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.
Driving to my office this morning, I listened to some broadcast information, I found disturbing. A happiness guru was giving giving advice on how to be happy.
He started out with an example of a retail worker, who was not happy with her job, and went to detail how she could immediately begin experiencing happiness, simply by changing her perceptions. Listening further, he appeared to state that she would be able to experience happiness by practicing a number of cognitive exercises simply geared towards looking at her situation in a different light. The problem I had with his message was that the change in perceptions where not tied to any follow through actions.
That line of thinking is based on the old glass half full or half empty analogy. That is to say, that you can either see a half glass of water as either half full or half empty. The issue I have with messages like these is that they are based on half truths. It is true that your thoughts influence your level of happiness, however if you find yourself experiencing unhappiness, who is to say that your thoughts are wrong? Take again the glass half empty or half full analogy, in reality a glass of water at any level is either on it’s way to being emptied or filled. It all depends on what decisions you intend on following through on. Are you going to empty the glass or refill it? Perhaps both.
Let’s explore a concrete example using the story of the retail worker who is unhappy with her job. What if she does not earn enough wages to get her basic needs met? Yet she believes that there are no immediate opportunities she can pursue where she is generating sufficient income. Telling someone in this situation to think happy thoughts is deceitful and insulting. It reminds me of a high school English teacher I was working with, who stated, “thank God I don’t live in India”. As she said this, I couldn’t help but notice the gaping hole in her right worn tennis shoe. I am not one to be materialistic, but I decided that based on her statement, her daily appearance was not one of self imposed frugality but one of impoverishment. Further, her comparison of her current situation at the time, to her perception of life in India, was meant to generate feelings of happiness about her situation. Which amounted to nothing but a false positive.
Back to our fictional retailer, if I knew someone in that situation, I would immediately share with that person that her unhappiness made sense. Further I would share with her that her feelings of unhappiness was her brains’ way of informing her that her current line of employment isn’t working out. If so, what is a retailer to do? I would introduce the retailer to cognitive exercises meant for her to brainstorm realistic alternatives for generating income. From my experience, such a process usually leads the person to come face to face with her fears generated by unhealthy beliefs she developed during her early life experiences.
At this point the goal would be in assisting the retailer to discard her old unhealthy beliefs and adopt new beliefs that steer her in the direction of practicing the courage to pursue her passions. So it is just not enough to think happy thoughts, instead happy thoughts are generated by decisions we make and intend to follow through on in either pursuing meaningful change in our lives or continue practicing habits to maintain a meaningful and fulfilling life style we are already living.
In my opinion, the key to happiness is the practice of courage. I will write more on this on the next post.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and a life coach.
In this post, I will be sharing a story that reinforces my argument from a previous post on why anger is a useless emotion. Once upon time, I was a soldier stationed in Bagram Afghanistan. Once on a mission outside the wire, the convey experienced a scare. We encountered a traffic jam, followed by what sounded like a small explosion. Following protocol, we immediately dismounted our vehicles and took our assigned combative positions. It was later discovered that the sound we heard came from an over inflated car tire that gave out. However, that’s not the story I am trying to tell, the true story is of a fellow non commissioned officer (NCO) who I discovered was cowered in the back seat of the Humvee during the commotion.
This guy was the most loud mouthed and arrogant human being in the company. He always had on a scowl on his face, he could be heard openly berating soldiers under his command, mocking his peers and cursing his superiors under his breath. Had it been any other person, I would have had some compassion for what appeared to be an episode of panic under a stressful situation. However with this guy, I couldn’t help but experience some feelings of irritation and disappointment.
In my life experiences, this is one of many stories which reinforced the meaning of one of my mother’s favorite quotes, “empty bottles make the loudest noise”, and the story of the Richard Sherman’s interview with Erin Andrews is no different.
I don’t enjoy criticizing Black public figures or celebrities, for the simple fact that bigots are usually first on the scene, seizing the moment to reinforce prejudice stereotypes in the public consciousness, however today I am making another of my few exceptions. I read a post which I found irritating where the author took up for Richard Sherman’s childish antics and seemed to refer to Black men who carry themselves in a calm demeanor as tokens acting White to fit in.
Really? When I listen to people utter such nonsense I feel tempted to ask them if they believe that people of European decent should be the only people who have exclusive rights towards carrying themselves in a calm demeanor.
When I looked further for clues regarding what could have triggered Richard Sherman’s unprofessional outburst, it turns out to be worse than I thought. All the while I suspected that Sherman got his feelings hurt by his identified nemesis, Michael Crabtree, instead it turns about that he provoked Crabtree by making taunting gestures, which resulted in Crabtree pushing him in the face. I suppose this is what lead to his outburst during the interview.
Please stop the madness. Specifically stop misleading boys and young men towards thinking that coping up an attitude is the route to take towards resolving grievances with others. It’s dangerous! You may get away with pushing others away and intimidating a few people until you stumble upon someone who is truly dangerous and properly trained in the use of violence.
Anyone trained in any measure of violence will readily acknowledge that in this world there is always someone more dangerous than you are. If you keep asking for trouble, you are going to get it. The most effective and sustainable way of resolving conflicts with others is the practice of compassion and assertiveness in your interactions with others.
In other words, do stand up for stand for yourself, but regard your fellow human being with the dignity you want others to regard you with at all times.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Periodically, I get emails with the title, “I need anger management help.” Once I respond to the email with the assurance that I can help them with their issues of poor anger management, the response I get it almost always the same. Where the person states that he or she has a problem and is about to lose an important relationship and is desperately looking for help.
In this post, I am going to specify three habits which fuel poor anger management.
People who struggle with poor anger management are poor communicators. In this previous post I wrote about how people with poor anger management struggle with codependency issues, well poor communication is a continuity of that. Due to feelings of insecurity people who struggle with poor anger management seldom speak up for themselves, be it to state what they want, need or care about. This then leads to a predictable anger episode when they feel that they have taken too much abuse and that they are not going to take it any more. This is why people yell when they are angry, they feel unheard and so desperately want to be heard.
Improving communication skills goes a long way towards managing feelings of poor anger management. Regardless of how you feel the person is going to respond, you want to get into the habit of stating what you are experiencing, and accepting that you have no control over the mood of others.
Insensitive companionship is relative, this means that if you form a companionship with someone who strongly relates to your beliefs and values, you will experience a sense of kinship with that person. On the other hand if you establish a relationship with someone whose beliefs and values are significantly different from yours, you will feel disconnected from that person, you will also feel that your companion is insensitive.
Due to their lack of effective communication skills, people with poor anger management usually end up with people they seldom relate to and often disagree with. This only leads to confirmation bias that their anger is justified, because they are surrounded by others who don’t understand them and are insensitive to their needs.
By practicing open and honest communication with others, you inevitably create distance between yourself and others you disagree with and pull those you agree with closer to your circle.
Difficulty Practicing Forgiveness
People who struggle with poor anger management, are very rule based. They adhere to a series of rules for social interactions regarding for how others should and should not behave towards them. So when they find themselves having been wronged, they have a tendency to ruminate on the incidence, regardless of the status of their relationship with the person who wronged them.
Forgiveness is the practice of letting go of hurt and pain you have experienced as a result of someone else’s actions towards you. Forgiveness is not about denying the impact of the other person’s actions towards you, nor does forgiveness mean that you ever have to welcome that person into your life. Forgiveness is about your right to experience peace, and cease experiencing emotional turmoil over the actions of another.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.