Feeling empty? Unsatisfied? Alone? Purposeless and lacking in motivation?
Make some deep and vulnerable friendships, exercise, start liking yourself even if you lost your job and Sara didn’t invite you to the last four girls nights; focus on your breathing for 10 min a day, nix the relationship with the malignant narcissist, and volunteer. Oh- also lay off the carbs, be grateful af for everything, and get some sleep for gashsakes. There ya go. Simple.
All better, right?
So we KNOW these things, especially if a few are used in conjunction with one another, help bust depression. But, if therapists went around dishing advice like self help books, therapists would be in danger of inflicting the same pain that self help books inflict: a shaming sentiment of why-can’t-you-just-do-this-it’s-so-easy-duh-so-you-must-be-really-effed-up [insert condescending glance over bifocals or self-righteous smirk. You pick.].
The truth is, most of the things on that “tidy little list brought to you by ted.com,” are made brutally difficult by the existence of REAL thoughts and feelings, which are brought on by REAL neurology (For example, people that get “stuck” or ruminate on certain thoughts or beliefs aren’t of weak character, they have particular neuroatanomy, that unfortunately is further strengthened by negative rumination, but was there from the beginning nevertheless.)
Let’s take the idea of making a deep and meaningful friendship: Thoughts about yourself and others- ubiquitous, formative thoughts you didn’t even know know you had- have been pummeling every fiber of your being for your entire life, and now fuel somewhat of a fight-flight-or-flee response in you. Like perhaps you think you are rejectable and others expressing disapproval is both meaningful to your identity and catastrophic. Or social media has solidified your belief that everyone you’re age already has their friends and it’s all a superficial mess of annoying cliques. I mean you haven’t given it much thought, but when you really investigate and are really honest, those beliefs are right there, screaming “danger! Danger!” in the face of such a therapeutic suggestion.
Additionally, a lot of people have had painful social experiences, tell themselves they lack social skills (almost always a case of no confidence rather than skill deficit), or were simply not socialized to meaningfully connect (Like sharing goals and vulnerabilities related to policy, not just talking politics or slamming candidates.) Anyway. All this makes the “make a friend” advice sound a little superficially lacking, huh?
Another example of the absurdity of simplistic advice is “Get 8 hrs of sleep.” In this age of constant stimulation and falling asleep with our phones in our faces, people not only need to be guided through practicing good behavioral/nutritional “sleep hygiene,” but they need to actually practice calming their mind before they can “sleep.” Ammirite? (I am. I’m the one who hears about what your mind does when the lights go out and you tell that obnoxiously loud mind to “sleep.”)
Therefore, before you go trying to volunteer or make a friend or run a 10k, I have few pieces of therapeutic guidance that hopefully will make you want to punch your therapist a little less:
1) Start small. Goal seem overwhelming? Take the tiniest of first steps (send a vulnerable/nice text; walk around the block for 5 min, get up 15 min earlier, mix half diet coke or water with your coke…wherever.) and congratulate yourself. Just don’t fall into the trap of “all or nothing” or “success or failure” thinking, especially when it comes to your efforts to manage your depression. As you engage in behaviors that impress yourself, you will begin to notice that your self-talk and beliefs about yourself/your life change, which will in-turn fuel more positive behaviors. (I actually prefer thr bottom-up approach instead of starting with challenging thoughts.)
2) Try mindfulness for 10 min a day, and EXPECT it to be hard without judging yourself. If 10 min is too much, do 5 min. If that’s too much, do 1 min. Learning to notice your assumptions, beliefs, and distractions, will make it easier to be present, engaged, and not act in a way that avoids them or makes them worse. It will also help with mental clarity, organization, and yes, sleep.
Ok, people! That’s all I got! From the therapist that doesn’t want to be punched in the face for any basic advice, but recently discovered that mixing water with Pepsi doesn’t really change the taste and believes that such advice is almost as life-altering as anything in this post.