Focusing on What You Don't Have, Significantly Worsens Depression
From someone who lives with depression to others
Focusing on what we don’t have is rooted in capitalism. Before you roll your eyes, hang tight and hear me out.
We are constantly bombarded with advertised ways to achieve “happiness”. usually, this is through buying items or striving to be someone that we are not or having things we do not have in the moment - aka. a home owner, someone without student debt, someone with a partner, someone with 2.5 kids and a picket fence, someone who travels and posts on Instagram, someone who doesn’t struggle with mental health and who has their “shit together”, someone who owns the latest technology and who has followers and too many IRL friends to decide what to do on a Friday night. We are put in a state of aiming for what is mostly, unattainable in today’s society. In addition, because we are so busy chasing what we think will make us happy, we completely ignore the process of asking ourselves what we ACTUALLY want. We look to advertisements and capitalism to decide for us what our values are and should be. When, in reality, if we pause to look at what is important to our core selves, the treadmill of chasing the next promise for happiness stops.
When we are experiencing bouts of depression, our world becomes really small. Depression makes everything about us and our perception of the world and our relationships with other humans is shifted. Some of us can take on the identity of our depression. We become so used to feeling shitty, that we begin to resist moving out of this outlook because it is familiar and we know what to do with it. We begin to mistaken our depression as our true self, as opposed to a part of ourselves. We also begin to believe that “true happiness” is a fallacy that does not exist for us.
Happiness is not a constant state. Rather, moments of happiness are present for us to experience throughout life if we are living mindfully. Happiness is present just like anger, sadness, fear and all other emotions. Depression creates tunnel vision which often eliminates us noticing even the smallest of moments which can bring us pleasure.
Often times, I look at depression through a shame elimination lens. In the past, I would get angry at myself for being depressed. Then, I began to view my depression as a coping mechanism I developed to cope with years of severe abuse. I began to recognize that depression was my nervous systems way of attempting to find safety when interpreting that I was in danger. Rather than getting upset with myself for being depressed, I began to focus on helping my nervous system feel safe and return to a regulated state.
When struggling with depression, we do have to recognize the behaviours we engage in that contribute to symptoms intensifying. When we become our depression as opposed to recognizing that it is just a part of us, it can overtake all aspects of our life, creating the false belief that nothing we do will matter. In addition, some of us make our world smaller because of our depression. We internalize that the world is against us (Its not - the world is actually neutral and our experiences often have to do more with our learned behaviours). Therefore, we stop taking part in anything which expands beyond the four corners of our apartment.
Rather than focusing on the things we do not have in our lives, it is important to remind ourselves of what is present. Some days, this may be as small as having access to water, food and a bed. When we are depressed, doing anything feels like a lot of work. It is important to recognize that with depression, it is only in doing SOMETHING, that we can begin to shift our mental health. We are not going to WANT to do anything. However, if we can remind ourselves that in doing certain things shown to shift us our of dysregulation and re-establish safety in the body, we will notice the darkness lift - even if it is just slightly at first.
I have compiled a list of things we can do when we are experiencing depression and other forms of dysregulation that help to establish feelings of safety in our nervous systems. Again, having a level of compassion for ourselves, as well as, acceptance that we may not want to do these things in the moment, can allow for moving forward out of the depressive episode. In addition, below you will find a list of more activities found to relieve depressive episodes and feelings:
COPING MECHANIMSMS FOR DEPRESSION
Getting outside: Walking, sitting on a bench outside, sitting on the grass, being surrounded by nature, focusing on natural wonders of awe (eg. stars, waterfalls, flowers etc.)
Eating at least one to two meals or snacking throughout the day
Completing a simple task
Doing something creative - it doesn’t need to be “good”, just let yourself create
Listening to music
Going to a place where other people are present (cafe, yoga class, library)
Watching a favourite movie
Getting off social media and mindlessly scrolling
Staying away from alcohol and drugs
Being around animals
Going to a plant nursery
Focusing on a task for an allotted amount of time
Reconnecting to your values and engaging in an activity which is in line with one or more of them
Making a list of things you are thankful for
Helping someone else/ random acts of kindness
Staying off the news
Trying a new hobby or activity