Depression can make it incredibly difficult to find meaning and purpose to continue functioning on a daily basis. In these times it can be challenging to see a way out, which may lead to a sense of hopelessness.
If you have experienced or are experiencing depression, you know that it goes far beyond sadness and it can create a sense of numbness that dulls the ability to feel much of anything at all. Where sadness is a passing emotion in response to some stimulus, depression can last for months or years and can be all-encompassing. Depression has a tendency to touch many different parts of your life, distorting your experience of yourself, others, and the world in a way that overemphasizes the negative.
This can be extremely isolating which only adds to distress. When you’re in this state, it can be hard to see a point in anything or any possibility of it passing. State-dependent memory, the tendency of the mind to more easily recall instances of other times when the current emotion was present, also makes it so that it is difficult to remember any times where you didn’t feel so low. It can start to feel like there is no way out.
It is possible to restore a sense of vitality though, even when things look as dark as they do.
A number of things can contribute to the development and maintenance of symptoms of depression. Our genetics, experiences in life, relationships with others, current stressors, and struggles with existential issues can all contribute in unique ways to how we feel. As such, treatment of depression is not one-size-fits-all and is ideally a holistic approach that addresses all the various facets of who we are, including thoughts, behaviours, and emotion. It may involve lifestyle or behavioural modifications, processing emotional wounds, replacing negative thought patterns, or changing limiting circumstances. Many times, the very act of beginning to explore pain in relationship with a caring other can start the path towards healing.
CBT targets thought patterns to identify the thoughts that contribute to feelings of depression and challenge them, eventually replacing them with more positive, life-affirming beliefs.
Depression can sometimes arise when emotions are unprocessed. The avoidance of these emotions can in itself be draining. Emotion-focused therapy helps you turn towards the painful emotions and experiences in a way that helps transform them. Emotions that may previously have been avoided or suppressed are experienced in the present and worked through, allowing for a greater capacity to feel the full range of emotions and lifting the sense of numbness that often accompanies depression.
Depression often robs a sense of present awareness, instead tending to bring awareness to the past, failures, and negative beliefs about the self. Mindfulness-based approaches help teach skills to cultivate awareness in the present and offer a way of being with distress that allows it instead of fighting it. Paradoxically, sometimes finding ways to accept the troubling thoughts, feelings, and sensations that come up can in itself make them more tolerable, making way for the possibility of engaging with oneself and the world in a different and more positive way.
Beck, A. T. & Alford, B. A. (2009). Depression: causes and treatment [2nded.]. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
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