I have been asked: “What does it take to be happy again?” and, “Do we truly have that choice?” It is tough to bounce back form a serious trauma or injury and it needs lots of courage to reclaim your life and your health. Nevertheless, you always have the choice.
I certainly do not under estimate the seriousness of what you are going through. It takes lots of effort to lift this depressive fog. You might feel totally overwhelmed, depleted and have zero motivation to lift a finger. Nevertheless, you need to KEEP GOING! You need to keep taking those tiny steps forward EVERYDAY… no matter how you feel.
Cognitive Behaviour therapy teaches that negative feelings are the result of negative thinking. Dr. Daniel Amen calls those negative thinking patterns ANTs - Automatic Negative Thoughts. You find yourself falling into an abyss of “I am worthless”, “I am good at nothing”, “I am a failure”, “What’s the point of trying”, “there is no use”… and the list goes on and on… Those ANTs creep into your mind and start generating their ‘stinging’ feelings. Soon enough, you find yourself depressed, overwhelmed, hopeless, angry, and frustrated.
In their turn, those negative feelings generate self-defeating behaviours. You stay in bed longer, avoid friends and social gatherings, and procrastinate. You are unable and unwilling to work on your life and dreams - even if you love those dreams, you just can’t see the point in moving forward.
It is a vicious cycle and “willing” yourself out of it only causes you to sink deeper and deeper into its gloomy mood.
So, What can you do?
To change the depressing feelings, you need to change the other two components of the cycle:
- Your thinking pattern (your cognition): Those ANTs!
- Your actions (self-defeating behaviors)
1. Changing your thinking pattern:
- Catch those ANTs
- Stare them in the face
- Talk back to them
Seriously! Start monitoring your trail of thinking. Whenever you catch yourself slipping into negative thinking pattern catch that ANT and quickly stick it in your journal. Write down exactly what that negative thought pattern was. What were you saying to yourself?
Notice here that I am asking you to catch the ANTs not the feelings. Let’s say your kid behave badly at school or came back with bad grades. Your ANTs start creeping in: “I did not do a good job”, “It is totally my fault”, “I am a failure, how can I be a good mother if my kid has such bad grades”, “I am worthless, I should have stayed with him instead of going to that stupid gym”, “He will never achieve anything in his life and it will all be my fault” … Those are the ANTs… if you let them, they will generate their stinging feelings: “I feel like crap”, “I am so down”, “I feel like crying”…
We’re after the ANTs now, because we can actually do something about those ANTs: Stare them in the face and talk back to them.
Look at what you wrote in your journal and reflect about it. Can you challenge those thoughts?
“I am a failure” – We call this generalization. Are you really a total failure? Are you failing ALL THE TIME in EVERYTHING you do? I am sure that you’re not. No one is.
Now that you stared them in the face, start talking back to them. “I may be in need to spend some more time with him, but I am still a good mother. I take good care of my kids.” “He may have failed this test, but there is a lot of room for improvement and he can certainly make it up if we start working on it,” “I may have needed some time for myself in the gym, but this does not mean I don’t give my kids enough attention, may be I need to manage my time differently, but I am definitely not worthless.”
See where we’re going here? This exercise might seem so simple and straightforward. You might even think, what’s the point? I know this stuff anyway. But, knowing is totally different from applying. Writing those ANTs down and talking back to them -in writing- enables you to catch even more and more ANTs that might be subconsciously sneaking into your mind. It also helps you to be more objective. You will eventually stop taking those thoughts so seriously and start looking at them with a much realistic eye.
2. Changing your actions:
This is the tough part. When we fall into depression we basically experience motivation paralysis. We just want to sit there and do nothing. We feel hopeless, helpless and totally drained. Right?
So, how can I ask you to start doing stuff? It’s the old paradox of who came first, the egg or the chicken? Movement, action and tiny achievements generate motivation. Yet, we need motivation to start moving, doing action, and make some achievements.
The not-very-pretty-truth is: you have to start moving! Any micro movement will start the wheel spinning. Don’t think about big goals or great achievements. Don’t fret about those dirty plates in the sink and the over flowing laundry basket. I will get up and wash one plate. Only one… sounds manageable, right? I know, it might also sound ridiculous. What will one plate do? It will start the wheel spinning! believe me… I’ve been there. Just one plate, one washing machine load, one reply to one email, printing one file, writing just the title of that one report, reading one page of that textbook… One tiny step. If you still can’t do it, think about an even tinier one. For some clients, just getting out of bed and washing their face was an achievement that was worthy of celebration. It started the wheel spinning and eventually they lifted that fog.
So here you have it the main two steps to lift you off a depressing mood:
- Changing your thinking pattern: Catch those ANTs and stare them in the face.
- Changing your actions: One tiny step keeps the wheel spinning.
I’ll leave you now to start catching some ANTs.
Amira Ayad, Ph.D.
Natural Health Consultant & Holistic Nutritionist
Psychotherapist (in training)