Depressed? Tips for Feeling More in Control

depressionAlthough one of the hallmarks of depression is feeling isolated and “alone”, depression affects 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 % of the U.S. Population age 18 and older, in a given year. [1] If you suffer from, or think you suffer from depression, you are not alone!

Common symptoms of depression include the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, wishing you were dead, or suicide attempts

While taking a magic pill to feel all better sounds easiest, we know that best results come from a combination of medication (when required) and psychotherapy, which is a fancy thing to call counseling. Medication is not always indicated, but when you and your doctor decide you would benefit, certain medications serve to “take the edge off” so that you can gain full advantage from seeing a counselor. Many people benefit from counseling alone.

We also know that depression is strongly correlated with a sense that you’re not in control of your life, or that you’re in charge of (and therefore to blame for) EVERYTHING. [2]

If you fall into the category of feeling like you are in charge of nothing, the following are some tips to regain a sense of autonomy. Knowledge is power, and so knowing that feeling as though you’re not in control of anything is contributing to your depression is where you can start to create an antidote.

  •  Spend time in areas of your life where you are in control.  If you are a decision-maker at work, make sure you are putting ample energy into your job, and be sure to take pride in your accomplishments there.   If you are part of a volunteer organization or Church committee, focus on those activities.  Work with your husband to carve out the household niche where your word is law—perhaps you can redecorate your bedroom and make the space completely off limits to the kids.  Or you can put in a garden and call it your own.  You are not going to be in control of every aspect of your life, but you can find ways to be in charge within life.
  •  Set a self-care goal every day and meet it.  Self-care is something you do for yourself, and not for the benefit of anyone else.  It might be going for a walk, reading a book, or even watching a television show you like.  It is vital that you take some small amount of time to focus on your own needs.  Imagine a pitcher of lemonade filling glass after glass to quench family thirst.  Eventually, the pitcher has to be refilled.  You are no different.  You cannot give of yourself constantly without recharging your batteries with self-care.
  • By the same token, set an accomplishment goal every day.  This might be a matter of taking credit for things you are already doing, or it might be galvanizing yourself to get around to doing tasks you’ve been putting off.  Shuttling kids around is an accomplishment, as is getting dinner on the table, doing laundry, and countless other tasks you do to manage your household.  You can’t feel better about yourself until you take pride in things that you are doing.  If you’re not accomplishing anything, pick one small place to start.  If you’re already doing everything, feel good about what you achieve on a daily basis.
  • Set realistic standards for yourself.  If you are clinically depressed and have been so for a while, cleaning the whole house is probably an unrealistic goal.  But cleaning off the coffee table might be doable.  If you’re functioning pretty well but still tend to feel worthless a lot of the time it’s probably time to realize that you are not a superhero, and  you aren’t going to solve every problem yourself.
  • Finally, get professional help if you need it.    A licensed therapist can help you sort out your situation and the emotions attached to it so that you can see things differently.  Your family doctor might be able to prescribe medication that can jump-start your ability to come out of a serious depression.  Seeking help is a way to start feeling in control, and making that phone call is a good way to start the process.

 

If your depression is to the point that you think about harming yourself, it is important that you get immediate help.  You can always call 911 if you’re in imminent danger.  Most communities also have emergency response services.  Go to your local emergency room if you’re not sure what help is available in your area.

 

Coming soon! Part II—What to do if your depression arises out of the feeling that  you’re in charge of (or to blame for) everything!

 

  • [1] (Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27)

 

[2]Depression and your Sense of Control.”  clinical depression-uk-co, accessed 4-1-2016.

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