Dark Moods- Understanding Depression



Depression is a broad and complex area to navigate and it can be stubborn to treatment. This article gives loads of tips and advice for managing these dark periods, while taking you through the nature and causes of depression for greater understanding. Whether you struggle yourself, or care for someone who does, I hope that there’s insight in this to help guide your way. Feel free to skip over what doesn’t serve you


How to! Self Care- Hot baths and candles; a spontaneous trip to the bush after too much whiskey with an unhinged stranger; burning down your house with all your problems in it- No? Then what? When is self care about instant gratification and when is it more substantial?

Recognise what you need in order to function optimally. When you look at it from this perspective, it’s easy to see when instant gratification is just instant gratification and not real self care. Sometimes it means taking a break, having boundaries, asking for support or buying a frivolous new outfit. It can be almost anything and no one else can identify your needs, or decide how to meet them, for you. Self care is your own responsibility

Prioritise yourself so that you can better prioritise all of your other responsibilities. Self care is about working from a place of strength. It’s especially strong against issues like depression because it gives you this strength and, valuing yourself also helps with issues like self esteem, which is important


What is Depression?

Depression isn’t necessarily the normal feelings of sadness which come and go for everyone. It’s usually more an ongoing state, covering all emotions as they come and go. The most obvious characteristic of this condition is probably its dull apathy- it subdues the vitality animating each part of a person’s functioning. Depression often has very physical symptoms , like intense fatigue or chronic pain


I usually think that I’ve let myself get too anaemic, or have over-exercised, the first few weeks of an episode. I think that I’m fighting off that awful flu that’s going around. I wonder what I’m eating, or not eating, that is making my brain so foggy. My body feels heavy and tired, my mind sluggish, and my moods eventually pool into a general kind of numb-downed disassociation


It’s easy to understand why basic things, like eating, aren’t always a thing in this state. There’s no notice of hunger, or thought to food, in this disconnected confusion. For others, eating can flip into a desperate obsession to fight off the malaise. Numb fatigue for some, is mourning and despair for others, or even outbursts and mood swings, in many cases. Depression can present and trigger in many ways


Quick Tip! Activity List-This exercise is for those who are struggling to focus or get things done. Set 2 or 3 manageable tasks for yourself each day. The idea is to take pressure off, not to add to it. Depression can be quite overwhelming. It is already difficult to do anything with this condition but mounting stressors from neglected chores and failing performance can make it impossible to do anything at all

If you only hone in on 2 or 3 tasks and then shut out the rest of the noise, it becomes easier to focus, to execute and to feel good about what you achieve each day. Holding yourself to too many expectations only kills your drive and self confidence further

Be realistic about what is manageable for you. Perhaps brushing your teeth and doing a load of laundry is a great start. Maybe solving that stubborn supply chain issue at work and reworking your household budget is your day 1. The trick is to work out what is most essential for each day, within your coping range. You will get stronger and build your resilience as you go


Overview on the Causes of Depression

Depression can be triggered by traumatic life events, personal loss or from feeling repeatedly helpless in important situations. Depression is associated with certain personality characteristics; however it is known that many who develop this disorder do not have those personality types beforehand. A forced lowering of expectations and self-inflicted punishment are sometimes associated with these triggers


Some ideas assert that depression is about assuming control. Often self blame & depression follow events that were outside of our control. Framing these as the result of our personal failings gives us the illusion of agency. The idea is that even a sense of control which is rooted in self loathing, is easier to accept than being a helpless bystander, or than blaming someone you admire for mistreating you. A child taking on the blame for their parent’s neglect is a typical example of this idea


Another control theory is that depression offers a sense of control through ‘giving up’ and ‘deciding not to act’. Inaction gives us the most certain way of choosing a guaranteed outcome- Like being too scared to try something. Depression is linked to a lower sense of personal control over one’s life; and with personality types possessing a stronger desire to be in control



There are theories for chemical, hormonal and genetic underpinnings too. Chemical imbalance conjecture is mainly the result of the successes had with experimental medications. Medications which quickly became known as anti-depressants. The hypotheses around serotonin, dopamine etc. came from the ‘cure’, not the other way around. Not much is known yet about the role our neurotransmitters play in depression but medication is a major help for many who struggle with this condition


Hormones such as thyroid, cortisol & estrogen have been found to have causal links to depression, particularly for women; while replicable studies suggest that genetics play a significant role. Recent genome studies have even begun identifying genes associated with the disorder


It could be repression- a denial of pain, caused externally, turned inward onto ourselves (It can’t be them/that- it must be me). This is similar to the ‘assumed control’ narratives. It also fits in with the thinking on loss, conditioning, self-inflicted punishment and expectations (many of these ideas are combined in a number of larger theories and there are plenty more, beside, not even mentioned here). Repression strikes a chord for me though. It’s like a grief, perpetually kept, to avoid accepting a loss of some kind. This could be carrying the weight of an undeserved guilt to avoid knowing your outrage for someone who means a lot to you, for instance


It’s a take on object relations theory- that an emotional immaturity (the inability to accept something) uses repression (the denial) to reject an uncomfortable reality (loss/pain)- and from this- depression is formed as a necessary coping mechanism, to maintain this repression- ie. Self loathing develops to deny some outside neglect; apathy to avoid considering normal family dynamics; grief to keep a loss lingering and so, never really losing what has actually been lost already. In any case, whatever you think of this theory- it needs a lot more air time to be clearly explained- depression does seem to touch on a difficulty with negotiating realities



Cognition- Depression changes your Thoughts

Depression creates a very narrow, negative filter of how the world is experienced. There’s little to support that this could be any kind of reality check. Rather, depression correlates with reduced, and increasingly rigid, thought processes. It fashions inaccurate filters of reality by excluding certain contexts and shifting your interpretations to revolve around you


For example, a friend’s distraction with an important phone call could be seen as you having unintentionally offended her, because your depressed mind wants to attribute everything back to you. You forget her mentioning that she’s waiting to hear back about an interview. You don’t notice her warm smile toward you as she hangs up the call or her reassuring tap on your arm as she answered the call to begin with, because your attention is self consciously tuned into signs of hostility and rejection instead


Actively getting out of yourself is a great way to weaken these distortions. Depression is associated with a number of bias and distorted thinking patterns


Core Values- When your core values are not your own, your self esteem has no foundation to build on. You also forfeit living a vital, first-hand account of your own life. Your self esteem is roughly based on how you feel you are meeting up to the expectations you have of yourself. This can play a huge role with depression and anxiety

Being able to live your life as yourself is one of the greatest skills you can acquire. If you’re a people pleaser or struggle with your self esteem, have a deeper look at the other resources on this site. I’ve put together separate content & toolkits for this


Kill it with Kindness

What better way to get out of yourself and discredit these distortions than by being kind to those around you? Apply yourself to thinking about others- deeply; to really understanding and helping others. Helping others can help you change your negative filters- to reframe. You’ll also rediscover what really holds meaning in your life and what you value within yourself again


If there were any truths to the negative filters then surely living more selflessly would uplift those ‘terrible truths’ in any case. And, displays of animosity tend to be in reaction or defence. They are attitudes which speak to someone’s fear or denial or insecurity, nothing more meaningful, or more noteworthy, than that. But kindness? Sincere kindness speaks more to what is real. It has to be unassuming and strong by the very nature of its existence. Read others with kindness and conduct yourself with kindness to get closer to what’s true


Our depression filters don’t need to fool us- nor corrupt us- and we can apply ourselves to being there for others, which grounds our framing and our perspectives, beyond ourselves. Now, take a moment to recall some of the small, random acts of kindness which you’ve witnessed or experienced. Think on it. Hold onto these humbling reminders. Be inspired by the unassuming strength of kindness. Depression doesn’t stand a chance, does it? Your self esteem will thank you too. But- it’s not all about you now, is it?



Quick Tip! Reward Values- Your motivations work when the reward values for your behaviour match those motivations. This is covered in more depth with addiction. For now, just consider this a goal setting exercise. It’s not setting a list of what you want to achieve, as such. It’s a list to guide how you want to live and who you want to be- it’s your list of why. We are motivated by our values: how we like to see ourselves and what we identify with


Imagine you’re a single mum who drinks/screams/eats/works too much to deal with all the pressure and responsibility in your life. You loath and berate yourself for this constantly. Every week you resolve to quit drinking/screaming/shopping. You’re always setting this goal for yourself- but it has no real value when you’re just resolving to achieve this thing you hate yourself for not achieving all the time. You’re glossing over the goal’s worth. It is simply an affirmation to your shame now, with no value beyond that. Breaking it is more substantial than keeping it


This is the famous dieting trick (substance abusers, you can also lean in closer here). The fixation to not have the problem is a big part of what drives the problem (or, the fixation to achieve the thing is a big part of what prevents the achieving of the thing). It’s a control dynamic with a thousand ways to fuck up depressives, in particular. The labelling and identification aspects can be explored further if you look into addiction


The diet trick is when food restriction and weight shame, in dieting endeavours, become a fixation which then feeds itself by sabotaging itself. There is less value in actually meeting the goal. Losing weight is positioned as a vague ideal, some hard-won fantasy; while food and shame are holding centre stage in the dieter’s mind. The more the dieter resolves not to, the more the dieter is driven to. You’d have a better chance not setting a goal when it fuels a cycle like this


Single mum could, instead, list ‘great mother’ and ‘role model’ as her goals, based on her values. These are better motivators than ‘stop drinking/screaming/gambling’ and they also lesson the negative impact of the drinking/screaming/hording when it does occur. The reasons and driving forces behind the drinking/screaming/snorting/gaming are also significantly weakened with this kind of perspective shift

The new motivators cause single mum to take more into account when she does behave this way. She will consider factors like timing, quantity, budget and concurrent responsibilities, and lesson the extent of her behaviour. She can also recognise and integrate her progress now. Before, anything short of complete change was absolute failure. There was no management, no process, no progress. Only shame

Single mum has now found an approach which inspires the desired change, stimulates further improvement and, she is no longer distracted by disposable ideas like drinking/screaming/Netflix binging as being her big downfalls. She can now clearly see and control what is going on, as she identifies and manages herself around being a better mother. She is working from within herself not AT herself


Look deeply at what is really behind your resolutions and desires. Keep a simple, value-based motivation list somewhere you can see every day. This will guide progress. Are you respecting your beliefs? Are you there for your friends and family the way you’d like to be? Are you living your values?


Lifestyle


- Moderate Exercise is a champion of prevention, management and treatment in depression. It is a challenging undertaking with the condition, but a little can go a long way. A quick neighbourhood stroll, a little dancing in your dressing gown while boiling the kettle, or a 15 minute workout routine should be enough to get you going each day


- Good sleep is crucial. Fixing your sleep cycle can be very tricky but it really helps, and it opens the door for many treatment options which may not be effective otherwise


- Nutrition sometimes needs a little extra attention because it’s easy to over- or under- eat in this state, if you don’t pay attention. You may also be craving unhealthy foods to address symptoms or imbalances. Try to identify supplements or simple changes which you can make, to assist with the weak spots that you notice here, when you’re particularly low


Inflammation & Gut Health- Increased inflammation is common to major depressive disorder, particularly brain inflammation. Anti-inflammatories are used by some doctors to treat depression but rather eat foods which lower inflammation (avo’s, chilli’s, tomatoes, leafy greens, beans, fish). Gut health is strongly and consistently linked to depression. Make sure you’re getting pre- and pro-biotic regularly to help your ‘happy’ hormones take root


Environment- Consider the places you frequent most: the people, the paces, your levels of comfort, atmosphere etc. How does thinking about these places make you feel? Your environment affects you significantly and small changes can have a tremendous impact!


Relationships & Isolation- Nurturing deep connections builds meaning and resilience. Isolation is a big risk factor for mental health issues. If being close to others is hard for you, bond with nature; enjoy public spaces or start checking in with distant, but caring, loved ones. It’s unwise to neglect this



To summarize, we began with a quick note about how to get Self Care right, before a brief look at What Depression Is, followed by an Activity Exercise to assist with these symptoms. We then covered the primary theories around What Causes Depression, and one of the most vital aspects of this disease, which is Cognitive Distortions. An important reference to Core Values led into Kindness as a powerful tool to fight off the symptoms of depression, particularly the cognitive symptoms. This was followed by a note on Reward Values to handle motivational problems with the disorder and finally, critical Lifestyle factors were given their mention


I hope this clears up some gaps. For greater depth on any of these topics, keep a look out on our resources page or get in touch via www.therapeuticcoaching.org. And feel free to share this with anyone who may find it useful

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