2. The depressed response: Now we step into a major cause of depression, which means that it is also more difficult to treat. If you don't want to be overweight, it's much easier not to put the pounds on than to lose them once they are on. The same holds good for depression. It's much easier to learn the right response than to get rid of the wrong ones.

We all have self-defeating responses, but we rarely take the time or effort to replace them with better alternatives. Here are the alternatives to the thoughts that automatically come to mind when you're depressed:

It's my fault.

Instead, you could think: "It's not my fault; it's nobody's fault; the fault hasn't been determined yet; it may be nobody's fault; or finding fault does no good—we should be focusing on the solution."

I'm not good enough.

Instead, you could think: "I am good enough; I don't need to compare myself to others; it's not about good or bad; 'good enough' is relative; I'll be better tomorrow; or I'm on a learning curve."

Nothing will work out.

Instead, you could think: "Something will occur to me; things have a way of working out; I can ask for help; if one thing doesn't work out, there's always something else; or being pessimistic doesn't help me find a solution."

I knew things would go wrong.

Instead, you could think: "No, I didn't know; I'm second-guessing; I'm just feeling anxious; it will pass; or looking backward is only good if it leads to a better future."

I can't do anything about it.

Instead, you could think: "I can do something about it; I can find someone to do something about it; I always have the option of walking out; I need to study the situation more thoroughly; or being defeatist isn't helping me make things better."

It was just a matter of time

Instead, you could think: "I'm not a fatalist; this was unpredictable; this too shall pass; it never rains all the time; or being fatalistic robs me of free choice."

To prevent depression, you have to recognize a depressed response and then learn new responses to counteract it. I am not saying that all the alternatives work all the time. The goal is flexibility. The nasty trick of the depressed response is that it paints everything with the same brush. You feel helpless about repairing your car's broken alternator (who wouldn't?) but also about getting out of bed to face the day (a sign of depression). To become flexible, you must beat the depressed response at its own game.

How to do that? Refuse to believe the first reaction you may have—such as sadness, helplessness and hopelessness. Go to the list of alternative responses, and find one that works. This takes time and effort, but it pays off handsomely. Learning a new response forms new neural pathways in the brain. It also opens doors.

What kinds of doors? When you are depressed, you tend to be isolated, lonely, apathetic, inactive, passive and closed to change. The new doors are exactly the opposite. By introducing a new response, you resist the temptation to fall back on old, stale beliefs. Instead of being isolated, you realize that other people are good for you. Instead of being passive, you see that taking charge is good for you.

Thus, you can break down the depressed response, which feels so overwhelming that it blankets everything, into manageable parts. Inertia is depression's best friend. There's always a hump to get over before you can actually change. So pushing yourself over the hump is like opening a door to a new brain pattern. To put it simply, you alone have the power to change. Depression weaves the illusion that the power has been stripped away. In truth, you can reclaim it, step by step, once you know how.

Breaking the habit of depression


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