‘People are not disturbed by events but by the view they hold about them.’ Epictitus
This principle is at the heart of nearly all emotional and behavioural change. It can be challenging particularly if at the moment you are feeling depressed.
There are many different types of depression. Some forms are biological like clinical depression. Here the depression may not be a reaction to something that has happened but more of a chemical imbalance. This is best treated with medication and then with therapy. Other types of depression include ‘reactive depression’. This type of depression is usually triggered when loss or failure is experienced and you end up feeling stuck in it.
The emotion of depression is commonly felt with other emotions like anxiety, anger, guilt but whereas anxiety is an emotion about something that might happen, depression is an emotion to something that has happened. So you may feel depressed about failing at something, losing something or someone. You may even feel depressed about the fact that you have been in state of stress or anxiety and now think this is how it will always be for me i.e. you believe that you have lost your old self or failed at solving your anxiety issues.
When you feel depressed, you feel like the sun has gone out of your life and more significantly that that it won’t come back again. It’s a state when you think that the future is all dark and bleak and you lose all sense of hope. You will also experience a number variety of physical symptoms. For example, you may feel very tired and lethargic and your appetite may be affected. You may just want to curl up and sleep the depression away.
Sadness is the healthy version of depression. Sadness is also triggered when loss or failure happens but it is an emotional state that you naturally heal from. When you feel sad, you feel like at the moment the sun has gone out your life but more significantly you retain your sense of hope for the future, unlike when you feel depressed. So what causes the feelings of depression and sadness? The quote above gives the answer. It is our view point, attitude or more simply the way that we think about what has happened that causes our feelings. Your beliefs about your loss or failure can cause depression or sadness. This is good to know because we can change our beliefs or thinking. It means that change is possible in the here and now. It shows that we can free ourselves from negative and unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviour. It shows that we are not slaves what happens to us even if the things that happened were very bad.
All of us have two types of thinking patterns or beliefs, beliefs that are healthy (rational) and beliefs that are unhealthy (irrational). Healthy beliefs lead to emotional well-being and enable you to achieve your goals and to move on and heal yourself when something bad happens. Beliefs that are unhealthy lead you to feel stuck and disturbed and cause you to do things that sabotage your healing.
Healthy beliefs are flexible and are based on the things that you want, the things that you like, the things that you desire and prefer but they are realistic and consistent with reality. This means they are accepting that sometimes you may not get what you want. Reality shows us that. An example of a healthy belief about loss may be ‘I would have liked not to have lost my relationship but I accept that I did. This does not mean I am an unworthy or a Failure. I’m worthy but fallible. My worth does not depend on my loss’. Essentially, you do not put a condition on yourself despite your loss or despite your failures. This type of belief would cause sadness about the loss but not depression.
Unhealthy beliefs are the opposite of the healthy ones. They are inflexible, non accepting, rigid, absolutists or dogmatic. They are based on MUSTS, HAVE TO, GOT TO, NEED TO, ABSOLUTELY SHOULD. They are unrealistic and unhelpful to you because do not allow you to accept the loss or the failure. An example of an unhealthy belief about loss may be ‘I absolutely should not have lost my relationship. The fact that I did proves I’m a failure and worthless’. This type of belief would cause depression when loss or failure occurs. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a form of therapy that examines how our thinking, attitudes, beliefs, opinions and behaviour are formed, how they affect our success, our lives and feelings, and how changing them impacts positively on our future happiness.