Those experiencing depression often express a sense of hopelessness or helplessness. Like no matter what direction they walk, whether they go under, over, around, or through different obstacles, nothing changes. Sometimes it can feel even worse!
So what can we do when we’re stuck there? There is good evidence to suggest that there is a close relationship between our activity and our mood. When we are feeling happy and content, we spend time with people we value, do activities that provide satisfaction and pleasure, and take up new challenges. These activities have a positive feedback loop: doing things we enjoy gives us feelings of pleasure, challenging ourselves means that we have a chance to grow, and having positive relationships with other people makes us feel connected and valued.
Sadly, the reverse is also true. When we feel depressed, we tend to avoid things we’d usually do and so we have fewer opportunities to feel pleasure, mastery, and connection – the things we need to feel good.
Have you noticed these changes in yourself? You may find that you have become less active, don’t go out as much anymore, avoid hanging out with friends. You might notice you no longer enjoy your usual hobbies, watch something on Netflix you don’t even enjoy that much. When this happens, we might be locked in a downward spiral.
We all have a tendency to react to depression by withdrawing. We do less in the hope it’ll allow us to feel better in the future. We wait to feel better or more motivated before we re-engage in meaningful activities again. They require more effort after all.
Yet this very normal response to depression comes with cruel and unintended consequences. When we follow the lead of low mood, we fall into patterns of passivity that leave us even less energised, less likely to engage with friends or hobbies. And so the downward spiral continues.
So what can you do? The answer is simple in theory, and tricky in practice. Approaching activities we used to enjoy, taking care of ourselves, and adding back in basic structures and responsibilities into our days changes the way we feel. Rather than feel better then do, we instead do to feel better. In essence, we need to “get out there” and give ourselves the best opportunity to start to feel better, even if our emotions don’t initially agree. And the great thing is that our emotions eventually catch up. We don’t suddenly feel better, but purposefully scheduling in enjoyable and meaningful activities gradually erodes the depression we’re experiencing. Don’t be afraid to start slow. Sometimes even getting dressed, showering, or eating breakfast can start our journey up out of the downward spiral of depression
If you’d like to learn more, consider chatting to a psychologist or trying our Concrete Steps program.