed.
Mental health professionals are not your enemies
Psychologists and psychiatrists are especially trained to help your problems. When you feel like you can't handle it alone, don't be afraid to seek help. After all, you cannot do what a professional learns for years by learning in a month. Their knowledge about creating effective consultation will provide you more comfort and help you open up more easily.
If even every consultation doesn't work, you may actually need some prescribed drugs to help you out. Your brain naturally produces serotonin and other neurotransmitters, and all those drugs do are tampering the production or degradation of neurotransmitters. It's actually very confusing to decide what is natural and what is not. Of course, cutting your hair and bathing with soap are unnatural, but nobody minds them. Side effect exists, but depending on the necessity, it might be less harmful than the mental problem itself.
- Your brain can process information at it's own pace regardless of your intention
- To manage depression, you can try to understand the process, learn to control your own brain, and attempt to return to your hobby and social life
- Your brain is not your enemy, but you need to face the problems that it tries to hide
- Try to realize your true feeling, write it out, and write the alternative theories about how it's not so bad
- Sports and hobbies can help your mood, and you also need to gradually return to social life
- Mental health professionals are not enemies, so seek help when you can't manage on your own