Sometimes people say, “you are choosing to be depressed.” It’s insulting to people who feel depressed. Who would choose to be depressed?
Life can be depressing at times. It can make you feel low, worthless, hopeless, all kinds of bad things. Except… some people rarely ever get depressed and some get depressed a lot. What’s that about?
I am not going to get into the debate about how much of depression is chemical and how much is behavior. I think it is a complex combination of both.
Can we agree on one thing? Whatever causes it, your depression belongs to you. You have to decide how to handle it. I would like to suggest a change in mind-set. It is a simple change in the words we use.
Instead of saying, “I have symptoms of depression,” let’s say, “I have habits of depression.” It’s subtle but important. Symptoms sound like something we have no control over. Habits are hard to resist but we can resist them.
Partial list of Depressing Habits
thinking negative thoughts
Saying mean things to yourself (I’m stupid or ugly)
Picking on yourself (physical harm)
lying awake thinking instead of sleeping
A habit is a weighted choice. When you are about to do the habit behavior, it doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like something inside you is pushing you to do it. It takes less effort to give in than to fight the urge.
The weight that pushes us to give in to a depressing habit is our overall outlook on life.
Our outlook on life sets the stage for how we experience the everyday experiences of life. Outlook is what makes Sally able to lose her job and bounce back, while Art goes into a serious depression after not getting a promotion he wanted.
Your outlook on life is revealed by your favorite thoughts, the thoughts you automatically go-to when something goes wrong.
Partial List of Depressing Go-To Thoughts
I’m a loser
Life is unfair
No one really cares
I can’t win
These Go-To thoughts are the weights that make our depressing habits hard to resist. If life really does suck on some universal scale of suckiness, then what is the point of trying?
We made up these Go-To thoughts as a child, when we didn’t know the difference between a helpful thought and an unhelpful one. Kids are black and white; they make sweeping generalizations about things. As adults we can modify those generalizations and make them more realistic.
We can’t eliminate our Go-To thoughts but…we can take away their power.
Oh, but there is a catch. Those dark thoughts are like old friends. They are morbidly comforting. When we give in, it’s like we’ve been right all along: Life really does suck.
It’s comforting to be right, even when you hate what you are right about.
Plain and Simple Advice
To take the power away from your Go-To thoughts, you must identify them. Listen to yourself when you make generalizations about life. Write them down. You will do this most often when something goes wrong.
Start saying, I used to believe life sucks. Now I believe life can be really hard at times. Now I believe I can deal with that. Instead of going into a tailspin because my boss chewed me out, I am going to do something nice for myself.
Warning: This is not easy. Our Go-To thoughts have amazing power. Sometimes your depressing habits will still win. Expect this and shrug it off. Expect to fail sometimes and it won’t bother you as much.
Every time you resist a depressing habit, it will be easier the next time.