Five Steps to Letting Go of Stale Depression

five footprints in sandI 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:

  1. 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.
  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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kelly Baez, PhD, LPC, NCC, therapist in Atlanta, Georgia

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Janna


    October 1st, 2013 at 3:47 AM

    I know that my mom is a classic case of this but she would never admit it. As a matter of fact I don’t think that she has ever even received an official diagnosis of depression, but I am not even a doctor but even I know that it’s there! But the thing about her is that there are times when I truly believe that she could get better but she really doesn’t wnat to. She holds onto that sadness for… attention? to guilt us? I’m not sure, but it wears on me, hurts our relationship, makes me not want to be around her most of the time and I do struggle with that a wholel ot because she is my mom and I love her but the fit just isn’t right for the energy that I want in my life.

  • constance


    October 1st, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    I do think that there are those who stay in this continuity of depression because they don’t give anything time to work, they want immediacy and if it doesn’t happen overnight then they give up and think that it never will

  • Mark


    October 2nd, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    For those with this kind of pervasive depression I bet that for many they have been sad for so long they don’t have a clear view anymore of how they even got here to this point.

    I think that working with a counselor could be so positive for someone like that in that it would help them go back to that initial moment or moments of sadness, pinpoint them, and work froward from that. Once those triggers have been identified then the healing can begin. But if you are just sad and depressed and honestly don’t know why, then there would be little possibility to get well.

  • Lilian


    October 2nd, 2013 at 6:12 AM


    what do you mean by time to work?

  • Julie


    October 2nd, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    So true, I think we do hold onto our depression, just like we hold onto our guilt and our anger and our sadness. I also think this is true for our pain. Sometimes I think we hold onto them because they give us something to hold on to. When we feel out of control I think sometimes we fear that letting go of the one “known” will take away what little control we have left.

  • constance


    October 3rd, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    @ Lillian what I mean by “time to work” is that you and I both know that there are a lot of people looking for instant gratification, seeking the fast answer. They think that yoga should help them feel relaxed the first time they try it, or even meditation. Same thing with medication if this is what they have been prescribed. They pop a pill one day and expect to feel better the next. If they don’t see those immediate results, then they cycle again into this thought pattern that nothing is going to work for them so it remains easy for them to stay in this pattern of depression in which they have been ensnared for a long time. Haven’t you seen that before, if not with depressed people then others? I sure have.

  • Robbie McCartin

    Robbie McCartin

    October 21st, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    I think it is very unusual that the person who is presenting as the expert on depression would state that she finds chemical imbalances in the brain as a cause for depression “as being the case few and far between”? That seems to fly in the face of everything I have learned about depression. I have suffered from recurring episodes of depression for over 30 yrs- some mild some bleak and horrendous. I can tell you 100% w/o a doubt it is chemical. Why would so many people respond positively to serotonin uptake meds ( and other meds) they did not have a chemical imbalance? It seems more likely the medicines would make them feel odd and off key if they did not have a physical problem. I know there are situational depressions that are caused by circumstances… and other things that can cause a period of sadness or hopelessness. I object to the few and far between comment,though – just in my own family I could start giving you a long list from my mother’s side. I think it can be heriditary and environmentally passed on. I also would wonder at anyone who would “hold on” to depression?!? If you have ever felt a real depression it is NOTHING anyone! would ever want to hold on to for 1 day no .1 hour! if you had the chance to let it go! Maybe some people like coccooning, being couch potatoes, eating comfort food or something like that..but depression no,way. Just had to throw in my 2 cents.

  • Crystal


    March 18th, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    Even stale depression has its therapeutic importance.

    For people who hang onto stale depression ( consciously or unconsciously), the following question may help:
    “What purpose does my depression serve?” I know, it is offensive to some to think that depression can serve a function,
    but the existence of depression is rich with messages to the self. Whether biological or triggered by circumstance, and most often it’s
    combination of the two, the depression itself is asking to be heard.
    Sometimes it’s a wake up/stop sign to a painful life/relationship that needs to change/be released.
    Sometimes it keeps someone in a patient/protected role.
    Sometimes it is seen as validation of one’s low self worth.
    If as a practitioner, you can help the client explore the purpose of the stale depression, you can get to the root psychological issue that prevents healing (physical, spiritual, emotional, etc.)
    A sample conversation, and quite common:
    What purpose does his depression serve?
    Does it keep you in the house?
    Does it prevent you from showing love?
    What purpose does this serve?
    It keeps me lonely.
    It keeps you lonely?
    And small.
    What is the purpose of keeping you lonely and small?
    It keeps me from shining.
    What purpose does it serve to keep yourself from shining?
    It keeps me small.
    What is the purpose of being small?
    If I am strong it feels dangerous.

    Without truly listening to the message of the depression, we may well miss the whole point.

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