No one seeks out depression. People don’t typically enjoy experiencing sadness, lethargy and hopelessness. It seems perfectly logical to try to avoid these emotions, not embrace them. However, your dislike of depression and efforts to escape it may be what is keeping you stuck in it.
Invite Your Depression To ‘Let It All Hang Out’
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung summed it up nicely: “What you resist persists.” If you’re spending a lot of energy fighting thoughts and feelings that accompany depression and ruminating about how you wish you weren’t depressed, chances are it’s going to stick around like a nagging little brother who really just craves some attention. Research shows that using mindfulness-based approaches that include paying attention to difficult thoughts and feelings — and accepting them without judgment — can support traditional depression treatment and sometimes prove just as effective as antidepressants. Invite your depression to a meditation session. While you focus on your breath, simply notice thoughts and feelings that surface without pushing them away.
Give Your Depression a Voice
Depression is sometimes the elected spokesperson for a lot of other emotions that don’t feel “safe” such as grief, anger, disappointment, rejection, shame and even happiness. If you let it “speak,” it can provide a lot of valuable information. Nancy Simon, LCSW, is a mind-body therapist with over 25 years of experience helping people address issues like anger, depression, shame, relationship difficulties and past trauma. She helps clients transform their depression through therapeutic approaches that encourage them to become curious and compassionate about depression and less enmeshed with it. “Depression can be very scary for people,” says Simon. “But it’s possible to become friends with your depression and nurture it, so that when it shows up, there’s a radical acceptance of it. That acceptance can shift people.” One exercise Simon uses with her clients is journaling. Sit in a quiet place and write down whatever comes up when you place your focus on depression. Does it have anything to say?
Ask Your Depression What It Needs
Find out what it’s really like to be that depressed part of you. For example, Simon sometimes asks clients to have depression sit next to them and engage it in a dialogue about what it needs. Your depression might feel lonely. It might want a hug or to be acknowledged in some way that makes it not feel alone. This technique is also a tactic that some psychodrama therapists use. They may take on the role of the depression or have another client in group therapy play depression. This is another way to have a conversation with depression and address some of the underlying issues that might be perpetuating it.
Pay Attention to Your Body
When you’re depressed you can become disconnected from yourself both emotionally and physically. The underlying causes of depression are complex. Research shows that stress and past trauma can fuel depression. Even if you can’t pinpoint a situation causing stress — and even if you can — you hold these experiences in your body. When clients relay difficult emotions or situations, Simon asks them where they feel that sadness or anger in their bodies. Is their jaw clenched? Is their stomach in knots? Are they wringing their hands? If you pay attention to how and where the pain is in your body, you may be able to let it go through breathing or guided imagery. That said, if you’ve suffered deeply embedded chronic trauma like sexual abuse or emotional neglect you may feel only numbness. Alternative therapies like craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, rolfing, reiki and Tai Chi can help you release that energy. “The best option is to find a reputable bodyworker or energy worker to release past traumas,” says Simon. “The results are truly amazing.”
Notice Your Depression’s Qualities
Another way to give your depression space and not project judgment on it as “good” or “bad” is to notice its qualities. Simon asks her clients to focus on their feelings and notice if they have a particular texture, color, shape or feel. This guided mindfulness approach can help you express emotions you have trouble verbalizing and have calming or energizing benefits.
Seek Outpatient or Inpatient Depression Treatment
Don’t try to “go it alone” if you’re feeling depressed. Major depression is a serious mental illness that may require medication and other medical interventions. The exercises above are best done under the guidance of mental health professionals who can help you contain emotions and ensure you aren’t unstable or triggered at the end of a session. Depression also commonly occurs alongside issues like substance abuse, eating disorders and intimacy problems that require specialized treatment to effectively address and manage. Outpatient or inpatient treatment can help you tackle the complex physical, emotional and spiritual difficulties that can result from depression and any co-occurring disorders. By Sara Schapmann