Depression can take hold when we least expect it as well as when times are hard. Sometimes when we feel we 'SHOULD' be happy, depression can appear....when we've just got that job we've always wanted, found a new relationship or had the much longed for baby. Or it may be that we feel trapped, feel there is no way out and we just have to put up with life as it is and can't make changes.
So, the question is, what can we do about depression when it arrives? What do we do when we think we've got everything we wanted, but its not working for us. Does it have signals that can alert us to it creeping up on us, or are there things we can do once we realise we're experiencing a depressive episode.
The good news is there are.
Here's Liz's lowdown on six key factors which can trigger depression and her top five on dealing with it.
1. Understand the triggers: the stuff that just really doesn't help us, like pressure to succeed and to pull ourselves together
Right from our early years we are commonly expected to behave well, fit in at school, work hard and then get settled, get the house and the 2.4 children. It can really feel like this is what everyone else is doing, that they are just getting on with it so why aren't we?
2. Social stigma is a big factor. When someone asks; "how are you?"- it can feel incredibly difficult to say; "well, actually I feel completely rubbish and that's putting it mildly". There is still a real stigma and misunderstanding in our society around mental health issues. We wouldn't dream of telling someone who is really unwell to pull themselves together and look on the bright side and yet this is often told to people with depression.
3. Feeling isolated and lacking support. When we don't talk about what is really bothering us we can begin to feel ashamed, depression feels like the dirty secret we are carrying around with us. Loneliness and isolation are huge triggers for depression - if no one knows how we feel how do we connect?
4. Low self-esteem. We can feel we are just not good enough, that other people are doing better, worrying less and just getting on with life and this can really trigger low mood. Yet one in four people experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.
5. Not feeling entitled to get down. There are huge misconceptions about depression as something that should only happen to other people with bigger problems than us. I shouldn't be depressed because on paper my life is ok. Yet, as soon as we look beneath the surface we realise that, yes there are triggers.
6. Triggering life events. Often, something happens, something changes in our lives (for good or bad) - an illness, a job change, a new baby, a relationship change, a bereavement - and so the list goes on. Life transitions can come with a sense of loss and often we don't get the chance to really process what has happened before life pushes us forward to the next thing.
So how do we heal?
1. By talking about it. The good news is that 95% of people who access therapy find it helpful and over 54% of women and 43% of men find it to be very helpful (statista.com). By talking about it with someone non-judgemental and by feeling understood and supported we can begin to heal. When we feel less isolated, less trapped inside our own heads and when we can begin to make sense of our experiences - the brain fog begins to lift.
2. By understanding and accepting ourselves. Most importantly, if I can begin to make sense of why I am depressed then some of the self-blame I feel begins to dissipate. It is the self-blame and low self-esteem that really gets us down so as this lifts so do we.
3. Self-belief brings new energy. If I feel lighter and more like a member of the human race again then I begin to feel more motivated. The vicious cycle of low mood and low motivation, both feeding each other, begins to get replaced with a positive cycle of growing self-belief and the ensuing energy to achieve goals.
4. By realising I am not perfect, I am human. Being human means being allowed to have off days, it means being allowed to have strengths and weaknesses, it means sometimes, yes we are going to worry about stuff because life in the modern world is hard. It means there isn't this unattainable standard we have to reach, the point is that it's trying to live well and to be ourselves that really matters.
5. By realising that changing takes time. I believe that really learning about ourselves and developing new ways of coping with situations takes a bit of time. Everyone is different and so the change process is also going to feel very different for each of us. The key though is that therapy is about working together towards lasting change that can impact the rest of our lives.
I hope these quick tips have been useful. For more information or links on coping with depression and other mental health issues, please do visit my page at www.lizdowncounselling.co.uk.