Actually this tip is for everyone who finds themselves depressed. Whether we are aware of it or not, most emotions come after our thoughts, not before. We do not first get sad and then remember our loved one is gone, or angry and then remember someone stole our car. No, except in instinctual reactions such as happen during a trauma (fight or flight response) our emotions are triggered by a thought. You think about your life after a loss and you become depressed. Although you may not be aware of it at the moment, your thoughts turn to “Things will never change. I will always be alone.” These are called automatic negative thoughts that run through your mind. No wonder you become depressed. In plain words, you will have to consciously change your thinking to get out of your depression, not by saying that things are great—that’s too hard to believe—but by looking at your thoughts rationally.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is known to be the most powerful and most long lasting approach (besides medication) to dealing with depression. In plain words, thinking + behavior changes.
So here is the approach I use with myself and my clients. Try it.
1. Take a couple of days to learn what you are saying to yourself. As soon as you notice you are feeling depressed give yourself permission to hear the words in your head that trigger the depression. It may take a little time to become aware of your automatic thoughts but you will. One that gets me every time is, “Ana, it doesn’t matter how hard you try you will just never be quite good enough.”
2. Each time you listen, write down the thoughts on a piece of paper. You will be surprised at how negative they are and how often you think the same thoughts.
3. Now it is time to examine your thoughts. “Are they true? How rational are they? Is it true that you will always be alone? Is it true that things will never change? How do you know that?”
4. Now write down a more rational thought such as: “Life is constantly changing and new people constantly come into my life. My daughter is planning to come for the summer and she is good about talking to me about what’s going on in my life. I don’t have to do everything by myself. I can ask for help.”
5. So now it is time to think of some things that can actually change your life. “I can join a group at the VA, or I can go to the church on the corner. People seem to think the people there are pretty great. I can get into a twelve step program. I can apply for that job even though it isn’t exactly what I want.” Writers often say, “I’ll send off that manuscript even if I get a rejection. We all have to do our time. My friend adds a little humor: I can always wallpaper my bathroom with all those rejections.
6. If you really want to change your life you must act on what you decide you need to do. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t make excuses. Do it anyway.
Let me know what you have done in the past to make you feel better.