By DR GRAHAM DEXTER AND DR JANICE RUSSELL
Most people, at some time in their lives, have felt down, fed up, depressed. A few of us suffer with a clinical depression, such as post natal, puerperal, bi-polar or endogenous depression. However, even the milder reactive depressions can be seriously disabling and dangerous.
For any reader believing they fit any of the above categories we would advise you to see your GP or a therapist sooner rather than later. All types of depression can be treated with careful assessment and appropriate therapies and these may be drug or psychologically based.
Depression is often relative to our situation. For example, when training Bosnian refugees in 1996, one woman, amidst her grief and devastation at her war experiences, told us how foolish she felt over ever having been depressed about the trivia in her life. When we met her two years later, we overheard her say she was depressed at being five kilograms over weight! So, depression is often a matter of degree and circumstance. Generally, when we say we are depressed, it means that we are seriously fed up.
We have noticed over the years that the seriously fed up and the depressed often share one symptom. That symptom is indecision. This shows in the individual’s inability, or reluctance, to face up to a decision that they know they have to make – leaving a relationship, dealing with a dependency, doing something different at work, making some important changes. Often the consequences of such decisions are so difficult to contemplate that the mind and body choose to shut down, resulting in what we call depression.
Richard Bandler, a psychologist who specialises in finding different solutions to mental health problems, took an alternative approach. Instead of looking at causes of depression he researched people who had suffered depression and had recovered without the help of conventional medicines. He then devised some simple approaches that individuals and therapist can put in place to relieve the symptoms. These strategies are just as effective for some people as anti-depressants are for others.
While training with Bandler, one learning stuck in our minds. Alleviating symptoms may be simple, but we should never seek to take depression away from someone until they have something better to replace it. In other words, the depression is serving a function. If we discover what that function is we are in a better position to take appropriate action.
For those of you reading this who are a bit down, pretty miserable or seriously fed up, here are six tips that might just be useful to you:
• Be honest with yourself. What is the real problem? Sweeping it under the carpet only creates the illusion of it being better.
• Be clearer about what you want instead: small changes can be really helpful. Have at least one thing in your diary to look forward to … a meal out, a trip somewhere, even just a phone call to someone or the thought of your favourite telly programme to remind you that life is ok and worth the effort.
• At some point, have a go at thinking outside the tight confines of your world to what you really want more of in your life – the big words like – more security, more excitement, more peace or more purpose. Once these bigger ideas are clearer the easier it is to find ways of achieving some more of them.
• Remember that depression is something you perpetuate by your own habits. Often when we are depressed, we literally look down, go inwards and often spend a lot of time just talking to ourselves and feeling low. Imagine a bad scenario, tell yourself that things will go wrong, you’ll be down. You can learn to notice and interrupt your own pattern. Listen to good music, imagine things going well, look outside yourself, tell yourself more positive messages and you’ll be up.
• If your fedupness is accompanied by a sense of foreboding, dread or anxiety – remember the antidote is relaxation. There are many aids to relaxation. Pick the best for you:
• Breathing exercises.
• Exercise: walking, biking, swimming, jogging, yoga.
• Music: this is a strong mood changer.
• List five things about yourself that you admire or others have said they admire – then try believing them.
• Avoid rash decisions, especially irreversible ones, when you are feeling low. However, once talked through, don’t just leave issues and hope they will work out – take some action. This might mean getting someone professional in to take over for a while – a manager at work, a friend or babysitter, so that you can take some time out. The sooner you do something to make a change in your life the sooner you will be replacing that fedupness with something you want more.
Remember, if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got – so do something different – now!