i am depressedMany of us who suffer from depression get locked into patterns of negative thinking, feeling and actions that we perform almost automatically. Our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations become jumbled and we can’t decipher which is triggering our negative behaviour towards ourselves. All we might realize is that we’re locked into some sort of habit that we can’t seem to break. We often reinforce these habits by repeatedly thinking and acting a certain way, which can make us believe we have no choice in being the way we are, writes Martine Batchelor in her book, “Let Go.”

 

When we’re like this, caught up in our habits, it’s very easy for us to identify with our habitual thoughts and feelings. We might say, “Oh, I’m so depressed,” or “I am such a miserable person.” In truth, though, we’re just feeling depressed and miserable.  By saying that we’re depressed, we narrow our view of ourselves. We take away many possibilities for recovery.

 

“I’m feeling depressed,” describes the experience you’re currently having. Saying “I am depressed,” is where we start identifying with our negative feelings. “I’m a depressed person,” solidifies these thoughts even further. These three statements are very similar, and we might use them interchangeably to describe this situation. But we need to be aware of the subtle differences in each and how they affect how we identify ourselves. Repeating one of these statements over and over to ourselves just strengthens the hold that a particular statement has on us.

 

If we’re able to ask ourselves, “What am I feeling depressed about?” “Where does this depression come from?” or “Who is feeling depressed?” we’re able to keep open the possibility of identifying the depression as something separate from ourselves. We’re able to reduce our identification with the depression. We lift the burden of the depression off ourselves because it is not part of ourselves, it’s just something that’s happening to us.

 

We can use mindfulness and meditation to help us become more aware of our negative habits and attachments. Batchelor wrote, “The Buddha encouraged his followers to make four great efforts: to prevent from arising negative states that have not arisen; to let go of negative states once they have arisen; to give rise to positive states that have not yet arisen; to sustain positive states once they have arisen. These efforts encourage the cultivation of positive patterns as a means to help overcome negative patterns.”

 

Using mindfulness practice or meditation we can examine our negative patterns with an eye to becoming more aware of what triggers these patterns. One of the patterns that I have the most trouble with is my belief that I’m not good enough. It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s never as good as it could have been. If I write a blog post that gets 1,000 hits, I’m disappointed because I wanted it to get 1,500. So what can I do to try to turn this way of thinking around?

 

The first thing I can do is to increase my awareness of when I feel this way. By being mindful about how I’m feeling, I can start to look for triggers and patterns in the way I think, feel and act. When I’m feeling down, I should check in with myself to explore whether I’m feeling not good enough. If I am feeling that way, then I want to explore that feeling further. What has happened today that might make me feel this way about myself? Was there a single event? Am I just caught up in a repetitive pattern of negative thoughts?

 

If it’s a single event that brought on my feelings of not being good enough, then I need to look at that event to see what triggered the negative thoughts. In the case of the disappointing blog post, there are several things for me to explore. Given my history with this pattern, the first thing I would want to look at would be my expectations for the post. Was it my best work? Was it posted on a day that there just weren’t many people online? How many hits does the average post get? More often than not, this would be the point I could stop because my expectations for anything I do are unnecessarily high. But even if that wasn’t the case, there could still be other, rational reasons for the poor performance – and that’s what we want to look for – we want to find facts that will dispute the negative feelings and patterns we have. Maybe there were only 1,000 people on the website that day and maybe they all read my post, but to get 1,500 would have been an impossibility.

 

That kind of thinking could also help me break a pattern of negative thoughts. Finding something – anything – that makes our negative thoughts untrue, shows us the lie in those patterns and helps us expand our perspectives on ourselves. The more we can find reasons that our patterns are untrue, the sooner we’ll be able to break the habits. We need to reinforce with ourselves that we are not our habitual thoughts and feelings. We need to start building new, healthy habits.

 

Being mindful and aware of how we think, feel and act can help us break the negative patterns that keep us mired in depression. We are not depressed, we feel depressed. This shift in perspective can be a huge first step in building a healthy outlook on ourselves. Continued practice of mindfulness and a close examination of our triggers can help us gain more awareness of how our patterns work, giving us tools we can use in breaking down the habits that hold us down.

 

Jason Large

Daily Zen

Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at: https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf

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2 Comments

  • I believe it is universally accepted in enlightened society that telling depressed people to “get over it”, “think happy thoughts”, and “it’s all in your mind” shows a complete disregard for the realities of depression, and is a sign of oafish and backwards views regarding mental illness.

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