“I am bent, but not broken. I am scarred, but not disfigured. I am sad, but not hopeless. I am tired, but not lifeless. I am afraid, but not powerless. I am angry, but not bitter. I am depressed, but not giving up.”
Mental Health America states women experience depression around twice as often as men. As women, it is important to be mindful of your mood. Understanding what depression looks like is critical so you are able to seek help when needed and to develop tools to help decrease your depressed mood.
Common Depression Symptoms in Women
What does depression look like? Depression symptoms in women can vary, but common symptoms include feelings of emptiness, hopelessness and sadness, irritability, anxiousness and guilt, feelings of exhaustion, loss of interest in the things you once enjoyed, inability to concentrate or remember details, physical symptoms which can include aches and pains, digestive issues, headaches, lack of energy, feeling out of control, mood swings, panic attacks and feelings of tension.
Depression causes feelings of isolation and hopelessness making it difficult to fight alone. Developing a social support system is an important step to combat these feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Steps for Combatting Depression
As a therapist would say, having healthy coping or a toolbox to attack these symptoms is the first step to combat depression. The toolbox has elements that fight off the feelings that depression brings.
Start with Step One: Develop a healthy support system, whether this be a support group of those experiencing depression, a spiritual group or just a positive friendship group.
Reach out to those you trust and practice externalizing feelings that you have been storing inside. Having individuals to communicate with when you feel things are hopeless can provide a little piece of hope for that day and encouragement that you were not able to provide for yourself.
Depression often leaves you with no energy or desire to do much of anything, which makes it easy to stay in bed. However, the problem with staying in bed is that it increases the already present feelings of loneliness and isolation making it an unending negative cycle of depressed mood.
Step Two: Get out of the house, even on those days where it feels impossible, at least take a stroll to the end of your street. Getting out of bed and having a purpose for your day provides elevated mood. When people experience depression they are lacking the chemical serotonin. Sunlight provides serotonin, which boosts a happy mood, so a simple stroll provides more than an increasing heart rate but increases feel good chemicals.
Step Three: Take care of your physical health. The mind and body are connected. Often times the body responds to what the head is feeling. Make sure you are getting the recommended amount of sleep. Often times it is hard for people who are struggling with depression to sleep due to worries or thoughts that keep them up at night.
Identifying your stressors and managing them is important to getting a good night’s rest and decreasing depressed mood. Exercise is also a good way to increase serotonin. Exercising provides an outlet to relieve stress. It also can be combined with social aspects, which is good for mental health. Relaxation and meditation are also positive ways to release negative feelings and free the mind of stressors.
Step Four: Be mindful of your diet. Certain ingredients in food, such as caffeine, unhealthy fats, simple carbohydrates, and alcohol can cause a quick crash and bring on lethargic or negative moods. It is common for women to go to food for comfort when their mood is down. Avoid this unhealthy coping skill. It will only provide temporary fulfillment and increased guilt later on.
Step Five: Identify your unhealthy coping skills that only contribute to an increased depressed state. Know what works and what only supplies temporary relief.
Step Six: Seek professional help. If you know you are experiencing these symptoms, do not try to walk this road alone. There is someone out there who wants to help you find hope again.
It is common for individuals struggling with depression to have irrational or faulty thinking patterns. It is important for an individual struggling with depressed mood to pay attention to their inner dialogue. Once the individual is able to identify their inner dialogue they can then change their negative self talk to positive self-talk.
15 Common Cognitive Distortions
Some of the ways individuals convince themselves that their faulty thinking is true are by using cognitive distortions. To eliminate the use of cognitive distortions one must be aware of what they are and which one they continually catch themselves using. There are fifteen most common cognitive distortions. Identify which ones you may be using that keep you trapped in believing the unhealthy lies of your faulty thinking:
In this cognitive distortion, there is a strong focus on the negatives and the positives of a situation become disregard. Even though the positives might outweigh the negatives the negative becomes the focus. Dwelling on the negative lengthens this unhealthy distortion and the false reality encourages the depressed mood to be present.
2. Polarized (or “Black and White”) Thinking
In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” There is no room for error in this type of thinking. There is no convincing the individual of any gray hues. This often is perfectionistic thinking.
In this cognitive distortion, we come to an overall conclusion because of a single event or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, we expect it to happen over and over again. This one event now forces the individual to think that this unpleasant event is now going to continue to be the experience again and again.
4. Jumping to Conclusions
Individuals jump to a conclusion without any evidence to do so. They may think they know how an event may happen and believe it is going to happen that way.
For example, a person may feel that a friend is upset at them but will never ask or discuss with the friend whether they are correct. Another example is a student may feel that they are going to bomb a test with no evidence to support this belief. Their feeling guides their belief even though no actual information can back it up.
5. CatastrophizingWe expect things to always go wrong. This is also known as “magnifying or minimizing thinking.” In this type of thinking, we use a lot of “what if” scenarios.
For example, a person might amplify the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may decrease the importance of a huge success stating that it is not a big deal.
Personalization is a distortion that people experience when they feel that they are the effect of things that happen. For example, an individual may believe that their boss is in a bad mood because they did something to upset him.
7. Control Fallacies
If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”
8. The Fallacy of Fairness
We feel resentment because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us when we’re growing up and something doesn’t go our way, “Life isn’t always fair.” People who go through life applying a measuring stick against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel bad and negative because of it. Because life isn’t “fair” – things will not always work out in your favor, even when you think they should.
We hold other people responsible for our circumstances or we hold ourselves responsible for the result of an issue. For example, I would have completed my run faster if Johnny would not have kept me up so late. Johnny cannot be the one who kept you up. It was a decision you made for yourself.
10. ShouldsEveryone has an idea or moral compass of what should and should not be done. We often try to motivate ourselves by using “should” statements or we may feel guilt or hurt if someone breaks the rule of a “should not” concept.
For example, “I should clean my house. I shouldn’t be eating this dessert.” Musts and oughts are also the same as using “should” and “should not” statements. The emotional consequence is guilt. When a person is using should or should not statements when they are directed at other people, such as “he should not have hung out with his friend when his family was in town.” This produces a feeling of anger because of the should/should not belief.
11. Emotional Reasoning
This distortion is guided by emotion. If someone feels that are something then it must be true. If someone feels that they are annoying then they must be annoying to others.
12. The Fallacy of Change
We expect other people to change for us because we need them to, if we just nag them enough they will change. They need to change because it effects my happiness because I depend on them to complete me.
13. Global Labeling
We oversimplify one or two qualities into a negative global judgment. These are extreme forms of generalizing, and also known as “labeling” and “mislabeling.” Instead of describing a mistake in the context of a certain situation, people will attach an unhealthy label to themselves.
For example, someone might state, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they have failed at a task. When someone else’s behavior bothers a person, they may attach an unhealthy label to him, such as “He has horrible character.”
Mislabeling involves describing an event with words that are emotionally loaded. For example, instead of saying someone drops her children off at daycare every day it is translated into the statement such as “she abandons her children to strangers.”
14. Always Being Right
We are always trying to prove that we are right, it is not possible for us to be wrong. We will fight and bicker our point to prove that we were not incorrect. At all cost even the emotional damage it causes relationships.
15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy
We think that if we do good we deserve good. We should be paid off for our good works. Like there is a tally system and it is our right to get good things in return.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms please do not hesitate to seek help from a professional. Depression should be taken seriously. Although it may be a normal response to something you are going through that does not mean you have to suffer alone.
You are in control of change and it is important that you take the step of seeking professional help to find solutions to your deep hurt. Therapy can be your place of healing. You can learn how to fight your negative thoughts and be equipped with healthy coping skills to decrease the chances of your depression returning.
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” – Christopher Reeve
Photos courtesy of the author and used by permission.