5 Negative Behaviors Depression Sufferers Often Encounter
Depression can be very difficult to manage, particularly because it tends make individuals feel worse about themselves. When you’re struggling with depression, it is common to focus on mistakes and magnify them, which is why it is so important to remember that mistakes are just opportunities to learn from.
Every healing process is different. But, as Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., the Associate Editor of PsychCentral recently discussed, there are a few negative beliefs or behaviors that depression sufferers commonly run into. Below, we will talk about those behaviors and some positive ways to respond to them.
1. Telling Yourself to “Snap Out of It”
It is easy to internalize the concept that you should be able to will yourself out of depression. The sentiment is unfortunately common from those who have never experienced depression first-hand, and as Lee Coleman, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and author of Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed explains, “When you’re depressed, it’s common to think that there’s no good reason that you’re having trouble getting out of bed, struggling to concentrate or feeling low.”
Tartakovsky uses another insightful metaphor, by saying that it seems natural to try to motivate yourself out of depression by trying to simply swim out of the pool of negative, shame-soaked thoughts. But, being self-critical or using shame as motivation only fuels these negative thoughts.
If you encounter these types of feelings, Coleman emphasizes the need to remind yourself of the fact that “depression is an illness like any other – one that affects not just your mood, but also your sleep, energy, motivation, and even the way you look at yourself.” Focus on taking small steps and staying active, rather than focusing on getting better immediately. Getting better from illness takes time and each day is a step towards healing.
2. Hiding What You’re Dealing With
Thanks to the shame many depression sufferers experience feel, it is incredibly common to hide what you are experiencing. Depression “can feel like a fundamental flaw with who you are,” as Coleman explained. But, hiding your experience only isolates you further and can cause others to become confused or frustrated by your behavior.
You don’t always have to confess everything you are feeling or use the word “depression” but you need to “remember that other, even the ones you love the most, aren’t psychic and may still be operating on old information.” More importantly, it is most important to communicate “what you need while you’re working on getting better.”
3. Underestimating Depression
Poor education about mental illness can lead many to underestimate the full scope of depression. Deborah Serani, Psy.D, clinical psychologist and author of the books Living with Depression and Depression and Your Child says many of her clients don’t realize that depression affects all parts of someone’s life including “personal, social, and occupational worlds.”
Serani uses an example: You may personally struggle with significant sadness, self-doubt, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and hopelessness. These are symptoms that can cause you to withdraw from important relationships or become irritable and impatient with others. At work or school, the fatigue, self-doubt, and inability to concentrate can lead to poor performance, incomplete assignments, and difficulty retaining information.
If you educate yourself on all the ways depression can present itself and affects your life, you can more readily identify and address those issues when they arise. As Serani says, “Having knowledge about an illness that touches your life empowers you.”
4. Getting Lax About Treatment
It isn’t rare to see individuals become too casual with their treatment plans and strategies when they begin to feel better. They may start skipping medication or missing therapy sessions. But, it is important to remember that recovering from depression is a long journey that doesn’t necessarily end at the first positive signs.
Research has repeatedly shown that if you stick to a treatment plan and prioritize your illness, it is possible to become symptom-free, Serani said. However, letting yourself deviate from the plan may lead to a longer recover and your symptoms may worsen.
One way to put the importance of a full recovery plan is to remember that depression is an illness like any other. Serani sometimes substitutes the word “depression” with other illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer to convey the seriousness of the condition.
“Though these are very different illnesses, they all have one thing in common: The need for the patient to respect the seriousness of the illness.”
She continued, “If you had cancer, would you skip chemotherapy? If you had heart disease, would you cancel your appointment with your cardiologist? As a diabetic, would you ignore your blood sugar levels?”
Serani says research indicates you should make your depression treatment a priority for at least a year. “For those with moderate or severe depression, treatment will be longer.”
5. Not Being Self-Compassionate
We all need compassion in our lives, but compassion is downright vital when we are sick or struggling. But, as Coleman said, “Unfortunately, because depression casts a negative light on our thoughts, it’s easy to see compassion as just feeling sorry for yourself, or as giving permission to lie around all day.” However, true compassion means being honest with yourself and your needs.
Compassion requires you to accept that it takes time to get better and that it is absolutely acceptable to temporarily lower your expectations of yourself. As a comparison, you can’t expect to run a race immediately after you sprain an ankle and you shouldn’t expect to feel like yourself again right after you accept that you are struggling with depression.
“It’s not a judgement about yourself as a person, and it’s not giving yourself a blank check to feel bad forever.”
If you have trouble finding compassion for yourself, Coleman says to think of how you would respond to a loved one who was feeling the same way.
“Your tone would probably be caring and supportive, not blaming or attacking. That same tone may not come as naturally when you talk to yourself during depression, but it’s absolutely worth remembering and trying to draw from, even if it takes a little effort.”