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Are Your Expectations Realistic?

Reexamine your expectations or priorities in life and, if necessary, adjust them to suit reality better. Depressed people often think they can't be happy without certain things, such as a lover, a particular lover, material possessions, a much higher income, etc. You can eliminate such problems by changing your negative thinking and learning to accept the situation. Certain situations or troublesome people simply won't change. When you can do something about a problem, however, you should. For example, you may need to leave an alcoholic spouse or to go to school to prepare for a better job.

Get to Work on Personal Problems

Work on your personal problems, using small steps to make sure you avoid becoming overwhelmed. Work on only one or two simple things at a time, breaking large or complex problems into goals you can easily accomplish. Use rewards, friends, family, and support groups. What negative or stressful situations exist in your life? What can you do about them? Don't give up and allow your problems to continue. Brainstorm solutions and ask other people for ideas. Some depressed people reject all the possible solutions, finding reasons to eliminate each one as unacceptable, unpleasant, or unworkable. Don't let negative thought habits interfere with problem solving. Keep an open mind to all possible solutions.

Take a long, hard, honest look at yourself for personal problems, paying particular attention to repeating problems in your life. Do you need more interests and activities to avoid boredom and keep your mind off negative thoughts? If you avoid confrontations and bury your anger at mistreatment from others until you explode, work on assertiveness and expressing your anger in constructive ways. Are some people inconsiderate, unkind, overly critical, or overly hostile toward you? If certain people in your life contribute to your depression by the things they do, you may need to become more assertive with these people, to reduce your contact with them, or even to eliminate them from your life. Do you abuse alcohol or other drugs?

Tackle Your Bad Habits

Change bad habits that keep you depressed. Work on replacing negative thoughts with positive thought alternatives every day. If you tend to blame circumstances or other people for your depression, combat these thoughts of helplessness by reading or by repeating, "I made myself depressed over that. I didn't have to respond that way." Use assertiveness skills, good problem-solving skills, or more positive thinking the next time a similar situation arises. If you often assume other people think badly of you, read or repeat "I can't read other people's minds." Humor also helps a great deal in facing life's problems without drowning in negativity.

If you find it difficult to motivate yourself, stop prejudging and avoiding activities because you believe you wouldn't enjoy them or wouldn't be good at them. If you force yourself to start, you will often find that you do get some pleasure from and gain some skill in the activity after all. Don't let negative thoughts about many activities block your improvement and interfere with your happiness. You probably have negative thoughts about lacking energy, not being in the mood, hating exercise, etc. Replace these each time they occur with more positive, helpful thoughts such as: "I'll feel more like it once I start," "Let's just give it a try. Who knows, maybe I'll really like it," or "Why sit here and feel bored? I'll try ..."

Depressed people tend to overlook and discount feelings of pleasure and accomplishment, both in trying new activities and in many other areas of life. Learn to recognize these feelings. Develop these slight feelings and take pride in your activities. Counter negative reactions with positive alternatives such as: "Hey, that wasn't bad. I enjoyed it some. Maybe if I try it a few more times, I'll really like it," and "Not bad on my first try, but I'll get better with practice. That was kind of fun." Repeat those activities that give you slight feelings of accomplishment or pleasure. You can develop them into very rewarding activities.

Develop Friendships and Relationships

Good social skills and a good network of friendships ranging from casual to intimate ones help prevent depression after life stresses and speeds recovery from depression. Happy people generally have several very close friends and a number of other friends, some closer than others, with whom they can share different activities and parts of themselves. Do you need to reach out and make more friends?

Marital relationships are often important in depression. An appreciative, complimentary, supportive marital relationship can protect you from depression despite challenging life stresses, and as noted previously, marital problems often lead to depression. Work on increasing the positive behaviors in your marriage. Perhaps your marriage lacks a confiding relationship of sharing feelings and receiving acceptance, understanding, and emotional support from each other? Sharing feelings is much more important than simply sharing facts with your spouse. Ask your spouse to compliment you more and to say many of the things normally taken for granted, to show appreciation for the routine things you do every day. Learn about good marital skills and put them to use in your life.