Negative thoughts, persistent flattened feelings, explosive anger, irritation, withdrawal, over-eating, tears, under-eating, over-working, disconnection from your loved ones, excessive use of social media, an inability to enjoy the things that usually give you enjoyment…
The list could go on.
But what is this list? These could be signs of depression, and as you can see from this list, depression comes in many different forms. For some, there is a withdrawal from the world, and yet others might push themselves harder, engaging more with the world, even though they feel flattened and hopeless inside. Ever heard “You can stand in a room full of people and still feel alone?”. Well, depression is as tricky as that; it is hard to spot if you only look for the stereotypical signs of sadness or withdrawal.
One thing that does help to identify depression is knowing the person involved. As a psychotherapist, I get to know my clients and learn what their usual patterns are, whether that is introverted or extroverted, whether they tend to feel nourished spending more time with their family or engaged in their work, and then I can see if depression has taken hold because usually these patterns will change. I also want to know whether this is a significant issue, usually of at least two weeks, or whether it is just a temporary dip.
Depression can be particularly difficult because you can get trapped in a depression cycle. When you feel low, you assume there will be a negative outcome with the things that usually make you feel better, so you don’t engage in those activities, and this makes you feel worse about yourself. Your self-talk can become more negative, referring to yourself as a ‘failure’ and ‘worthless’, and it is particularly concerning if hopelessness becomes pervasive.
If we look at other challenges to mental health, for example Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), there is, at least, an escape clause: For example, if we touch the door frame four times then our obsessive thoughts dissipate. With depression, however, there is no such escape clause because we are stuck in a double-bind where we assume there will be a negative outcome, and we assume we are inadequate in most situations.
Given the links between self-harm, suicide, and depression, we must prioritize care for depression. However, depression is sometimes viewed in a negative light, and some have even referred to it as a weakness. The opposite is true. Recognizing depression and seeking help for it is a sign of strength. It is also important to understand that your body and mind often respond for a reason.
In my psychotherapy practice, I use Polyvagal Theory to help people visualize depression as the dorsal vagal response, or rather the shutdown, at the bottom of the nervous system ‘ladder’. When we learn this, we can also understand that there are other parts of the nervous system, further up the ‘ladder’, and so we can use breathing exercises and tapping to move out of the dorsal vagal state, into a more connected ventral vagal state. This can only occur when our nervous system sense cues of safety, so it might take some time for you to learn to trust the therapeutic relationship and feel safe enough to flex in and out of these various states.
All of this might seem a little unclear, but when we put this into action, you might notice some wonderful changes in your body and mind.
If you have any questions about this or depression generally, get in touch today.
Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
Explore Transform LLC
Counseling and Psychotherapy in Bergen County, New Jersey
+1 (201) 779-6917
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