Hypothyroidism: Depression is something we do (sometimes)…
By Jaki GT
Depression has many names and many forms. Its nuances are as individual as you are; and that’s not surprising, because depression is NOT something you have.
• It is not an illness separate to you.
• It’s something you’re doing.
Think of it this way – can ‘your depression’ exist without you? No. Are you depressed when you’re asleep? No. Can ‘your depression’ exist in the absence of certain behaviors & physiology?… (Unsure? Ever seen a seriously depressed person laughing, juggling and bouncing around, telling jokes and making meaningful connections with others? No, because those sorts of behaviors just don’t gel with depression). They are like oil and water. Maybe these actions are even like water for fire… Now there’s a thought…
Key point? Depression is something (some) people do (sometimes). I’m not sharing this to impart blame or make you feel bad if it’s something you’ve been prone to doing before… quite the opposite! And hey, I’ve been there and done that too. And research does tell us that there is genetic predisposition in some people, and that having certain medical conditions can make it far, far easier to do. The same research tells us that there are things even these people can do to change it. And that’s great, because depression is no one’s idea of a good time. And I know the experience feels very real when you’re there, doing it and can’t see the light at the end of the dark, deep, black tunnel.
What I am putting to you, is that when we recognize that depression is something we do (as opposed to a ‘disease we are afflicted with’) – we can start to think of it as a process – like feeding your dog/cat. A process has an identifiable beginning (a trigger, miaow or puppy dog eyes, anyone?), a clear procedure for doing it, and, yes, an exit point, when you know that the time to stop is now.
This means, it is something YOU have control over; and the first useful step for you then, is understanding how YOU do depression. A) What is/are your triggers to get you started? B) How do you maintain depression? What do you do? What don’t you do? C) How do you know to finish the cycle? What lifts you out? How do you know when its done?
Interesting point: for most people, depression is something that given the right circumstances and time, you come out of naturally. (Now, today’s society and norms are not ideal for facilitating that, so ‘wait it out’ is NOT what I’m recommending, it’s impractical) but, it’s worth recognizing that this is a process that runs its course naturally if we can let it.
In addition, I also want to be clear that I’m not knocking anti-depressants – there are a small minority of people who find them an invaluable part of their coping or even recovery strategy (about as many as those who experience improvement from placebo pills, interestingly). AND, whether or not you choose to use any medication, wouldn’t it be great to have other options available to you too?
For those of us ready to start taking control with some simple, surprisingly powerful, can-do steps, (and this is good to read when you’re having a good day) to expedite the process, or even nip it in the bud, our focus must be on either:
a) eliminating or reducing the triggers so we don’t start depression in the first place
b) identifying strategies we can use to reduce the time spent doing depression
c) clarifying our exit strategy and things we can do to exit cleanly and quickly
First, what triggers you? What often happens before you start to feel depressed? Lack of sleep is often a trigger, so take a look at your sleep hygiene, see your local pharmacist or doctor for advice on this. For many, triggers can include overwhelm or stress – in which case mediation, time and stress management strategies and mindfulness can all help. For others, it’s a sense of not having meaning in your life (e.g. meaningful work or purpose), or feeling disrespected, or experiencing a disconnection with others. Grief or trauma (childhood or recent) are also major triggers.
So, step 1, what’s going on in your life, that immediately preceded this feeling of depression and the start of your depression process? Identifying your trigger/s is the first step to minimizing these or reframing these to give them a different meaning, so they don’t start you on a depressive track. (That’s a whole other article, right there!).
Second, let’s talk about the common physiology of depression. The term’s we use for depression are related to the physiology, ie. someone who is depressed is ‘down’. They tend to be slumped and inward facing (eyes down, shoulders slumped and body folded in on itself). Noticing yourself doing this may be the first time you become consciously aware that you’re about to enter a depressive state. When you do become aware – CHANGE your physiology. You’ve likely heard about the mindbody link, but you may be surprised to learn that that link works just as well the other way. i.e. Changing your physiology can change your mind & thus feelings!
Did you know that your unconscious mind does not know the difference between a ‘fake’ smile and a real one? This means that smiling, even if its just one you create by putting a pen between your teeth (as pictured), triggers a powerful chemical reaction in the brain that can actually make you feel happier. Research tells us this CAN lift your mood and reduce stress, and even prolong your life! Similarly, looking up is far more uplifting (notice the language again) than staying slumped/down.
So, really look up, lift your eyes up, because when we are stuck in negative self-talk, our eyes are down, so send your body a different signal. Exercise too is a key way to ‘break state’ and disrupt the depressive pattern. Go for a brisk walk, ideally in nature, but anywhere will do. If you can, throw a frisbee for your dog or with a friend. Activity and exercise will trigger chemical reactions that WILL help, so even if you don’t feel like it – start with a short walk and build on that, you might be surprised how far you get! Even a bit of yoga can help. Or stand up and try on a power pose (Yep, you might feel faintly ridiculous, but did it make you smile? Even grimace? Boom! You just won again!)
Thirdly, notice that when you’re doing depression there is an inner dialogue or monologue going on here that is NOT serving you. C’mon, you and I both know it’s there – we all have voices in our head and that’s OK. These voices serve to guide us. It may be that your depression strategy is trying to tell you something – maybe something about slowing down, or self-care or balance. How can you know if this is the case for you? Well, you don’t know if you don’t ask! And your unconscious knows! Here’s the question: What do I get out of doing depression that is good for me/keeps me safe? Or Whats the positive intention of this part of me doing depression?
Now, LISTEN! (Then find other ways to achieve the positive outcomes, so your unconscious mind knows its ok to let that strategy go now and start to get you back to well again). There is a lot in that
point, but for now, just think on it, and see what you discover. This is something an experience NLP Practitioner or counselor would likely help you explore in more detail.
Finally, when we realize that voice is NOT helping us, beyond obviously challenging the CONTENT of that voice, there are a lot of things that we can do to adjust the voice itself, that change your experience. By changing the ‘sub-modalities’ or attributes of that inner voice we can make it more or less powerful. For example, it’s hard to take a Donald Duck voice seriously! And, if we turn the volume right down, you’ll notice it doesn’t feel so powerful anymore… and how does that change your depression procedure? Or, what if we reeeeeeeaaaalllly sloooooooow it down, how does that pace change how you receive the message? What if you sped it up, so it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks? Not so authoritative now, is it?
The novelty and humour of some of these small, simple strategies may well help you pop out of depression almost accidentally at times, and it’s good to be aware when that happens, and go with it when it does! Celebrate, enjoy, breathe. You got this! You did it!
Your mind creates your experience/reality. And one of the exciting things about your mind is how pliable it is, and how open to positive suggestions, including these and all of the other new and powerful strategies available to you. And, like anything, the more you choose to use these strategies, the easier it gets. And so you can start to truly become the master of all your life and experience; changing things up here and there as you see fit; letting go of things that don’t serve you, and adding in new procedures and tools that do. And as you do, you’ll notice how good it feels now, to know that you are connected, you are capable, you are taking control. One step at a time is enough and will get you through.
The ideas in this article are drawn largely from the field of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), which we can think of as the ‘science of happiness & success’.
Jaki started her NLP journey in 2008 and is now an internationally certified Master Practitioner of NLP, and recently completed her N.L.P. Instructor certification. In addition to her graduate degrees, qualifications in adult training, and decades of experience as a professional speaker & consultant, she enjoys working alongside individuals who want to create positive change in their lives – personally or professionally. She lives with her husband and two children in New Zealand, where she practices as a consultant, coach, and Facilitator of excellence. For more resources and information visit www.jakigt.com
Readers interested in learning more deeply about depression are strongly encouraged to read Johann Hari’s book ‘Lost Connections’ for some powerful insights on how you can avoid falling into the depression trap/pattern. If you are seeking further assistance with depression, you may also want to seek out an NLP consultant you feel comfortable with to explore if a session might be a useful way for you to redress your history and pattern of depression.