Why is there depression if we are supposedly able to control our feelings by changing our thoughts?
This question struck me this week as I grappled with my own several days of feeling sad, blue, kinda lost, asking myself, “What am I doing?”
It started off on the heals of a few days of some big work-related set backs, coupled with some relationship “issues” / changes, more rounds of my trying to figure out just how much social media ramping up I can handle, and that baffling question that seems to surface at times like this, “Am I doing what I should be doing?”
I tried hard to follow my own advice – “change where you think,” “live in the moment,” “amp up self-care,” “simplify”… and eventually decided to just give into the sad, blue, kinda lost, asking myself, “What am I doing?”… kinds of feelings, for which “giving in” for me means to crawl in bed, take a nap, get up and eat frozen yogurt smothered in chocolate sauce and then crawl back into bed and read a novel, get up, make another gratitude list (and I have SO MUCH for which to be grateful), take a hike, do some work, make outreach calls (unfortunately the one that answered wanted to fix it, I wanted to wallow), cry my grief out loud (really loudly), crawl back in bed, eat a third bowl of frozen yogurt smothered in chocolate sauce, watch some mindless TV and go to bed early with the hope that tomorrow would be a better day. This went on for a couple of days, although I did cut out the yogurt smothered in chocolate sauce and mindless TV on the second day and went swimming and started making lists, instead (additional methods I use to sort through feelings).
So why am I sharing all this?
My experiences this week gave me pause as I wondered what it’d be like to have “real” depression, aka minor depression, and beyond that, major depression. What it would be like to read phrases like “change your thoughts, change your feelings,” knowing full well you would if you could, %#*!!
So I wanted to use the remainder of this post to share some key research about depression in the event you or your loved one suffer from it. It’s so important to treat it [explained below] – which goes a lot better with the right kind of help [also explained below] – not only to find relief from the crushing feelings of depression, but because depression and other mental illnesses comprise one of the five key risk factors for developing an addiction or a substance abuse problem. Depression is a brain changer – it actually changes the way the brain works.
To see how this looks in brain scans and to find additional information on depression, click on WebMD’s “Depression Overview Slideshow.”
Additionally, if you’re experiencing chronic secondhand drinking, you are also at higher risk for depression. It’s one of the outcomes of the chronic activation of the brain’s fight-or-flight stress response system, which is also a brain changer. For more on this, check out “Health Consequences of Secondhand Drinking | Drugging.”
Now to get to the important take-away and that is to understand sad feelings may or may not lead to minor depression. Minor depression may or may not lead to major depression. And, it’s important to understand and if necessary, address all of them.
Most of us have sad feelings of some sort, now and again – it’s part of being human. With sad feelings, it’s entirely possible to “change where you think,” like it was for me after the several days described above – not necessarily the day of, but within a few days, certainly. I make this clarification because often it’s important to sit with the sad, blue, kinda lost, asking myself, “What am I doing?” kinds of feelings. That’s because the brain and feelings have a very special yin-yang “relationship.” To understand how our brains and feelings interact, check out A Discovery Company’s How Stuff Works’ slideshow:
5 Ways Your Brain Influences Your Emotions – be sure to scroll (click) through all 6 slides.
In fact, it can be downright good for you. It’s taken me years to understand this. For you see, it was when I didn’t allow myself the time to just flow with these blah feelings – a meditation of sorts – a way of letting in and then sorting through a tidal wave of thoughts and feelings - that things didn’t go well. I would tell myself, “It could be worse,” and then do something, anything to make the feeling go away – to “fix it” – and sometimes the “something” or “anything” caused more harm than the fleeting good it did to distract myself. In one of my “could be worse” modes, for example, I hung in so long battling a loved one’s untreated alcoholism, I eventually found myself diagnosed with situational depression for which I was prescribed Prosac.
As I’ve learned, blah kinds of sad-related feelings may be telling you it’s time for a change, because the truth of the matter is, “It could be better.” Check out:
Minor Depression and Major Depression
For this, I quote definitions from the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Mental Illness, What Is Depression?
Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness.
Minor depression is characterized by having symptoms for 2 weeks or longer that do not meet full criteria for major depression. Without treatment, people with minor depression are at high risk for developing major depressive disorder.
Major depressive disorder, or major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.
Help | Treatment for Depression
- The rest of the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Mental Illness piece, What Is Depression? shares information on signs and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.
- For the differences in depression in YOUTH and ADULTS, check out: NIMH Depression in Children and Adolescents Fact Sheet and NIMH: Older Adults and Depression. If you’re a VETERAN, check out U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Depression (they provide an anonymous assessment, as well).
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nonprofit that provides peer to peer support and family to family support.
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) offers an online Mental Health Treatment Facility Locator by State
And before I close, please know that depression often contributes to a person’s death by suicide. IF you have any thoughts along these lines, please immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. Someone is there 24/7 to take your call, so please don’t wait. Remember, depression is a brain changer, and the brain changes can make one feel hopeless, abandoned, unable to cope with practical matters – but these are the consequences of the brain changers – consequences that can convolute one’s “thinking.” They can be dealt with IF you get the right help, so please call 1-800-273-8255.