“Sometimes when you’re depressed, the things you don’t want to do are the very things you need to do in order to feel better,” my therapist told me. Great, I thought, for just once could there be an easy answer? “As you start doing things, it gets easier,” she continued, “and you begin to have more and more energy to do things.” At the moment I felt dubious that anything would ever feel easy again. Depression has a way of zapping your energy and your will, and it had been some time since I had felt like doing pretty much anything.
When depression steals all of your motivation, it is easy to become more and more isolated and to do less and less. You feel even more depressed. My therapist once said, “Depression is a downward spiral.” One of the strategies she shared with me to help reverse this spiral effect was to find positive, rewarding activities that would help me spiral up instead. Doing things you love releases serotonin – one of the neurotransmitters that helps regulate mood and is often deficient in depression. Incorporating pleasurable activities into your daily routine enables you to gain momentum and to spiral up out of a depressive slump.
I followed this advice and, somewhat to my surprise, I found that purposefully pursuing rewarding activities did in fact help. I did not instantaneously feel better. I was not miraculously energetic and motivated. But, bit by bit life began to feel more manageable. I would go on a bike ride (though sometimes it took all my willpower) and when I came back, I would be rejuvenated. Emptying the dishwasher or doing my homework no longer felt like insurmountable endeavors, and successfully completing these chores in a more efficient manner made me feel good about myself.
As you accumulate these little moments of pleasure and invigoration, you gain an upwards momentum and it gradually becomes easier to be engaged, to look forward to doings, to be more productive. Breaking the downward spiral of depression seems daunting, but if you start by taking one step at a time, eventually you will find yourself in an upwards spiral.
If you need ideas for getting started, here is the link to the activity list that my therapist gave me. I circled the activities that seemed appealing to me and hung the list on my bulletin board, so that when I found myself stuck in a depressive spell, I would have a readily available list of things to do. If you would like some added accountability, you can keep a mood chart or journal of how you’re feeling and the activities you engage in or you can ask a friend to do it with you.
You’ve got this!