This article looks at risk factors for depression and ways of managing mood to prevent depression and live a happier life. Research has shown that depression is much less about what has happened to us in our lives and much more about our interpretation of events and the meaning we give to events. In this article will be focusing mostly on thinking styles as a problematic thinking styles tend to undermine all the kinds of changes that can improve mood.
Low mood can lead to Depression (and if unaddressed) can infiltrate all areas of life including ...
- Physical Health (depression is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease)
- Thinking styles (global thinking, all or nothing thinking, overthinking, catastrophising.
- Decision making. Decisions based overly on feelings rather than facts and reality.
- Job performance. Less ability to focus, lower energy levels, less resilience
- Concentration impairment, inability to read, watch a movie, perform familiar tasks, remember things.
- Insomnia. Mind racing through the night. "Analysis to paralysis"
- Accidents due to exhaustion, loss of focus
- Relationships (depression is hard on those who live with a depressed person) Irritability, outbursts, negativity ...
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
Causes of low mood and depression
- Genetics can increase vulnerability, but are not a cause
- Biochemical imbalance (see your Dr first for a medical checkup) as some physical conditions can lower mood
- Psychosocial stressors (overcrowding, homophobia, transphobia, lack of support, relationship changes, overwork, disability, bullying, social media, isolation from natural environments etc
- Feeling unappreciated, lonely.
- Social inequities, poverty, racism, being a minority
- Cultural and familial influences (if a parent was depressed you are 3 to 6 times more likely to be depressed, not from genetics but by being around their mood
- Diet, high refined carbs, high in fat, low in unprocessed foods.
- Lack of exercise, chronic pain
- Thinking styles . Your thinking style can not only keep you very stuck in your head but also can block you from dealing effectively with nearly all of of the above especially when your self critic is relentless and worry all pervasive.
5 Key mood risks factors due to thinking styles
- An Internal Orientation with your thoughts. You think something and then you believe it, you are a prisoner of your own thoughts and feelings 24 /7, you are not listening to alternative perspectives from others about what could be going on. You don't know your own blind spots. You can lose interest in the stories of others, it's all about you. Isolation makes this worse. Internet "rabbit holes" make it worse still. Rigid thinking prevails.
- Task: Learn to reality test your ideas, train yourself to have multiple explanations for events in your life. Keep a journal. Talk to others, have multiple sources of information.
2. Stress generation. You generate more stress by making decisions that complicate the low mood or depression. Feelings rule over goals. Your GP gives advice but you tell your GP that you are "not ready" to exercise, eat better, drink less, see a Counsellor but you might when "I feel like it" . Only taking action when you feel like it is making you a prisoner of your feelings, maybe for decades
- Task : Learn to take actions based on goals rather than on changing feelings. Take the action (even when you don't feel like it) and feelings will change.
3. Rumination. Endless thinking about the past. Using the past to predict the future. Too much analysis leading to anxiety and insomnia. Exhausted by overthinking and little energy left for doing. Timely and effective action is avoided. The dark predictability of rumination becomes feels more comfortable than thinking of future possibilities and changes. https://www.martinfraser.co.nz/neural-pathways/
- Task : Take timely and effective action according to a realistic plan with steps toward a goal. Consider something in your life that you achieved by following many small steps (e.g getting a drivers license) https://www.martinfraser.co.nz/planning-a-change-in-your-life/
4. Global thinking. You are using words like "always" "only" "never" "nothing" "totally" to describe you experiences. Instead of saying.......
" today been a really difficult day" you say to yourself "nothing ever works out for me". "I will only have enough when my luck changes" "I'm useless" "Love only comes from chemistry" "this situation is never going to change"
Global thinking makes it impossible to strategise, problem solve or even take steps. How do you strategise or take steps toward being "lucky" or having "chemistry" to find a partner ? Global thinking is a dead end. If you cant sequence steps of how you are going to move toward change you are just wishing. Giving up becomes easy and you can rationalise your procrastination.
- Task: Practice reflecting all the exceptions to the global, overgeneralised statements you have made about your world and yourself. Write them down. Where is the evidence that they are always true. Practicing this will open you up to new ways of seeing yourself and new possibilities.
5. Unrealistic expectations. You trust someone who you know is untrustworthy. A date, a colleague, maybe a friend. Your radar is on but you are not paying attention. They ask to borrow money again. (they didn't pay you back last time) You lend again ! The three levels of trust ... hope, believe and know. Hope is enough for you ... and you get burned ....... again ! Was it realistic to trust this person ?
"I was hoping (a feeling) he / she would pay me back" despite prior evidence that this would be unlikely. You think "Why do people always rip me off" "Can I trust anyone" "I am an idiot" "People only want to see me if they need something" A new interpretation, a new disempowering story is being told to yourself. Result is lower mood, less trust, more isolation.
- Task: Pay attention to reality, base trust more on observed reality than on hope, fantasy, wishful thinking. Observe, pay attention, practice discernment, keep a journal. You are not judging, just observing and not giving trust unwisely. What unrealistic expectations do you have ?
Can you see from the above that the kind of thinking you have can either empower, lift your mood, energise you to action with new possibilities or it can disempower you, exhaust you and have you believe that change for the better is impossible.
Although Depression has many causes, (see above) changing your thinking style is they key to change so.........
- Reach out to your G.P, get a full check up, listening to your G.P. Acting on GP's advice.
- Create a strategy, a plan, to deal with stress in your life (see a counsellor, budgeter, trusted friend, coach or E.A.P in your workplace.
- Exercise, even when you don't feel like it, don't want to.
- Diet, (see my article on Food for Mood)https://www.martinfraser.co.nz/food-and-mood/
- Journal to keep track of your thoughts, feelings, mood, goals, progress.https://www.martinfraser.co.nz/journaling-24-7-therapy/
- See a Counsellor for new empowering ways of thinking about your life and your place within your relationship, your family, your workplace, and your culture.
- Action ! Less thinking, less feeling, more action leading to empowering thoughts and brighter moods, greater confidence and resilience.
- If all of the above feels too hard for you right now try and get to see a counsellor or your GP as a first step.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (working on your thinking style) has been shown to be much more effective long term than Antidepressant medication in preventing relapse to depression however if you are taking antidepressants do not make changes without talking to your GP because antidepressants do save lives.
Please contact me (Contact button below) if you have any questions or comments or would like to arrange a counselling appointment.