My guess is that your inbox, like mine, is overwhelmed with offers and promises to help you through this hard time. So, in the spirit of the origins of “3 Things Thursday,” I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’m also going to be real with you.
This time has been incredibly hard for me. As a therapist, sometimes I put unrealistic expectations on myself to have all the answers and to maintain some sort of Buddha-esque Zen state. The truth is that I became a therapist to try to understand my own journey through depression.
Depression has been creeping around my doorstep these last few weeks and although I can’t honestly say I’ve warded it off every time, I can tell you what I’ve done that seems to help.
JUST DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING
So much of the Depression battle happens within the mind. We have hopeless thoughts like: “When is this ever going to end?” “I can’t do this anymore.” “Why can’t I just make the best of this?” We get frustrated with the world and ourselves. Often, these thoughts come crashing in right when I wake-up (sounds fun, right?).
To overcome these thoughts, I remember something taught by Cognitive Behavioral therapists: MY THOUGHTS DO NOT DEFINE ME. I may think “I can’t do this anymore” but that is a generalized statement that’s just not true. I mean, what is “this” exactly?? Instead, I Marie Kondo the thoughts (thank them for their service but bid them farewell) and I remind myself that all I need to do RIGHT NOW is brush my damn teeth. So, I get up and I brush my teeth. Then, I think, ok, just go have some breakfast and coffee…mmmm….coffee. The day goes on like this, just doing one thing after the other and not worrying too much about ALL of the things at once. Before long, I’m feeling better because I’ve acquired some momentum. If I sit and sink into the depressed thoughts, I often start to feel worse about myself.
HONOR THE FEELS NOT THE THOUGHTS
This may seem like the opposite of what I said above but bear with me for a sec. Yes, to get my day started, I ask my depressing thoughts to “please hold” while I just try to get some momentum. At some point though, I need to pay attention to those thoughts and feelings because if I don’t, they’ll come out sideways (yelling at the kids or the dog or Alexa).
First, it’s important to recognize that MY THOUGHTS ARE NOT MY FEELINGS. What do I mean by that? We often confuse thoughts with feelings. We’ll say things like, “I feel like he’s ignoring me.” But that isn’t a feeling, that’s a thought or perception. “I think he’s ignoring me and that makes me feel angry,” gets more to the truth of the actual emotion. It’s more vulnerable to share our actual feelings which is why we often avoid it.
So in this case, I have feelings of hopelessness and the thoughts that then get associated with those feelings are ones like, “I can’t do this anymore.” I’m feeling hopeless, meaning I’m feeling a lack of hope that the future will get better. My thoughts then go a little dramatic and make this huge (untrue) statement that makes the feelings of hopelessness worse.
If I stop and really honor the part of me that’s feeling hopeless, I can comfort myself with words that are actually helpful. A great way to think about this is to imagine how you would comfort a friend or a child who is hurting. We (hopefully) wouldn’t tell them to just “get over it” and we wouldn’t agree with them if they said, “I can’t go on.” Instead, we could say, “Yeah, it makes sense that you’re hurting, this sucks (honoring their feelings). But also, I know you can get through this because you’re a strong person (speaking truth against untrue thoughts).” We can talk to ourselves like that too. We can be an actual friend to ourselves, imagine that…
BE A GOOD FRIEND
Right, so you wouldn’t tell a friend that they’re not capable of getting through something. My guess is that there are a lot of things you say to yourself that you would never say to a friend. So how about we start being a little nicer to ourselves? Sometimes you’re going to feel shitty, and that’s ok. Feelings come and go. They never stick around forever. So when you’re feeling crappy, acknowledge it and also recognize that it’s possible to still do the things that need doing. Don’t put more on your plate than what needs to be there. Again, be nice. Do the things that MUST be done and maybe throw in some fun things. You may not find as much joy in these fun things as you usually do but that’s ok. Here are some thoughts that I have found are helpful when I’m feeling down:
“I’m doing the best I can right now and that’s enough.”
“These feelings won’t last. They never do.”
“It’s ok to feel things deeply, it means that I care. Is there something I can do to feel like I’m putting some positivity into the world? OR is there someone I can connect with right now who ‘gets’ it? OR can I take some time to journal about what I’m feeling?”
“What am I needing right now? How can I lovingly care for myself?”
These are just some of the thoughts that bring me comfort. Do you have any you’d be willing to share? If so, please leave a comment for others to get some ideas.
Hang in There,