Healing and growing can be a slow and tedious process. If you are working with a counselor, that is an amazing first step! But what about the days or weeks in between your counseling sessions? Most people do not realize that meaningful change takes place in the day-to-day routine of life. We slowly let time heal us, but we also work to apply practical changes to our everyday lives. This is where the real change happens! So what are some things that you can do to better cope with depression while you heal? Keep reading to find out some practical tools and tips to manage depression.
Fight The Low Motivation
Low motivation is one of the most common and frustrating symptoms of depression. Psychology Today says, “One of the key features of depression is the lack of motivation to do things that you know you should really do.” Your goals, hopes, and wishes for life might still be there, but your will to do anything about them seems miles away. When this happens, we retreat to a “lonely place” and essentially give up on everything that brings us happiness or joy. In some cases, we abandon the things that keep us healthy such as hygiene, exercise, or proper nutrition.
The first step to fighting your low motivation is to recognize when it is happening. Use the following questions to help guide your personal assessment of low motivation: ‘
- Do I find myself quitting a task before it can be started?
- Do I find myself changing my mind about plans or tasks?
- Do I find myself staying in bed or at home often?
- Have I lost interest in activities that used to make me happy?
- Have I lost interest in projects that I was working on?
- Do plans or activities with others no longer make me excited?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, you might be struggling with low motivation. Dr. David Burns explains that sometimes we fall into a “lethargy cycle”. In this cycle, we engage in self-defeating thoughts (I am not in the mood), emotions (helpless), and actions (avoidance or procrastination). This cycle of thinking, feeling, and acting leads to the consequences such as inactivity, decreased productivity, or isolation. When this consequence occurs, we fall deeper and deeper into a debilitating cycle of low motivation.
To fight back at this cycle, it is important to structure your time in a way that appears enticing and encouraging. For example, you can strategically place rewards or breaks throughout your day. A structured day will help you build momentum for accomplishing tasks and feeling a sense of “doing”. Another way to increase motivation is to change your mindset about “doing nothing.” To do this, you will need to participate in doing the “Motivation Table” found in the book Feeling Good. In this table, you will write down different tasks throughout the day. For example, make breakfast for the family, take the dog on a walk, finish the report your boss asked for, get groceries, and stop at the pharmacy. First, on a scale of 1-10 you will predict how difficult you think these tasks will be, and also predict how satisfying you think they will be. For most people stuck in a lethargy cycle, they will predict difficulty to be high, and satisfaction to be low. After you accomplish these tasks, go back to your table and then rate each task again. This time rate from 1-10 how difficult the task actually was, and how satisfied you actually were. At this point you might find that the tasks were not as difficult as you originally thought, and they were more satisfying than you originally predicted. This simple exercise is an efficient way to disprove the thoughts responsible for your lethargy cycle. Dealing with low motivation is a practical way to manage depression alongside deep and meaningful healing.
Increase Your Social Interaction and Support
When you are struggling with depression, your drive and desire to be around others is deeply diminished. You might find yourself self-isolating, and stuck in a space of loneliness, shame, and fear. Very Well Mind says, “One of the most important things you can do to help yourself with depression—other than medication and therapy—is to develop strong social support.” In order to get out of this rut of isolation, it will be important to recognize the people in your circle of trust and support. If you find yourself isolated from others, take a moment to make a list of all the people that you trust and have helped you in the past. This list might include family members, friends, coworkers, teachers, or doctors. Part of isolation and loneliness is that we convince ourselves that the people in our life don’t really care, or that you are too much of a burden to reach out. This is unhelpful and faulty thinking. To fight this mindset, it will be important for you to focus on the facts instead of the feelings. Feelings are temporary, and caused by the thoughts we think. Facts are never changing, and always grounded in truth.
This next exercise will be useful when you are trying to combat negative thoughts that lead to isolation and loneliness. First, make a chart with 3 columns. In the first column, you will write the names of the people you identified earlier. In the second column, begin to list all the barriers that are keeping you from contacting that person for support. This might include fears, thoughts, or physical barriers (distance or schedules). Specifically, focus on the negative thoughts that you might be thinking. For example, “I won’t call my sister because she seems busy and she won’t have time for me.” This type of thought is based on the cognitive distortion of “mind reading” – making up the solution before you actually know what will happen. In the third column, start combatting the thoughts with truth and facts. For example, “every time I have called my sister before she has been there for me.” Once you have completed the entire chart, reflect on what unhelpful thoughts have been holding you back from utilizing your support system. Now, make a plan to contact at least one trusted member of your support system every day. This can be done in the form of a phone call, coffee meet-up, text message, or a good old fashioned card in the mail. Social support is extremely important if you are struggling with depression!
Healing Is Possible
Use these two exercises to fight back on every day symptoms of depression. If you are on your journey to healing with a counselor, it is important to continue the work outside of your sessions. Everyday symptoms of depression are overwhelming and often unrecognized. Let this be your starting point, and you might find that you are capable of many more aspects of change and growth. Reach out to a counselor at Garrett Counseling by calling (256) 239-5662 or contacting us online if you have any questions, or would like to begin the process of healing.
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