Winter? The Blues? Or … is it Depression?

Signs & Symptoms of Depression

It is that time of year again. We are coming to the end of Winter and Spring cannot get here fast enough. It is the Winter of Blues when some of us are more susceptible to developing signs, symptoms and even an episode of Depression – which is far from fun. There is a difference between feeling a bit down, a bit low, experiencing grief and Depression – although they can look very similar.

You could be experiencing an episode of Depression if you have … for a period of time that is longer than two weeks, felt sad, down or miserable most of the time or has lost interest or pleasure in usual activities, in addition to also experiencing several of the signs and symptoms of Depression that are present in behaviour or actions, cognitions or thoughts, emotions or feelings and in your physical body.

Depression can present itself differently in different people. You can have one of the signs and symptoms of Depression listed below and not be clinically depressed. At the same time, even if you have Depression, you may not be experiencing all of the signs or symptoms listed here. All of us will experience some of these symptoms, some of the time, as we walk through life.

Behaviour

  1. not going out anymore
  2. not getting things done at work/school
  3. withdrawing from close family and friends
  4. relying on alcohol and sedatives
  5. not doing usual enjoyable activities
  6. unable to concentrate

Feelings

  1. overwhelmed
  2. guilty
  3. irritable
  4. frustrated
  5. lacking in confidence
  6. unhappy
  7. indecisive
  8. disappointed
  9. miserable
  10. sad

Thoughts

  1. ‘I’m a failure.’
  2. ‘It’s my fault.’
  3. ‘Nothing good ever happens to me.’
  4. ‘I’m worthless.’
  5. ‘Life’s not worth living.’
  6. ‘People would be better off without me.’

Physical

  1. tired all the time
  2. sick and run down
  3. headaches and muscle pains
  4. churning gut
  5. sleep problems
  6. loss or change of appetite
  7. significant weight loss or gain

So, what’s wrong with Depression Anyway?

Untreated mental illness of all kinds causes damage to our lives. Depression, for example, left untreated can bring about some drastic changes in a person’s life, their day to day activities and their behaviour. This in turn can compromise or threaten relationships and even employment. The symptoms of Depression are subtle to the one experiencing them but become very obvious to those in the depressed person’s life. You can seem very changed and different to others if you are experiencing Depression and it is these changes that cause most of the damage associated with untreated Depression.

So an example always helps. Say you are experiencing a lack of motivation or a lack of energy because you are experiencing a bout of Depression. This in turn makes it more likely you will prefer to reduce your activities, neglect your daily tasks and responsibilities, and leaving more and more decisions to others. Briefly, you take the hands of the metaphoric steering wheel for your life. Have you noticed these changes in yourself when you are depressed?

You may find that you have become less and less active, don’t go out much anymore, avoid hanging out with friends, and stopped engaging in your favourite activity. When this happens, you have become locked in the vicious cycle of depression, which might look like this:

The Vicious Cycle of Depression

Decreased activity levels brings about ever diminishing returns for your mood. You are likely to become even less motivated and more lethargic. By not participating in doing the things you used to love, you miss out on experiencing pleasant feelings and positive experiences. Your depression could get worse.

It is exactly the same as when we, and I know we have all done this, start to neglect a few household tasks and responsibility – at home or even work. A pile begins to gather and so do feelings of being overwhelmed, over burdened or defeated by the ever increasing list of things we have put off “till later”. This state of affairs can increase or even create feelings of guilt or thinking we are hopeless, a failure or ineffective. This does little to help us get out of the dark pit that is Depression, in fact – what starts out as a drip ends up as a flood.

Reversing the Cycle of Depression

One of the ways of breaking the vicious cycle of is through the use of medication. Medication such as antidepressants can help change your energy level and improve sleep. Another way is to simply increase your activity level, especially in pleasurable activities and tackling your list of tasks and responsibilities, but doing it in a realistic and achievable way, so that you set yourself up to succeed.

Being deliberately MORE ACTIVE, to innoculate yourself against the risk of Depression

There are many advantages to becoming more active

  • Activity helps you to feel better
  • Activity helps you to feel less tired
  • Activity can help you think more clearly

Creating a list of things to do is a place to start, be as creative and out there as you can because … sometimes when your brain is ‘depressed’ it is a bit like trying to start an old car on a cold day.

Here’s a list of possible fun things to do. You can add your own to this list, to get started

  1. Soaking in the bathtub
  2. Updating Facebook
  3. Going for a day trip
  4. Going to see a comedy at the movies
  5. Going to the beach
  6. Playing squash/tennis/badminton
  7. Having a barbecue at the park
  8. Going for a walk, jog, or hike
  9. Listening to uplifting music
  10. Gardening

The best way to see if something works – is to give it a go. Why not try some of these activities and see how you feel afterwards. There is a good chance you will notice an improvement in your over all mood. This is good news and the first step to breaking out of that vicious cycle!

Treatment for Depression

Sometimes ofcourse, the situation has become too compicated, to entrenched. If this is where you find yourself, you may need the help of a skilled Psychologist.

Psychologist use treatment or therapies to address symptoms of Depression that are ‘evidence based’, ‘evidence supported practice’ or ‘evidence based treatment’. This means that the techniques and approaches Psychologists use have been tested, investigated and demonstrated to be effective over and over again.

There are two main therapeutic approaches used by Psychologists to treat depression that also have an extensive research base that demonstrates over and over again their effectiveness. These two therapies are called Cognitive Therapy and Behaviour Therapy.

Cognitive Therapy

The aim of cognitive therapy is to bring about the understanding that it is possible to influence mood by identifying and changing thoughts and beliefs. This process requires some introspection and self reflection but if works because people who experience symptoms of depression are also more likely to hold negative thoughts about themselves, their lives and their future. This has a negative effect on their mood.

Cognitive therapy involves identifying and challenging a couple of categories of thoughts. These are assumptions and beliefs. The therapy aims to develop and replace unhelpful negative thoughts with helpful and balanced thoughts.

Cognitive therapy is also not open ended. It is very structured, time-limited, and works with the experience in the present moment or the ‘here-and-now’. This form of treatment for depression results in the acquisition of new ‘thinking skills’ and has demonstrated effectiveness among individuals who have been able to use and demonstrate the skills they have learned in therapy.

Behaviour Therapy

Depressed people tend to feel lethargic and unmotivated. One of the first things I introduce to the therapeutic process for someone with symptoms of Depression, is exercise and the advantages of attempting it. This is usually the very last thing they want to do.

People experiencing Depression will naturally want to stay at home and avoid going out and interacting with people. But as we have already discovered this has multiple unwanted side effects in addition to missing out on many opportunities for activities and social interaction that would help increase positive feelings.

Behaiour therapy focuses on the ‘doing’ part of life and aims to identify and change key behaviours that are having maximum impact on feelings of depression. Common behavioural strategies I have used effectively to combat feelings of depression in many of my clients are goal setting, activity scheduling, social skills training, and structured problem solving.

Ever heard of CBT?

These two therapies combined are what is known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and research has demonstrated over and over again that when used together they are effective most of the time. Hopefully there is some useful information here to assist you get through these last hours of the Winter Blues.

See you on the other side! In Spring!

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