I have always found the easiest way to distinguish sadness from depression is to ask yourself if your overwhelmingly negative, hopeless feelings penetrate every cell of your body. Say yes, and you are probably depressed.
It is natural to think there is a continuum going from sadness to depression, but, actually, there is one continuum for sadness and a separate one for depression. You can be a little sad or deeply sad, a little depressed, or deeply depressed; but deeply sad never equals even a little depressed. They are completely different feelings. Depression is a full body experience, sadness is not.
Sadness is when your gerbil dies but you can still go to work. Depression is when your partner chooses someone over you, and you feel so rotten it is as if every part of your body, mind, and spirit is affected. Depression is bleak, dark and hopeless. Despair rules. On the other hand, you may feel numb, as if nothing is registering on your emotional radar screen.
When you’re depressed there isn’t much that gives you pleasure. If sad, you can still enjoy some chocolate or a beautiful sunset.
It can be helpful to distinguish a few things:
Is your depression from an external source, like a bad diagnosis, big disappointment, divorce, death, or job loss; or, did it develop from an internal concept, self-rating, idea, or state of mind? If your depression was sparked by grief, you may want to deal with that, and assume it is not depression, per se, but another aspect of your reaction to loss.(See the chapters on grief for more on its protean landscape.) Generally speaking, if your depression is linked to an external event it is more likely to respond to treatment fairly quickly. On the other hand, if it came from internal issues you have been wrestling with for years, you may want to consider professional help. Some people respond quickly, while others may take longer. All that matters is taking the first step.
In this day and age, it is easy to think a depressed person needs medication. While there are situations when that is appropriate, in many instances it is not necessary. In Germany, for example, if you go to a psychiatrist with mild to moderate depression he or she will suggest St. John’s Wort. Taking fish oil, and vitamin D3 are also invaluable in lifting your spirits.
Numerous studies have shown that any exercise helps combat depression. Something as seemingly simple as walking, assuming you swing your arms at the same time, actually balances out the hemispheres of the brain, allowing you to think more clearly. In addition, that rhythmic motion helps banish obsessive thoughts that often accompany the blues.
Dietary changes make a difference, especially if you keep your blood sugar levels as stable as possible by not skipping meals, and eating a balanced breakfast. In the early 1800s, when Dr. Samuel Hahnemann was developing his theory of homeopathy, he wrote, before you give anyone any remedy, make sure they are sleeping, eating a balanced diet, and getting some sun. The most basic self-care can have enormous benefits.
Even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing, socializing has been known to soothe feelings of estrangement, isolation, and worthlessness. So, fight the inertia to stay put and make some plans. Meeting someone for tea, or running into people as you do errands, can have a salutary effect.
One thing the research seems to consistently show is how cognitive-behavioral therapy helps change depression-creating thoughts to ones that soothe your emotions and shift your perspective on life. What is less obvious, is how many ways there are to change your thoughts. Many new age books, like “Ask and It Is Given” by the Hicks’ provide numerous techniques for shaping your thoughts and reframing unhelpful perspectives and attitudes to ones that serve you. I am still very partial to Albert Ellis’ classic “How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Yes, Anything!”
Dr. Ellis would have been the first person to remind you that catastrophizing about one’s mood only makes it worse. If you catch yourself saying how awful it is to feel depressed or how you can’t stand it, remind yourself you can stand what you don’t like. By upping the emotional ante with awfulizing thoughts, you actually increase bad feelings. Yes, they feel rotten, but they won’t last. You can combat pernicious thoughts with the paradoxical, Buddhist, technique of exploring your feelings. By going deeply into what scares you most, you prove how, debilitating as they are, they won’t kill you. This difficult practice, of sitting with extreme discomfort, builds emotional muscle. To support your efforts, try reading or listening to books or lectures by Pema Chodron, a brilliant contemporary Buddhist nun.
On a behavioral level, you can improve your mood by raising endorphins, the naturally occurring feel-good chemicals in the brain. Exercise, yoga, meditation, kundalini yoga, Kapalabhati breath work (find a youTube link), laughing, spending time with children and pets, dancing, singing, playing music, and engaging in something creative (this might be an art or craft project, cooking, baking, furniture making, writing, or decorating), all can jump start your mood, especially if you do them.
To decrease crankiness, try eating mood altering foods like complex carbs, beans, and chocolate. (See Chocolate’s Healing Powers on this site.) It is also a good idea to avoid wine, beer, and liquor since they act as depressants. Drink herbal tea, especially uplifting mint, and calming chamomile. Don’t skip even one meal, as it will lower your blood sugar level and add to your emotional ups and downs. Try eating three meals and two snacks a day. They don’t have to be big portions, just enough to keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
Journaling can be a real refuge when life seems oppressive. Venting, writing poetry, and making gratitude lists all quiet emotional noise, and re-orient your thinking.
You can always make an appointment to talk with a therapist or clergy person. Friends and family may not want to hear how depressed you’re feeling as they find it too threatening, and feel obliged to make you better, even though that’s not their job, and they often don’t know what to say.
Take the Beck Depression Inventory so you can better assess your true psychological state.
BDI link: http://thecenterforcreativeevolution.com/wp-content/sitefiles/~public/test-beck%20depression%20inventory.pdf
If you think you are depressed, or you are having thoughts of suicide, please seek help. There are numerous avenues you can pursue, whether it is calling a counselor, a 24 hour hot line, clergy, or your doctor. Help is there if you want it.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Depression: How To distinguish depression from sadness February 29, 2012
If you felt abandoned as a child, if you feel abandoned now, the key to reclaiming your wholeness is to commit to being there for yourself in a loving, compassionate way right this minute.
Of course, that can be highly challenging, as old habits die hard. Feelings of isolation and worthlessness may have become familiar companions. If you have been re-indocrinating yourself for years with the same messages you heard as a child, and treating yourself harshly, becoming tenderhearted can seem daunting. It is easy to feel overwhelmed even before you start, since old messages can feel deeply ingrained. Stick with new ones and you will reap the rewards of self-compassion, gentleness, kindness, and patience with yourself. Practicing different ways of reacting to stress creates new neural pathways that eventually become almost automatic. Changing requires diligence, commitment, and self-discipline, all of which get easier as you start seeing results. In time, by talking lovingly to yourself every day, those messages will replace most of your previous self-downing inner dialogue.
To shift from the old to the new, you have to tune in to your self talk, which is typically a barrage of negativity. Then, after you have identified your critical thoughts, lovingly accept them. You are not agreeing with them, but accepting that they have existed and came to you through parents, teachers, coaches, clergy, friends, or other family members. As a child, you didn’t consciously choose to believe this nonsense, but repetition from others ingrained it.
After you have wrapped your mind around the concept of accepting what you want to annihilate, meet each negative thought with a question and a gentle, caring answer. For example, if you tell yourself you are lazy, ask if that’s true. It may be true some of the time (as it is for almost all humans) but is it true 100% if the time? If not, you can’t honestly call yourself lazy. To earn a name, you have to be that way 100% of the time, just the way my couch has to be a couch 24/7 for me to conceptualize it as one. If it turns into a camel at night it’s not a couch. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t call it a couch anymore.
Similarly, you may sometimes behave lazily, but that doesn’t make you lazy. Look for every example where you have been motivated and achieved something. Seek proof that your initial self-assesment was wrong. Once you have amassed some evidence, start using it to gently, and lovingly, tell yourself all the things you wished you had heard as a child, and want to hear now. Do this with as much heart and passion as you can muster. Continually remind yourself you are lovable, worthwhile, and unique.
Keep talking to yourself in this kind, supportive way as much as you possibly can. Eventually, these new messages will replace all the old negative self-downing that made you feel lower than a snake’s wiggle.
Every time you choose self-compassion over self-criticism you help cement a new, loving relationship with yourself. Suddenly, you feel more confident, relaxed, safe, and open to life.
When you encounter a block, and you will because this inner dialogue is deeply ingrained, assume it’s a natural part of your healing process. Acknowledge the strength of your old beliefs and re-double your efforts to create new ones.
It is not unusual to feel a bit unmoored from these changes. Understanding what a huge cognitive shift your are undertaking, and giving yourself credit for bravely doing this work, will ease those uncomfortable moments. Typically, they occur when you begin to feel better. It’s almost as if your unconscious mind is daring you to move forward. Well, that’s OK because you are up to the challenge with your goal of self-compassion more clearly in sight.
Remember, whatever you are experiencing: You can’t be too kind to yourself.
Sometimes, people mistake self-compassion for selfishness and narcissism. The Buddha said, There is no one more deserving of compassion than you. Taking the very best care of yourself is beneficial to everyone as you will have more love and generosity to spread around once you feel better, and more deserving of kindness and respect. All New Age philosophy is predicated on our creating our own lives. Of course, as children we were powerless, but once adult we can envision the life we want and bit by bit make it a reality.
Feelings of abandonment are disturbing on a very primal level and cut right to our core. The last thing you want to do is abandon your sweet self.
A few days of practicing these new responses will feel good, but months of reinforcement will make them second nature. Every time you substitute kindness for criticism you improve your relationship with yourself.
When you feel depressed, abandoned, anxious, or worthless that’s a big clue you are telling yourself something harsh and untrue. Challenge your beliefs vociferously in the context of unconditional self love and watch your life improve.
Another technique is to simply ask yourself: “What would I have to think to feel better about this?”
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, your feelings are there to feel; so, if you feel overwhelmed, go into it. Resist the urge to distract yourself with something. Temporarily escaping from the unpleasant feelings only makes them come back with a vengeance. By exploring and accepting them, they lose their power. It’s almost like when you agree with someone who is looking for a fight. It takes the wind out of their sails.
These emotional storms are part of your healing passage to a calmer you. If they feel overwhelming, you may want to talk with a counselor or therapist for guidance and support. In the meantime, take the very best care of your sweet self.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang