My primary specialty is depression. There are many signs you may be struggling with depression: feeling sad, down, lethargic, or becoming tired too easily are some of the most common. Grad school taught me how to identify the symptoms of depression, but experience has taught me it’s often more complicated that that. We love to boil things down to a few steps or a cluster of symptoms, and to be sure there are certain patterns that develop with depression. However, each person who struggles with depression has a slightly different experience and needs a slightly different approach. After all, there is not one cause of depression, but thousands!
On top of that, depression feels different to everyone, and sometimes it feels different to the same person at different times! You might be feeling down or lethargic, maybe you feel hopeless, perhaps you’re having difficulty sleeping, or possibly all of the above. Furthermore, it can be hard to tell the difference between your own emotions, your mood, your affect, and your depression.
It helps if we understand the difference between emotions, feelings, affect, and mood.
An emotion is essentially the energy your body uses to organize your thoughts and direct action toward achieving peace and harmony. I think I can safely say we all would like to experience peace and harmony in our everyday lives – as a father to a new baby, I’ve learned to appreciate peace and harmony more than I ever thought possible! Our emotions are the energy moving us away from disharmony and toward harmony.
As such, there is no such thing as a positive or negative emotion. Our emotions aren’t good and bad, but rather are trying to provide us with important information and help us make the appropriate choices to achieve peace. This is important, because often my clients feel guilty and ashamed that they are experiencing symptoms of depression, but as I tell all my clients, it’s actually a good thing. Developing depression is your bodies’ way of communicating with you, telling you that something is wrong and it’s time to seek help. Remember, an emotion is energy driving us toward peace and harmony, so depression is your bodies’ way of telling you it’s time to seek help. It is essentially trying to give you the motivation you need to actually seek help, which is ironic, because typically depression saps all your motivation!
What makes depression especially stubborn, however, is the development of what we call “mood.” A mood is essentially the general tone of emotions over time. We often think of our moods as unstable (“He’s in a bad mood,” or “She’s just having a mood.”), but in truth, our moods are often quite persistent over long periods. A mood creates a sort of “slant” toward certain emotions over others, and while it is at once shaped by our internal experience, it also has an impact on and can change our internal experience. For example, if you’ve recently experienced a loss, you know that your energy levels seem low, happiness feels distant, and you generally feel “down.” You may literally be physically “down,” – slouched in a chair or hunched over when you walk. Because of this mood, it doesn’t feel right to be cheerful or think happy thoughts. No, what feels right is avoiding people, buying ice cream, and watching depressing movies.
What research is showing is that our mood can actually shape and guide our thoughts and memories. Our depressed mood causes us to retrieve memories that confirm we are a failure while ignoring memories that contradict that narrative. We remember the times we were left out of things, the times we felt embarrassed or humiliated, the times we failed and made fools of ourselves. This only reinforces the depression, which causes us to remember more failures, which reinforces the depression, and so on and so forth. This is likely a big part of the reason why depression can cling on so stubbornly and refuse to leave us alone.
As you can see, there is a lot going on inside of you, and most of it is happening outside of your conscious awareness. It can feel completely overwhelming at times to even get started trying to heal. One thing I’ve learned, though, is simply learning what’s true and what’s not can be a huge motivator to change. For example, knowing that our emotions are neither good nor bad will help you learn to accept your feelings as they are, knowing they are trying to tell you something important. Understanding the relationship between thoughts and emotions will help you recognize that sometimes the depression drives the thoughts, and you’re not bad or evil for thinking what you do. Recognizing your mood and understanding the role it plays will help you harness the physical side of your experience to influence the mental and emotional side.
There is no one right or guaranteed way to fix depression, which can seem frustrating and disappointing. But the good news is there are many ways to approach your depression and many strategies to help you regain control of your life and achieve peace and harmony again. I would be honored to walk with you on your path to healing, and I invite you to take the first step by giving me a call or send me an email to set up an appointment today.