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Being Intentional in Your Response to Depression

What do we do when life feels like it’s piling on top of us?  In depression, we bury our optimism, hope, and joy and react with anger, fear, or guilt, allowing overwhelming circumstances to knock us flat.  Emotional depression can become an automatic reaction to life’s trials.  Reactions are automatic, but responses need not be.  Depression does not have to be automatic.

Even if we may immediately react negatively, we can learn to intentionally reassert positive emotions.  This may not be our first reaction, but our first reaction doesn’t need to be our only response.  Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created.  You have to rise above it to the next level.”  Our reactions are on one level, but we can learn to take our responses to the next level.

The next level above automatic reaction is intentional response.  You need to be intentional in your response to life and its circumstances.  You need to deliberately recognize, promote, and sustain optimism, hope, and joy.  In the midst of depression, the thought of sustaining even a modicum of positive feelings may appear overwhelming, a burden too heavy to bear.  But aren’t you already carrying around the weight of emotional baggage?  Think how much energy it takes to carry around anger, fear, and guilt.  When you begin to put those emotions down, you will find strength for optimism, hope, and joy.

Negative emotions may be part of your personal landscape.  If that is the case, you’ll need to intentionally seek out and rediscover optimism, hope, and joy.  Optimism, hope, and joy are responses that come from within you and are not necessarily derived from your outside circumstances.  Regardless of the circumstances, you determine to remain optimistic; you decide to have hope; you derive joy.

Intentionally choosing how to respond to life is not a trivial matter; this attitude can save your life.  In his book Man’s Search of Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl set forth to answer the question why some people lived through the Nazi Germany concentration camps and some did not.  He found that it rarely had anything to do with their physical state.  Some prisoners who were extremely debilitated or ill continued to live, while some others who were in much better physical shape died.  The difference, he found, was in their attitude to life.

Frankl discovered that in the final analysis, strength for living is found in the ability to choose your attitude — your response — to any given situation.  The situations he and others dealt with on a daily basis were deprivation, starvation, physical disease, and beatings.  Yet in the midst of the hell of the concentration camp, he and others intentionally chose to respond with optimism and hope.

Frankl, who could find positives in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp, demonstrates that each of us has the opportunity to find positives in our own situations.  We will not always have control over our circumstances, but we can determine to hold on to optimism, hope, and joy — to recognize them, promote them, and sustain them.  This is the challenge for those who are depressed.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

Pouncing on the Positive Threads in Your Life

Negative threads have a way of weaving into your life with very little effort. They are simply part of your world. Picking those threads out is very helpful. It is also helpful to pack your life with so many good and positive things there isn’t much room left for anything else. Knowing this, you must be very intentional about pouncing on the positive threads that abound each day and making sure to weave them tightly into your life.

This is similar to growing a healthy green lawn. The positives in life are the blades of grass. The negatives in life are the weeds. In order to grow a healthy green lawn, you need to remove the weeds, but you also need to fertilize the grass. When the grass is fertilized, it fills in the holes left by the weeds. The thicker the grass, the harder it is for the weeds to get a foothold. Your life is kind of like that; the more positives you grab a hold of and integrate into your life, the harder it is for those stray negatives to find a place to land.

Some of you will complain that there is very little positive in your life to grab on to. This may be because you’ve stored up so much pain that there isn’t room in your life or heart for much else. Focusing on the negatives often blinds you to seeing the positives. So, be patient with yourself and start small. Start by recognizing there are positives in this world. The apostle John says, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16).

It is all too easy in life to see the negatives, to concentrate on the frustrations, problems, challenges, irritations, and annoyances. Sometimes, it can seem as if these are the only things that come your way. But the positives are often hidden beneath the clamor of the negative and must be looked for and focused on.

This is something Julie needed to learn how to do. Growing up, Julie had learned from her parents that she was not special. In fact, she had been told on multiple occasions that she was a “mistake.” She’d heard her parents refer to her the way she was the “mistake baby,” born long after her parents thought they were through having children. Julie always felt like she was in the way of her parents’ jobs and activities. They would often remark that they were “too old” or “too tired” and often used this as an excuse to distance themselves from her life.

Living as an only child for most of her childhood because her siblings were grown and gone from the house, she had only herself for company. She struggled in school, unlike her older, smarter siblings. Naturally shy, she tended to blend into her surroundings, instead of standing out like her sister and brother, who appeared to excel in whatever they did. No, Julie wasn’t special, and she learned not to expect anything special happening to her.

In order for Julie to break free of this shell of mediocrity she placed around herself, she needed to start seeing the positives in her life. She needed to start seeing herself as a positive in this world, instead of some sort of neutral. Her assignment was to come up out of her shell and concentrate on the positives. She was to be alert and watchful for them. When something positive occurred or a positive thought broke through to her mind, she was to pounce on it! The more positives she pounded on, integrating them into her life, the more positives she saw.

You can be like Julie and learn to pounce on positives. As John says, these blessings are real and out there and available for you to grab on to (John 1:16). Hold each positive up to the light; think about it. Meditate on it. Allow it to fill your mind and thoughts.

By doing this, do you realize you are actually thinking about and meditating on God and his character? God is the source of all good, all positive, in this world. By focusing always on the negative and disbelieving the positive, you devalue the power of God in your life. God is not powerless to provide your life with positives. Did you know God refers to himself as “Almighty” more than three hundred times in the Bible? God is not just powerful, he is Almighty, and that includes over your life and thoughts.

Go ahead and pounce on some positives

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression and looking to find your path to happiness, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. In addition to physical, mental, and emotional treatment of depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE offers Christian support to address the spiritual components and struggles in a person’s life that affect grief and depression. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a depression recovery specialist today.

 

Mastering Your Mood

One of the skills we teach clients is mood mastery, or how to choose their mood. All of us have a profusion of moods at our disposal at any given time. So often, we choose negative moods simply because we’ve formed a habit of submitting to their strong presence. We’ve allowed them to take shortcuts to the forefront of our moods.

Mood mastery is akin to choosing your attitude. Mood and attitude are linked; they are interrelated but separate. Mood is how we are feeling; attitude is how we respond to the mood. Choosing our attitude, our response to the mood, is one way we can actively achieve mastery over any mood. No matter what mood we initially experience, our attitude can either reinforce that mood or cause us to choose another.

Let’s be clear. Choosing a mood is not about reacting to an event or circumstance. Things happen and each of us will have a natural reaction, such as a surprise or anxiety, that may be similar to the way anyone else might react. It is what happens next that falls under the category of choosing our mood. After our initial reaction, we have the opportunity to review that reaction. Then, we can intentionally respond with a continuation of that reaction, or respond with one of our other mood choices.

Here’s a common, everyday example: We’re in our car on the way to work. Maybe we’re running a little big late. All of a sudden, the car next to us swerves into our lane, cutting us off. Our reaction is probably one of shock and surprise. It may even be anger. It’s upsetting when we feel endangered or surprised by the irresponsible action of another driver.

What happens next, however, is a choice. We can choose to take a deep breath and back off the bumper of that car, realizing it would probably be a good idea to give a little bit more room between that driver and ourselves. In other words, we can choose to respond intelligently.

We can also choose to respond angrily. An extreme example of this response has the name road rage. It begins when the actions, real or perceived, of another driver produces an angry, aggressive response. Even if it doesn’t go as far as road rage, we can still respond by using that event to fuel a bad mood. We can choose to react to that event by remaining angry about it long after the fact.

If an event such as getting cut off on the roadway can produce a day-ruining reaction, it’s not surprising that other, more serious or traumatic events can lead to a sustained bad mood lasting months or even years. Once people understand this concept, we work to support them in expanding the moods they choose from when responding to life.

Here are a few techniques to help you master your mood, regardless of what situation life presents to you:

  1. Practice Gratitude: When confronted with a challenging situation or just a “bad mood,” instead of dwelling on the negative situation, refocus to think about five things you are grateful for in your life. If you can think of a gratitude directly linked to the seemingly negative situation at hand, even better!
  2. Breathe Deeply: Before your emotions carry you away, stop and take ten, slow deep breaths. This will send oxygen throughout your body, physically calming you and putting you in a better state to deal with the situation positively.
  3. Get Active: As you probably know, exercise can be a great, natural mood booster, triggering the release of mood-boosting endorphins.
  4. Go Outside: Nature has an amazing affect on our mood, vitality, and overall health. Spending time outdoors and in nature has been proven to boost your serotonin levels and improve your mood.
  5. Help Someone: Sometimes the best thing to do when you are feeling upset, angry, or down is to do something for someone else. Find an opportunity to give of yourself, even in a small way, to help someone. Whether it is opening the door, buying someone a coffee, or paying someone a compliment, these small acts of kindness can sometimes have a greater affect on the giver than the receiver.
  6. Smile: Even if you have to fake a smile at first, try it anyways!

A good mood allows you to experience life in its fullest. But sometimes a good mood doesn’t come naturally, while unconstructive moods do. To overcome bad moods and negative thought patterns, you must turn the flow of this negative tide and strive, even if it seems like you’re paddling against a strong current, to promote optimism, hope, and joy. Once you begin putting good energy out into the world, you’ll be amazed what you’ll get in return!

The Center • A Place of HOPE has been consistently ranked among the top treatment facilities in the country for depression. If you or a loved on are struggling to overcome negative feelings and depression, call 1-888-771-5166 / 425-771-5166 to talk with our team of specialists.

Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Turing Your Down into Up: A Realistic Plan for Healing from Depression.