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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.

The Power of HOPE

To understand the true power of hope, I think it’s a good idea to contemplate what the world would look like without hope. It is a world without anticipation, without desire or expectation—a flat, monochrome world with only a single what-is view. First Chronicles 29:15 calls it a shadow world.

Over my time in counseling, I have seen too many people trapped in this shadow world without true hope. I have seen them desperately reach for anything—harmful, dangerous, destructive, false—to try to provide some sort of color of hope in the shadow. Imagine my position—within their world without hope I have to tell them that the one thing they cling to for a modicum of hope really isn’t hope at all. I have to point out the painfully obvious: The hope they cling to—whatever it is—is false hope.

If this is all I did and all I could offer, I wouldn’t do it. It would be too bleak. I praise God, however, that my job isn’t just to point out false hope but to point toward true hope. This is hope that sings with a symphony of desire, expectation, trust, sweet anticipation, and even sweeter fulfillment. This is hope that sings with God’s voice. This is not a shadow world; it is quite literally heaven. And what I get to do is show people the way to find their own patch of heaven on earth, through an understanding and connection to true hope.

Now that’s a job I believe in. It’s why The Center I founded thirty years ago has become knows as A Place of HOPE. It is a place where people find the strength and courage to give up their false hopes and the joy to discover their true hope. Hope has come to color everything we do, from the name of our website to titles on my books to our theme verse of Jeremiah 29:11. People come to us riding on the exhausted, failing horses of false hope and leave soaring on the wings of true hope.

This is not an easy journey. It’s not even an intuitive one for many. Letting go of the reins of a false hope in order to place yourself within reach of true hope is very much a leap of faith.

I love the Indiana Jones movies with Harrison Ford. There is a scene in the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where in order to save his dying father, Indy must successfully navigate a series of tests to reach the Holy Grail. At one point, Indy reaches a place where he must make a proverbial leap of faith.

Finding himself thwarted on the wrong side of a bottomless chasm, Indy must leap out into the apparent nothingness of space in order to keep going. He steels himself and steps out into the air of the abyss, only to land on a thin stone bridge that was impossible to see before. Once he realizes the path is there, that it is real, he successfully makes his way safely across to find the Grail and save his father. The path across was there the whole time; he just couldn’t see it. The only way to see it was to trust it was there.

The leap between false hope and true hope can be very much like that step into nothingness. On the one side, the false hope seems so substantial, so present, so there. The false hope is a known quantity. Even though a part of you knows it doesn’t live up to its promises and you won’t get to where you need to go by sticking to your false hope, another part of you is terrified of the abyss you’re stepping out into in order to grasp hold of true hope.

You are terrified of the unseen. It is that unseen nature of true hope that requires this leap of faith.

With an excessity, you know what you already have. Hopefully, by now, you recognize that what you have really isn’t much and that you’ve been putting all of your hope and trust in a dead horse, unable to save you. It’s time to let go of the known—the seen—and reach toward something better, something unseen.

Hope, then, is a leap of faith. Hope and faith are linked. It takes faith to hope, and hope fuels faith. It’s time to place your hope and faith in something more reliable, more trustworthy, than an excessity.

 Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 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.

 

 

The Power of Intentional Response: Positive Self Talk

If you know what it’s like to feel at the mercy of your mood, you may be pleasantly surprised to realize you have more power than you think. In fact, what you’re thinking is the very thing that can determine whether your mood turns good or bad.

Every day, we have experiences that illicit in us automatic emotional reactions. Sometimes they’re positive, like the way we react to a hug, a compliment, or a chat with a close friend. But sometimes they’re negative, like the way we react to dropping a glass on the kitchen floor, getting cut off on the freeway, or having a conflict with a colleague at work.

Considering that each of these negative examples are common occurrences we all experience now and then, the impact we allow them to have on our day may seem disproportionate. Why? Because these kinds of events trigger negative self-talk that reinforces core beliefs we have about ourselves, other people, and the way the world works:

“I can’t do anything right.”

“People are so inconsiderate.”

“I don’t get along with anyone.”

While you may have no control over thoughts that pop into your head, you do have control over the thoughts you choose to have in response:

“I choose to accept and grow from my mistakes.”

“I choose to forgive the mistakes of others.”

“I choose to accept others for who they are.”

Of course, it doesn’t take any notable event for negative self-talk to play in our brains all day long. For many of us, it’s ingrained. If this sounds familiar, you may want to try an exercise we use in depression therapy at A Place of Hope.

Make a list of all the negative messages you remember hearing throughout your life, and to whom these messages may be attributed. Then, for each negative message on the list, write down a counteracting positive statement.

Note, positive self-talk is not self-deception, as explained in my book, Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan For Healing From Depression:

“Positive self-talk is not mentally looking at circumstances with eyes that see only what you want to see. The practice of positive self-talk is often the process that allows you to discover the obscured optimism, hope, and joy in any given situation.

“Positive self-talk is about recognizing the truth, in situations and in yourself. “

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