Beating Depression: Taking the First Step

Posted: October 16th, 2013 | Category: Depression | Tags: , , ,

Well meaning friends and family often encourage someone with depression to “just snap out of it”. Unfortunately, while this is sometimes possible when you’re just in a bad mood, with depression it can be difficult to just flick a switch and feel better. The simplest activities not only require a huge effort but also seem utterly pointless. Recovery looks as tough a road as climbing Everest.

The good news is that even small steps can make a difference. There are simple things you can do, both physically and mentally, to begin to lift your spirits. This can start to turn around the vicious cycle of inactivity that keeps you trapped in depression.



The vicious cycle of inactivity


When we become depressed, it isn’t just our mood that changes. We lack motivation and energy: nothing seems worthwhile. Not only do we neglect everyday tasks and responsibilities, we also cut back on doing things that we previously enjoyed. This inactivity makes our depression worse, because we miss out on previous sources of pleasure, and we feel guilty and inadequate. Then, with the depression now worse, we further neglect our tasks, and reduce our enjoyable activities, and the cycle continues on. You can see this cycle drawn out in the diagram below.



Reversing the cycle – one step at a time


One of the keys to beating depression is to gradually reverse this cycle by taking small steps to increase your activity level. Importantly, this doesn’t mean trying to run around like your old pre-depression self. That would be setting yourself up to fail. Instead, it’s a matter of identifying small things that you feel you can manage and then slowly building on them. So, a first step might just be spending some time going and sitting in the garden, a next step might be a short walk, then a walk to the local shop to buy an ice-cream, and so on.



Getting started


Even with small steps, getting started can be difficult. Because of the depression your mind is likely to come up with all sorts of reasons not to act. “I probably won’t enjoy it”, “What if I can’t even do that”, or simply “I don’t feel like it today, maybe I’ll start tomorrow”.


One way to start is just by making a list of things you might do. Try and write down 5 things (not too big things remember) that you enjoy (or used to enjoy doing). Then write down 5 tasks that you’ve been neglecting that you think you could at least make a start on. Once you’ve done that, choose just one of these activities and decide on your first activity goal. Again, the goal doesn’t have to be excessive. It might be just part of a task (e.g., instead of trying to clean the house, you might decide to tidy a room, or clear a table, or collect dirty crockery and move it to the kitchen). Alternatively, another way to limit the task you set yourself is to place a time limit on it. So, for example, you might decide to read or walk for 5 or 10 minutes rather than trying to complete a chapter or get to a particular destination.


If you feel you’ve bitten off more than you’re ready for, reduce the level of activity further. In starting off, remember that at this stage the goal is merely increasing your activity levels, if you enjoy what you do or get a sense of achievement, all well and good. But don’t worry if these benefits elude you at first.



Keeping going


Once you’ve started on your first activity, the goal then is to gradually increase the amount you do, both by increasing the time or scope of the activity you started with, and by introducing new activities. In terms of the latter it’s a good idea to include a mix of both enjoyable activities, and tasks that give you a sense of achievement (e.g., tidying up your home or sorting through the pile of paperwork). The objective is to slowly build up your activity levels and reintroduce feelings of pleasure and achievement into your life. All these factors will begin to lift your moods.


While you’re increasing your activity, the depression may try to tell you that what you’re doing is pathetically little, or that it’s hopeless and you’ll never get better.  But if you keep at it, slowly building your activity, things will improve. Moreover, lifting your activity makes you better placed to embark on the second pathway to beating depression – lifting your moods by changing your thinking patterns. That’s a subject for another post.



For information about seeing a Psychologist at Indepth Psychology for help with depression, please call 02 8068 4361 or fill in a contact form.



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