Some people have certain susceptibilities, such as getting depressed or overly anxious, and rather than denying these susceptibilities, it’s best to accept them and learn to manage them better. Take depression, for instance. Studies show that people, who have experienced a Major Depressive Episode (MDE), have a 50% likelihood of reoccurrence. So if you have gone through depression in your life, then chances are that you will go through a similar episode at some point again. While you don’t need to be nervous about it all of the time, which would only add anxiety to the mix, you can accept the likelihood and do your best to recognize and manage the precursors to a MDE.
If the best predictor of the future is the past, then take a careful and honest look at your previous depressive episode(s). What thoughts, feelings, and behaviors preceded them? For example, did you lie in bed for a half hour after the alarm went off in the morning? Did you start taking longer to return people’s calls? Did you let your home get messier? Did you start ruminating about how you were a “failure, hopeless, single forever,” etc.? Were you feeling overwhelmed or stressed in at least two key areas of your life, such as relationship, career, or health?
Take note of what preceded the last time you became depressed so that you can take preemptive measures while you are still near the top of that slippery slope, before you slide fully downhill and land in a Major Depressive Episode. You know how hard it is to pull yourself out of there. Studies also show that MDE’s can end within 6 to 9 months without any kind of treatment. However, no one wants to feel depressed for months. And, no one wants to see a loved one depressed for months.
Understanding what thoughts and behaviors precipitate a MDE is imperative. If your memory is a bit hazy regarding this time prior to a depressive episode, then ask your spouse, a close friend, or family members. I guarantee you that they will remember a change in your behavior that they either took note of were concerned about before they realized that you were depressed. Then once you can see your pre-depression pattern more clearly, you can fashion some sort of a preemptive plan to halt your downward spiral. Again, look to your supportive partner, family, and friends. Speak with them and give them permission to call you on your “pre-depression behavior” as soon as they see it.
If you can remember how terribly you felt while depressed, write it down somewhere. Write the worst of it: how you felt, the painful thoughts you had. Keep it somewhere as a tool that you or a loved one can use when necessary to remind you of how bad it can get, so that you realize it’s better to head it off at the pass. People forget the depths of their feelings; they remember in theory but don’t remember exactly how they felt. It’s a funny phenomenon that we think that whatever we are currently feeling will just go on forever. (If we’re in love, we think it will never end, and if we’re depressed, we think it will never end.) But if you read about a past difficult time in a diary, it can help you remember exactly how badly you felt and motivate you to do whatever you need to in order to avoid that dark place, for your sake and that of your loved ones.
Then what do you do? There is no magic “snap out of it” formula for everyone. You will have to figure out what helped you in the past and be willing to try things that have helped others. Some suggestions are:
- reconnect emotionally with your partner
- get some aerobic exercise
- see a therapist or revisit a previous one
- take a quick trip to get a change of scenery and perspective
- spend time in nature
- learn something new and creative
- do some charity work and see that your life is not so bad and that you have something to contribute
- spend more time with friends and family so that you can see that people love and appreciate you
Act on these preemptive moves quickly, before the lack of energy and motivation that usually accompany MDE’s hit you.
You don’t have to live in fear of getting depressed again, but you need to be realistic. You survived depression before and you can survive again. But you may be able to save yourself and your family the pain of your experiencing a depressive episode again if you can put some carefully thought out preventative measures in place beforehand.