Depression is a state of mind, caused by an overwhelming loss of hope. People who experience depression have reached the erroneous conclusion that they can never find happiness due to a series of unfortunate life experiences. As a psychotherapist, I am a firm believer that people can permanently transition past chronic experiences of depression. However, such a transition is a process, that comes from the exercise of practicing positive and reality based thinking.
Here are 3 cognitive strategies for effectively managing difficult periods of depressive feelings.
There are more than one ways to be happy, however as creatures of habit, it is understandable that we would become habituated to a lifestyle, we believe we can find happiness in. To make matters worse, we often surround ourselves with a tribe of people who agree and reinforce our path to happiness, even though such a path may have run its course.
Most people in this predicament, find it difficult to imagine themselves reinventing their lives, for fear of the ties, connections and conveniences they would lose. While there is a kernel of truth to their concerns, establishing a path in your life cannot come from fearing what you will lose, instead it can only come from envisioning, what you truly desire.
The process of reestablishing hope, comes from focusing mostly, on what you desire. Creating a picture in your head of your desire, experiencing the feelings of joy from the picture you have created, then going through the process of modifying your behaviors to make your vision a reality.
It is well known that daily exercise helps your body release a cocktail of chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins bind with receptors in your brain that relieve you of feelings of pain, which allow you to create positive thoughts and ideas which trigger positive feelings.
The most important step towards addressing depression is reestablishing thoughts and feelings of hope. Such a feat cannot be accomplished when you are engulfed in negative thoughts and feelings. Being engulfed in negative thoughts and feelings, leads to you brooding over worst case scenario along with chronic feelings of despair.
Another benefit of staying fit, is that it boosts overall brain performance and it also allows more access for use of the executive functions of the brain. This is important for being able to solve complex problems. Such as being able to transition past an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.
Establishing a Routine.
Most people who struggle with depression, will often forgo routines pertaining to self-care and self-development. A good example will be daily hygiene. The reason for this is that the depressed person desires to feel good again, and has non-consciously decided that the only way they are going to engage in any meaningful tasks is if they feel good.
While good feelings are important, they are not consistent. This is because change is a constant in the world around us. Due to this, our perception of whether we are getting our needs met changes often, and subsequently so does our feelings. So therefore, relying on our feelings to determine whether, we are going to follow through with tasks in our daily lives is notoriously unreliable.
Establishing a routine is a matter of self-discipline. You need to practice doing things that are important, regardless of whether you are in the mood to do these things or not. Also, once a routine or several routines have been established, it helps with your sense of self confidence even in your most troubled days. This is because you will have certain things going for you are a result of your routine.
Imagine you are on an island, let’s give this island the name, Island A. So you are on Island A and you have found yourself unhappy with the island for a number of reasons. So you go to a travel agent’s office and you request for a ticket to leave the island. The travel agent agrees with you for the number of reasons you are fed up with Island A, and asks you where you would like to go. Then it occurs to you, you don’t where you will like to go.
This is precisely what happens whens we struggle to get past feelings of resentment, we have not yet identified how we will like to feel about the person and or situation we feel resentful about. We are stuck on our feelings of hurt, in regards to what was done/ or what we believe was done to us. The reason we find ourselves stuck with these feelings of resentment, is because our rules on how others should treat and behave towards us has been violated. This leads to a part of us, wanting the other party to change to our liking or at the very least make some sort of amends.
Such a mindset leads to a false sense of control, specifically over the thoughts and actions of others. Overcoming feelings of resentment comes down to the practice of accepting others for whom they present themselves to be. Accepting others for the things they say and the actions they carry out, leads to a focus on those whose words and actions we find ourselves in agreement with.
In short, rather than dwell on what someone has done to you, you can focus on aligning yourself with another person whose actions are consistent with your belief system. So going back to the initial analogy, if you walked into the travel agent’s office with the intent to leave Island A, the focus of your conversation is not going to be on expressing yourself on how much island A sucks, the focus of your conversation would to instruct the travel agent to put you on another specific island. For example, you would ask to be placed on the next ferry to Island B. At that point, if you and the travel agent were to become engaged in a casual conversation, the conversation would be on why you want to travel to Island B. Most people in this instance, would be more likely to focus their attention on what they consider to be the merits of Island B, rather than what they don’t like about Island A.
If you are stuck with feelings of resentment, chances are that you have unintentionally bought into a belief system on how other people should behave towards you. Moving past acute or lingering feelings of resentment comes from focusing on what types of people and subsequently, new and other relationships you will find beneficial.
Imagine if you sought to lose a significant amount of weight, and you decided to pursue the traditional route of adhering to strict diet and exercising. How long do you think it will take you to lose the weight? Well, consider this, the average person who rigorously pursues this type of change is going to experience noticeable results in three months, from there on it takes an additional six to nine months before he gets closer to his goal.
This is an analogy for transitioning from an undesired state to a desired state. Now that the public has begun to catch up with new knowledge attained in neuroscience, regarding positive thinking and feeling being an effective conduit for achieving positive change in a person’s life, there seems a new cliché regarding the importance of positivity. Specifically regarding, thinking, feeling and doing. There just seems to be this message that if you think positively everything is going to be alright.
To be fair, the proponents of positivity and optimistic thinking are fundamentally right. However, change takes time. Just like someone who has been over weight for a long time, it becomes unrealistic for anyone to expect them to drop pounds overnight, likewise people who have struggled with anxiety and depressive symptoms are going to have a difficult time adopting a new mindset overnight.
The information out there on the power of our beliefs and feelings is optimistic, and inspirational, but the process of change is a gradual one. It must be, otherwise the person is going to become frustrated, and wonder why they keep reverting to old patterns of thinking, feeling and doing, then give up. This is especially true for people whose behavioral issues are neurologically based, such as persons diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) or Asperger syndrome.
Change take time, even for those who experience a faster process, it is still a significant amount of time. In the nearly sixteen years I have practiced psychotherapy I have come to learn that there are five stages a person goes through the process of change to successfully achieve the change they desire.
These stages are as follows:
In the stage of shock, the person who has lived in ignorant bliss for quite some time experiences a rude awakening regarding the true state of his or her situation. From the student who has procrastinated all semester, who finally sees his grades, to the addict who comes to the realization that he has burned several bridges through his addiction, the moment of realization can be a traumatic experience for some people.
It is at this stage; the person finds himself at a cross road. On one hand, he could take a path that leads to more despair and suffering, or he could take another path that leads to the change that he desires. The path he takes, depends on how he has processed his initial shock. Albeit, the better he has processed the shock, the easier it is for him to transition to the next stage.
Serendipitously, those who transition out of the stage of initial shock, often, (if not always) find the information they are looking for. They are excited, they are full of energy and they are inspired about the idea of changing their lives for the better. At this stage, they soak in stories about others who have been in a predicament like theirs and how they changed for the better. At this stage, they take in all the information they can, to begin their journey of change.
Resistance is the most difficult stage in the journey of change. This is where people begin practicing the actionable steps for achieving their desired goal. Often, these actionable steps require them to let go of behaviors they engaged in, in which they found comfort in. A significant amount of people will find it too much of an inconvenience to change their lifestyle and quit. For those who quit, depending on the severity of their situation, they will often restart the process from the inspirational stage. For those who do move on to the next stage, this is the slowest and most difficult path of the journey for them.
For this who reach this stage, after the difficult time they experienced with resisting the changes they needed to make, they make bargains with themselves. To control factors beyond their control, they tell themselves that they will continue to engage in their newly learned behaviors under specific circumstances, so long as things go their way.
Usually at the bargaining stage, the person has experienced mixed results, with the changes they have practiced to date. Naturally, they are looking for guarantees for the happiness they seek, as motivation to give it their all. For this who are successful with this stage, they realize that the mixed results they are experiencing come from not fully practicing the change of thinking, feeling and doing for the healthier. For those who are not successful with this stage, they slowly revert into their old life style.
This is the final stage of the process of change. It is at this stage that the person commits to fully practicing his newly adopted ways of thinking, feeling and doing, regardless of the outcome. People at this stage have usually come to a second awakening, regarding how much is beyond their control. They have decided not to fight the process any longer, but take things slowly, one day at a time, while striving to be a better person. Most importantly, they have decided that their practice of change is more important than their desired goal.
The irony about the stage of surrendering is that it is at this stage where people experience the most success in achieving their desires. The very stage when they care the least about their desires.
While most people follow this path towards change, there are a fee who skip stages and transition straight into surrendering. These people are few and far between. Regardless, people change for the better faster, when they move at a slow and steady pace.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
If life where an onion and you peeled it down to its last layer, what you come to is choices. Life is about the choices we make, while the meanings we ascribe to these choices are secondary. A sense of hopelessness arises when we encounter pain and difficulties based on a series of choices we made and we have come to believe that there are no alternatives.
Perhaps we believed that these choices would lead us down a path of happiness (as is often the case) perhaps we have come to believe that these choices which led us to our current predicament, are the only path we could have taken to fulfill happiness. The latter is a primary and recurring cause for feeling hopeless.
Consider another analogy, you are traveling down a path in a cave, and you come to a dead end. There is no where else to go, there is a slab of rock in front of you, to the left of you, to the right of you and behind you. Such a scenario is highly improbable, (except if you fell into a deep hole in a cave) which most people (if not all) in that scenario would feel hopeless. Yet, this is the illusion people create in their heads that results in the feelings of hopelessness. There are three reasons for this, and they are as follows:
Believing Your Choices are Your Identity.
While the choices you make in your life, definitely influence whom you are as a person, they are certainly not you. So a doctor, a boxer, an engineer, an uncle, etc. are nouns used to describe persons who engage in certain professions, and relationships. They are under no circumstances genuine descriptors of a person’s identity. When people become enmeshed in certain choices they have made, be it a profession or a relationship, they often resort to a sense of hopelessness when things in regards to their choices don’t work out. This is because this choice has become (falsely) an integral part of their identity, making it difficult for them to thoroughly consider other options.
Social Status and Pressure.
Then there are others, who have done a good job of separating the choices they have made from whom they are. However even when they find themselves thoroughly unhappy with a life decision, they remain hesitant to change due to social pressure and perceived status they have earned from adhering to certain norms via the choices they have made. In these situations, it is not the specific choice the person has made that keeps him miserable, it is the choice to give into social pressure that keeps him miserable. Further, as long as he continues to hold unto the beliefs that encourage the pursuit of status, when faced with life changing decisions he will see no options better that the choice he made, which he is currently unhappy with.
Lack of Knowledge.
The third reason some people struggle with hopelessness is simply a lack of knowing. In worse cases, the person may not even have a clue that a better life awaits him or her other than the life he or she is currently experiencing. This third reason is the most predominant when it comes to feelings of hopelessness, because until we know what we don’t know, our frames of references will remain limited.
When I work with clients who struggle with depression, I always encourage them to consider that there is a brighter alternative to the path they are currently taking. Further, in order to consider this brighter alternative they have to practice keeping an open mind and taking accountability for unhealthy thoughts which create fears for them and keep them stuck.
At the end of the day, we are our own prisoners and consequently our own liberators.
A disappointment is an expectation that has not been met. There are two types of disappointments, disappointment with self and disappointments with others. This post is going to focus more on dealing with disappointment with others, because it is the type of disappointment that people get more upset about. When dealing with disappointment with self, more than likely you put in effort into achieving a goal, with a desired result and that result did not happen. So, in the absence of a self-defeatist attitude, disappointment with yourself is easier to get over, because you can always change yourself for the better.
However, when it comes to dealing with disappointment because of the actions of someone else, feelings of being upset, perhaps resentful and in some cases hurt are going to be the case for the person experiencing the disappointment. In more severe cases, some people will wish you better luck next time, some will remind you that it is the nature of life, you win some, you lose some. But here is an important question to ask yourself when you experiencing this type of disappointment, in whose reality are you living in?
Reading this question, might catch you off guard as it seems u related to the title/topic of this post. But really, whose reality are you residing in? The ideal answer when you ask yourself this question should be “my reality” but if you ever find yourself struggling to cope with disappointment then it means you have been living in someone else’s reality and that person has let you down.
The answer then lies in getting back into discovering what is important to you. When struggling with disappointment, if you critically consider the situation, you will discover that you are morning the loss of something you never really had any control over. This could be the loss of a job, the ending of a relationship or an opportunity that did not materialize for you. In his book, Victor Frankl is famous for his quote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. This means, that, no matter what you are mourning, your thoughts and feelings remain under your control.
Pertaining to dealing with disappointment, there is no rationale in mourning something over which you had no control over. Let’s say you accidentally dropped a glass cup on the floor, no matter how expensive that glass cup was, you can always take refuge in telling yourself that you will be more careful with glass cups next time. This is because a glass cup in your hands is under your control. Experiencing disappointment over the actions of someone else is a situation not under your control, and so the best course of action is to make peace with this fact. Otherwise you are just going to upset yourself even more, and the reason you find yourself even more upset is because there are no remedies in getting others to do what you want them to do. Therefore, if you encounter someone who follows through on their word, that is a blessing. A blessing because they chose an action that benefitted you, an action you had no control over.
You should only concern yourself with your thoughts and feelings and subsequent actions because these are easy to change. As for the thoughts, feelings and actions of others, the best you can do is practice allowance.
As a therapist who specializes with adolescents and young adults on the autism spectrum, I am often on a look out for online forums dedicated to such a population. Unfortunately, while the true intent of these forums is to provide support and validation for those on the spectrum who struggle to with adapting to the daily struggles of socializing in everyday life, there exist forums where the main theme appears to be who can throw themselves the largest pity party.
I have also witnessed this phenomenon with groups for depression and anxiety, and while I am a staunch advocate for freedom of speech and expression, I believe it is a dangerous situation of people supporting each other in unhealthy thinking. I also believe a big part of the problem is the victim based mentality that has become ubiquitous in popular culture. With this being written, there are three main mindsets people on the spectrum need to adapt, when seeking professional help or help from support groups.
Care is not Obligatory.
In the past decade, I have witnessed the rise of websites crowdfunding websites. As someone who adheres to libertarian principles, I can attest that the success of these crowdfunding websites is proof that most people are fundamentally good. There are no laws in place, or social pressures for that matter that mandate anyone go to these websites to donate money to people. There will always be people who are kind heart-ed, who desire to help those in need. So therefore, the idea that other people must care about your plight is an irrational one. Especially when a group of people come together and focus feverishly and complain about those people who don’t have compassion for their difficulties. This will always be unnecessary given that people who care already exist.
Seek to get Better.
A former client of mine once looked me in the eye, and insisted that his collection of symptoms and quirks were due to his brain wiring. I told him that I agreed with him. He then told me that what he needed was drugs and not therapy. I shared with him that after he had built enough tolerance to whatever was prescribed to him that he would be back in my office. After we had a good laugh, I then introduced him to the concept of neuro-plasticity, where the brain forms and strengths new pathways based on the thoughts and behaviors of its owner. It short, change is possible, and it all boils down to the practice of mental effort. So, when looking for a therapist or a support group, you are looking for help designed to help you move past your grieving process and put you into the process of thriving.
Ranking is Overrated.
Yes, we are social animals, and we have desire to belong to social groups. This is the chief complaint I habitually field with first time clients on the spectrum. Their feelings of not feeling welcomed or belonging to a group, clique or tribe. In truth, you already belong to a tribe, and you are already accepted. If this was not true, you would be dealing with several people actively trying to expel you from your respective community. In truth, what you are dealing with is a desire to rank well on the social hierarchy. As a therapist who has worked with over 800 clients, I have worked with all sorts of people, from high achievers to those who are content with a humble existence, and every one of them to some degree expressed feelings of alienation from the general populace and their respective community members. So, if you are feeling like a bit of an outcast, you are in good company. One does have to wonder if that tribe of people who are truly cohesive and all accepting of their member is a myth. Regardless, when looking for a support group, or therapist please keep in mind that it is not healthy is engage in an us versus them mentality. This is not healthy.
One of my favorite books, by Dr. Eric Berne, discusses in detail three ego states people transition throughout their daily experiences. These ego states are simplified as adult ego state, parent ego state and the child ego state. For clarity, I will define each of these states as their definitions bare importance for the title of this post.
The adult ego state can be defined as an objective state of consciousness. It is in this mind state that we can see things for what they are, without any assigned meanings or interpretations, (think Data from star trek). The parent ego state can be defined as a moralistic state of consciousness, it is from this state of consciousness that we pass judgement on the behaviors of ourselves and others. Finally, the child ego state can be defined as primal/emotional state of consciousness. It is from this state that we seek to get our emotional needs of acceptance, recognition, love, respect and autonomy met.
Now, you may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with handling hostility? Simple, the best way to handle hostility is from the adult ego state. This is because, in this mindset, you are not taking things personally, you have both your parent and child ego states in check and you win. The aggressor is not successful in getting you upset and gives up.
This video, shows the me using demonstrating the adult mindset in action.
Now getting yourself in the adult ego state is easier said than done, even If you know you will be dealing with hostility in a future interaction. While I respect and deeply appreciate the work of Dr. Berne, nothing compares to cognitive behavioral therapy. This is because the best way to handle hostility comes from a revaluation and reordering of your belief system. For example, if you know you are headed into a hostile situation, it would be a great time to challenge your beliefs regarding your interactions with others.
If done properly, you will always arrive at an objective belief that states something to the effect that while hostility from others is not preferred, you can choose to not take it personally and focus on more healthier relationships. The process of addressing your beliefs forces you to simultaneously address your beliefs about morals and values (parent ego state) and how you get your emotional needs met, (child ego state.)
The strange thing about the parent ego state is that is that it is often wrong and only right when you encounter someone who shares the same morals and values with you. A popular example would be religion, specifically, religious rules on human behavior. Your morals are often going to be validated by someone of the same faith as you, while disregarded by someone else who does not share your faith. An objective reevaluation of your belief system will reveal that if someone’s behavior does not involve harm to someone else, then there are no issues. Further, even if someone’s behavior does involve harm to another person, the best course of action is to aid the person harmed, rather than attack the person doing the harming.
I once worked with a client, who upon anticipating that she was about to lose her job, started putting money away, payed her car notes and rent six months the in advance, and then mentally prepared herself for the storm to come.
In fairness, she had good reason to suspect she might lose her job, and all indications suggested that she was a very competent professional. I then introduced her to an exercise, in which she used her imagination to prepare for a positive experience. For example, a new job she better enjoyed with much better pay. While this exercise caught her off guard, she pleasantly surprised herself in learning that the steps she would take to prepare for this opportunity, where realistic and beneficial towards getting that job she wanted.
It is easy to focus on our daily struggles or major events in our lives not going our way, and it may seem like the right thing to do. “I have this problem, so therefore, if I focus on how best to deal with the problem it will go away.” But this doesn’t work like that, focusing on a problem only turns your attention to more of the problem, which only makes the problem more of your everyday life. The solution is the focus more on the opposite of the problem, or more specifically a desired outcome you wish to experience, followed by realistic measures by which to realize that desire.
Take for example, you live on island A, you are sick and tired of living on island A, so you go into a travel agent’s office and you inform said agent that you are sick and tired of living on island A and you want out. Naturally, the travel agent is going to ask you; “where would you like to go?” Instead of giving a desired destination, you shrug your shoulders and state, I don’t know, and continue your rant about how much you are done living on island A.
Then consider the second scenario, where you walk into the travel agent’s office, with the intent of removing yourself from island A. However, instead of lamenting how much you don’t like living on island A, you ask specifically for a plane or ship ticket to island B. Out of curiosity, the travel agent may ask you why you want to travel to island B, and you respond that you have heard so much good things about island B that you want to go and experience these good things for yourself.
This is how best to approach your problems, acknowledge them for what they are, and identify a realistic alternative to the experience. Then come up with a plan to realize this new experience. With this technique, you are not and never will be in denial about things not going your way, you will simply be taking radical steps in your life to surround yourself with the preferred reality you wish to experience.