Articles : Winning Your Battle Over the Blues

By: Dr. Paola Lake

Have you been experiencing a depressed mood, a loss of interest in activities that you previously found enjoyable, or feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt? If so, you may be experiencing symptoms of depression. While other symptoms and conditions need to be present in order to consider an actual diagnosis of depression, even a mild but persistent state of feeling "blue" can have a negative impact on your quality of life. The more persistent and severe your symptoms, the more likely your depression will negatively impact other areas of your life, such as interpersonal relationships or your ability to engage in normal day-to-day activities.

Of course, negative events or traumas experienced in a person's life often involve facing challenges in terms of adjusting to losses and disappointments. While depression may be a common response to adverse circumstances in life, there are number of factors that can affect your adjustment and ability to reconnect to feelings of contentment and hope in life.

One important factor that affects our mood is related to how we interpret and make sense of adverse life experiences. For example, a student may attribute failing an exam to being stupid or a man may perceive one woman's rejection as a never-ending pattern of failure in relationships. In both cases, the individuals likely have inaccurately interpreted their negative experiences in such a way that contributes to loss of hope. The student attributed his failure to a stable and enduring trait (i.e., being stupid) and the man predicted his future failure in relationships based on one experience of rejection. They both dismissed other possible explanations for their experiences. For example, the student possibly needed more time to study and the man likely would have encountered a more suitable woman at a future time.

While the examples above may seem overly simplistic, they highlight the importance that attitudes and beliefs can play in our mood and our reaction to events. A number of other styles of thinking and beliefs also contribute to a depressed mood, such as being overly perfectionistic, self-critical, catastrophizing or taking the behavior of others personally. Challenging such maladaptive beliefs, therefore, will be one important step in overcoming depression. Interpreting negative events more realistically and developing a more self-accepting and nurturing attitude towards yourself are critical in helping you feel more optimistic in life. For example, instead of beating yourself up over mistakes or failures, develop a more forgiving attitude towards yourself, allow for mistakes, and learn what you might need to do to succeed next time around. Practice being more appreciative of your strengths and acknowledging them on a daily basis.

Of course, other factors may help in alleviating depression. Re-engaging in pleasurable activities, exercising to enhance your physical health and energy level, and developing positive and supportive relationships are all important for your overall emotional and physical well-being. There also may be important skills you need to acquire in order to increase your self-confidence and deal more effectively with stressors, such as developing social skills, enhancing your ability to communicate and be assertive, using relaxation or visualization, connecting to your spiritual values and beliefs, or using goal-setting to help achieve desired goals.

A final consideration in overcoming your depression is obtaining medical and psychological treatment for your condition. If your depression is unremitting, you may be experiencing a biochemical imbalance that may be helped by medication from your family physician. A psychologist or counselor may be helpful in terms of providing guidance in overcoming depressive symptoms and enhancing your overall coping strategies. A mental health professional can be particularly helpful for individuals with unremitting depression that is complicated by a number of life stressors. Regardless of your circumstance, the key is to find sources that rekindle your sense of hope and faith in life. As stated by Walter Anderson, "true hope dwells on the possible, even when life seems to be a plot written by someone who wants to see how much adversity we can overcome."

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Dr. Lake will be adding more articles to this section soon.