One of the characteristics of depression and anxiety is thinking in ways that prevent effective action and progress with one’s concerns, often by avoiding one’s real concerns through distraction, escape, and self-medication. Once these ineffective/ self-sabotaging patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting become ingrained, they can be very difficult to change. Here are some tips to try to pull yourself back up before it gets too bad.
1. Stop acting according to how you feel at the moment. Start acting according to how you want to feel in the future.
I certainly know how to talk myself out of things. When I say to myself, “I’m too tired”, “I don’t feel like it now”, “I’ll do it tomorrow”, I’m well on my way to avoiding effective action – and it’s usually about something that would be good for me, such as going to the gym or finishing some necessary tasks. What about you? How do you do it?
Too often we cling to the familiar rather than learn to tolerate the discomfort of change. If you just listen to how you feel, you’ll very likely keep on doing what you’ve always done, and getting the same results you’ve always gotten. Or as the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results”.
To feel better, you have to act better. You have to find ways to begin to deconstruct your less than healthy patterns. That will feel “unnatural” to you because it will involve changing. But if you begin acting as the person you want to be, you’ll start feeling the way you want to feel. Even if you can change only one thing, it can give you a feeling of achievement and empowerment to do the next best thing, and the next…
2. Don’t believe everything you think!
With anxiety and depression, people somehow believe that their thoughts of doom, gloom, fear and self-blame are accurate accounts of “reality” – and that they really should feel and believe the ways they do. Actually, our thought patterns and beliefs are nothing more than patterns of thinking and feeling that we’ve learned to create and reinforce over time. But they may bear little resemblance to outside reality – that which is happening outside of our heads, where the rest of the world lives. If you don’t agree, consider encountering people who have very different opinions or reactions than yours. Why is it that seemingly intelligent people can be so different in their views? Why don’t we all agree on the same version of “reality”?
Understand that what you’re thinking and feeling right now is transitory; it changes from minute to minute. So don’t give so much power to something so fleeting. Don’t go to your bad mood or depressed thinking for advice and guidance on how you should act. Better yet, consider that the ways you think and feel right now may be the biggest cause of your problems. Just as you would not take the advice of a depressed or self destructive friend, don’t believe the thoughts and feelings that tell you to act in ineffective or self-destructive ways.
3. You’re feelings don’t matter. Who cares how you feel?
Don’t do things because you feel like it, do things because they’re good for you! Basing your action, or inaction, or ineffective/ self-sabotaging actions on your automatic and fleeting thoughts and moods is like giving your car keys to a two year old, or a moody teenager. Ever wonder why you’re not getting where you need to go in life?
If you want your life to “go better”, you’ll have to do something – it won’t be done for you. And that means you have to take better control of your mind – the place where most of your unhappiness is occurring. Of course “bad” things happen in our lives, but most depressed and anxious people are suffering internally despite external circumstances that they could feel good about. I’ve often heard clients say, “I don’t know why I feel so depressed. I have a nice home, a good spouse, smart children, a decent job…”
Of course there are those of us whose circumstances really are pretty bad – loss of job, home, family, health… But depression and anxiety can take hold of these bad circumstances and make them much worse through self-blame, hopelessness, fear of trying, negative predictions that things will always be as bad… If you’ve ever met a person in terrible circumstances who is optimistic, or someone in great circumstances who is depressed, you know that circumstances are not everything. So much has to do with our attitude towards our external conditions. Often the best course of action when things are not going well is to be upbeat and forward moving despite our circumstances.
4. Act into the way you want your life to be. Fake it ’til you make it.
If your negative, fearful thoughts are already steering you wrong by giving you inaccurate information about reality, and they’re causing you to feel awful, what can you use a guidance system to inform your actions? Developing a positive plan of action based on your goals and values can provide a good map to follow.
Your values are the things you really believe in and think are important. Getting in touch with them can be enlivening and inspiring because it feels like getting in touch with who you really are. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel enlivened and inspired? Our values also provide a rudder that help us steer our way through life and relationships. Also, clarifying our values can provide much needed confrontation to behaviors that contradict them. If I say that close and loving relationships are important to me, but I spend all my time playing video games, watching TV, or drinking, chances are I’m lying to myself and doing things that will actually prevent me from forming or maintaining healthy relationships.
Likewise with goals. If you say you want a good paying job, but are too afraid or negative to apply for jobs, you’re acting against your stated goals. This is self-sabotage. The only person that can correct this is you. Don’t expect others to somehow find that better job for you. Confronting yourself in an honest fashion can help you get motivated. Just be sure not to destroy or demotivate yourself with heaps of self-blame.Once you identify your most important values and goals, it’s up to you to act in accordance with them. This is where some of the above tips come into play. Don’t pay attention to the voices of fear and negativity that will naturally arise once you set a goal. I said naturally. Your negative voices have become what’s natural to you, probably through years of dedicated practice. You’ve become an expert in keeping yourself in the same rut by thinking the same way over and over. You must commit “unnatural acts” to get out of that rut. It won’t feel comfortable. But, who cares? You shouldn’t. You already don’t feel comfortable, with your circumstances or your moods. So what’s to lose by feeling uncomfortable while you’re doing something constructive? Would that be so awful? Do you think you couldn’t survive such a terrible thing? Try it and see.