Emotions are part of our daily lives. The breadth of feelings within the human condition are what makes life interesting, exciting and dynamic. Our experiences influence our moods, and our thinking plays a big part in how we feel.
Unfortunately, life is not always positive. For many of us, it is only a matter of time before we are confronted with relational, social, career-related and familial changes. These adaptations are normal, but create certain emotional states. Depending on our prior experiences and beliefs about ourselves, the world and others, our biased reactions may become distressing. This stress becomes problematic when it does not improve, increases in consistency, and impacts our social, occupational and other important areas of our lives.
Major Depressive Disorder affects over 16 million people in the United States. Typical reactions include issues with sleep, appetite, weight changes, loss of energy, interest in daily activities and pleasure, decreased focus or concentration, thoughts of suicide and more. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of depression, self-help techniques may not be enough. It can be difficult to find appropriate social supports and tools to reframe many of our negative thoughts.
If you find yourself struggling with your symptoms, I recommend finding a certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist in your area.
According to the Beck Institute, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a time-sensitive, structured, present-oriented psychotherapy directed toward solving current problems and teaching clients skills to modify dysfunctional thinking and behavior.” For mild and moderate depression, CBT has been shown to be as effective as psychotropic medication.
Depressed mood is part of our lives, but suffering doesn’t have to be.
Here are 3 ways you can try to improve your mood:
1. Increase your awareness of your thoughts, feelings, behaviors and situations when negativity seems strongest.
I know it’s overly simplistic, but just because you think something doesn’t make it true.
In our culture, we confuse thoughts and feelings, and are likely to believe our thoughts are biologically ingrained and incapable of change. CBT labels these reflexive thoughts as “automatic thoughts.”
To combat the distress created by automatic thoughts, beginning a process of observing our thinking and feelings in a non-judgmental manner and paying attention to situations when we are more sensitive to negative emotions is imperative. This practice deepens our awareness of our thoughts, connects them with specific situations, triggers and themes, and can improve our confidence in managing our own internal pain.
2. Deepen your commitment to yourself and people who make you feel good.
When it comes to depression, the best cures are action and increasing social supports.
But this is the insidious nature of depression. When we do not have the energy, interest, sleep or concentration to engage and connect with activities or supportive loved ones, we don’t do it. If we continue not to do something, we feel worse and become more likely to avoid the task. This sort of self-defeating emotional reasoning — “I feel, therefore I am/think…” — can be a significant impediment in moving forward in our lives.
Empowering ourselves by committing to a goal of activity and supportive connection is a disciplined way of exercising self-care and self-compassion. Both of these concepts are vital in combating depressive episodes.
3. Practice daily self-care and self-compassion.
I know it sounds simplistic and contrived, but you have to regularly take care of your physical and mental health. But don’t worry, it’s a lot easier than you think.
Self-care might include exercise, spending time with supportive others, in nature and by yourself, psychotherapy, nutrition, personal training, massage, intentional nothingness (e.g. being intentional in doing nothing), coping cards, reading and many more activities.
Self-compassion might include treating yourself with love and kindness, decreasing self-blame and self-loathing, increasing emotional tools and coping mechanisms, and more.
Rather than thinking of your depressed mood as being representative of you, try thinking of it as a cue or reminder that it’s time for some self-care and self-compassion.
And with that, I’m off to spend some time with my family outdoors. Here’s hoping you find something to rejuvenate, recharge and refresh yourself today.
Nick Holt, LCSW is a certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT therapist in West Los Angeles, California. As an BBB Accredited Business, he runs an intentionally small, part-time private practice for clients looking for targeted mental health treatment and support on weekends and evenings. His specialties include treatment for depression, anxiety, trauma, grief and loss for survivors of suicide, and support for suicidal ideation.
Mental Health and Therapy Writer. As featured on Huffington Post, Vox Media and elsewhere.