I once had a conversation with a talented acupuncturist who wondered if some of her clients held onto their pain. I could only speculate when it comes to holding onto physical pain, but I sincerely believe it to be true in some cases of people with depression. Now, there are some people with depression caused by chemical imbalances in the brain—those cases are few and far between, and those people are not the focus of this post. Often when I write about depression, I’m thinking of the people who report to me that they are feeling depressed. Maybe they have been feeling depressed long enough that they meet the clinical criteria; however, in more common cases, the depression has an environmental and cognitive origin, not a chemical/organic origin.
That said, I believe that on occasion people do hold onto their depression. You could think of it as stale sadness, frustration, and anger. But depression feels awful! Why on earth would someone do that? There are many possible reasons. But whatever the cause, or should I say focus, of the depression, the bottom line is that it usually seems more painful to make some changes than it does to hang onto the depression.
Change to alleviate depression is often not where you expect to find it. If you are miserable in your marriage, it doesn’t make good sense to start with a divorce. What’s more surprising to many couples is that change doesn’t usually start with the other person.
How to let go of stale depression:
- If you can, identify what’s hurting in your life right now. It’s OK if it’s not terribly specific, but keep it in the present. Now is not the time to blame your mother or first spouse. If you can’t figure out what’s hurting you right now, that’s OK; go on to Step 2.
- If you can identify what’s bothering you, share it with a counselor or trusted friend so you can get a clearer picture of what’s going on. If you can’t figure out what’s bothering you, look for ways you can care for yourself in your daily life. Brainstorm with someone you trust.
- Do you hear that inner voice telling you this won’t work and it’s not worth the effort? Understand that hopelessness is an aspect of stale depression. It’s a normal part of the way the brain works to maintain homeostasis. But you’re looking for a new normal. Acknowledge that negativity for what it is and move on.
- Make a list of things to do—that you can do for yourself—which might be helpful. Cross everything off the list that involves getting someone else to change or communicating better with someone else. Start with the ones that feel more attainable first and go from there. Here’s a tip: Is some form of exercise on that list? If you’re healthy enough for exercise, it should be.
- Give your efforts time to work. Be sure not to write them off as failures prematurely. Journaling through this process is enormously helpful, allowing you to track what works and what doesn’t. If you find you are still stuck, try talking with an experienced counselor who can help you identify any roadblocks.
Change to help with stale depression is hard and scary, but well worth the effort. You know you are strong. You’re carrying around a boatload of depression, for goodness’ sake! Now it’s time to shift that effort to positive changes in your life that will carry your spirit. It’s not easy to take those first few steps, but it is possible and worthwhile.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kelly Baez, PhD, LPC, NCC, therapist in Atlanta, Georgia
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