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A simple way to bounce back from depression

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Depression is insidious. You feel sad, you lose your concentration, nothing is interesting to you anymore, and – to top it all off – your thoughts become stuck in an endless loop of self-criticism.

There are many ways to address depression. Researchers interested in decreasing depression and increasing resilience have found that using a number of intentional activities* creates positive emotions and helps reduce feelings of depression. These activities will be discussed in a forthcoming post.

The first step, though, is to work toward letting go of the critical rumination going on in your head. Why? Because it is very difficult to even consider pursuing intentional activities with thoughts such as:

“It won’t help.”

“Why even bother?”

“I’ll just screw it up.”

These thoughts make your mood bleaker and keep you on the sofa rather than feeling up for trying a new activity or intervention.

So, what to do? Use mindfulness.

Now, to a depressed person, even the encouragement to be mindful can sound like a daunting challenge. “Oh, great. Something else to learn and mess up.”

But wait. Here’s all you have to do: Just notice something and have no judgment about it. So, when you hear yourself think something like, “Why even bother?” you just notice the thought. You don’t decide it’s good or bad, you just take note and then let it go.

Life coach Rick Carson calls these negative thoughts “gremlins.” In his book, Taming Your Gremlin, Carson refers to the wise words of the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu:

Simply notice the natural order of things.

Work with it rather than against it.

For to try to change what is only sets up resistance.

Carson bases much of his work on this idea: Simply notice.

Don’t judge. Don’t place meaning. Just notice your thoughts and let them go. Same with your moods. Simply notice that you’re depressed. No need to place any particular import or opinion on it. Just notice it.

This practice of simply noticing is very freeing. One of the key ideas in Carson’s book is don’t grapple with your gremlins. As soon as you start wrestling with the critical thought in your head – your gremlin – it wins. The gremlin gets bigger and more powerful the longer you grapple with it.

Just noticing your thought or mood and having no judgment about it takes all the power away from it.

The authors of The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, encourage us to view thoughts as “passing mental events” that come and go and that don’t necessarily equate to true reality. They write:

Thoughts involve interpretations and judgments, which are not in themselves facts; they are merely more thoughts . . . This ever-so-simple, yet challenging, shift in the way we relate to thoughts releases us from their control. For when we have thoughts such as ‘This unhappiness will always be with me’ or ‘I am an unlovable person,’ we don’t have to take them as realities. When we do, we succumb to endlessly struggling with them. (pp. 59-60)

Want to take the important first step in bouncing back from depression? Simply notice your thoughts and moods without judgment. The sense of freedom will be worth it.

Takeaway points: When depressed, our thoughts can easily become self-critical and circular. Simply noticing them rather than attaching a judgment can free us from the prison of rumination that accompanies depression. If you think of your critical thought as a gremlin, remember that it only has power when you pay attention to it, so try not to grapple with your gremlin!

Is it hard for you to simply notice?

*Lyubomirsky, S. & Della Porta, M.D. (2010) Boosting Happiness, Buttressing Resilience. In J.W. Reich, A.J. Zautra, & J.S. Hall (Eds.) Handbook of Adult Resilience (450-464). New York: The Guilford Press.

Need help with depression? I’m available for therapy in Los Altos, Ca. Call me at 650-529-9059 or email me for an appointment or free 30-minute consultation.


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.