Most of us feel low at certain times in our lives, but find that the feeling improves after a short while. Unfortunately, sometimes these ordinary everyday lows do not lift and depression may start to take over.
When you’re feeling depressed it can be difficult to believe that it can ever get better. But depression can improve, and you can learn to do something about it. You may not see the results immediately, but if you continue to work at it, then the chances are high that you’ll start to see changes. There may be times when you feel that things are improving and then they get worse. Don’t despair. The course of recovery is never smooth and setbacks are common. Keep going!
There are some practical skills you can use to combat the symptoms of depression, such as this goal-setting exercise developed by Dr Lee Brosan and Dr Brenda Hogan.
Start by making a list of things in your life that have slowed down or stopped since you started feeling depressed. For example, you may have stopped returning phone calls, wearing make-up or shaving regularly; perhaps you used to enjoy going to see films and haven’t gone to the cinema in weeks. Now choose three activities from your list that you’d like to start working on, picking the activities that will be the easiest for you to start doing right away. Write these down.
Having picked three activities, it’s important to set specific and manageable goals. When you’re depressed, you will have less energy and lower motivation than usual. It’s very likely that it will feel difficult to get moving again. So set lower goals than you would if you weren’t depressed.
For example, you may have written something like ‘I’ve stopped doing the housework and want to set a goal to get the house cleaned up’. This will probably seem a very daunting task and difficult to achieve. Remember, your energy levels are low and you may not feel very motivated. So, a specific and manageable first goal might be to vacuum one room, or clear the paper off one table. That’s it. The trick is to start with small steps and build up gradually.
Tip: It’s a good idea to decide in advance when you will carry out your goal, as well as how often or for how long you will do the activity.
Now it’s time to carry out your goals. Check off each one as you complete it. Congratulate yourself. You’ve done something you wouldn’t have done last week, and it probably wasn’t easy.
Tip: Run into difficulty achieving your goal? Perhaps you set it too high in terms of your mood or energy levels or maybe it was a bit too vague. Ask yourself what went wrong. Then rework your goal, scaling it down if necessary. Remember, the most important thing is to start moving, no matter how slowly. As you start to feel better, you can start setting more challenging goals.
After working on your goals, think about goals for the next week. Ask yourself:
Do I want to make my goals a little bit more challenging?
Do I want to keep my goals at the same level for now? A good idea if you think it’s important to feel a bit more confident and comfortable before moving on.
Do I want to scale back my goals if I had trouble with them last week?
Am I ready to add one or two new goals? If you decide to add a new goal or two, remember to make them specific and manageable.
Write out your goals for the next week and check off each one as you complete it. Remember to congratulate yourself each time you complete a goal. At the end of the week, repeat the process again. Try to set three goals for each week (some of these can be reworked or repeated goals from the previous weeks).
The above is an extract from An Introduction toCoping with Depression, 2nd Edition by Dr Lee Brosan and Dr Brenda Hogan (Robinson, 2018).