When Orion Lyonesse becomes depressed, she turns into a hermit. She doesn’t want to leave the house (not even to pick up the mail), and she cuts off contact with her friends and family.
“The more I am alone, the more the depression gets worse,” Lyonesse, artist and writer in Lake Stevens, Wash., Told WebMD in an email. “I don’t even want to cuddle my cats!”
Avoiding social contact is a common tendency that you might notice when you fall into depression. Some people skip activities they normally enjoy and isolate themselves from the world. Others turn to alcohol or junk food to mask their pain and unhappiness.
Depression traps vary from person to person, but what they have in common is that they can be used to make your mood worse, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle. Here are six behavioral traps that often accompany depression – and how you can avoid them as you, your doctor, and your therapist work to get back on track.
Trap n ° 1: social withdrawal
Social withdrawal is the most common telltale sign of depression.
“When we are clinically depressed, there is a very strong urge to get away from others and shut down,” says Stephen Ilardi, PhD, author of books including The cure for depression and associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. “It turns out that is the exact opposite of what we need.”
“In depression, social isolation usually serves to make the illness and what we feel worse,” Ilardi explains. “Social withdrawal amplifies the brain’s stress response. Social contact helps curb it.”
The fix: Gradually counteract social withdrawal by reaching out to friends and family. Make a list of the people in your life that you want to reconnect with and start by scheduling an activity.
Trap # 2: Rumination
A major component of depression is rumination, which involves dwelling on and brooding over things like loss and failure that make you feel worse about yourself.
Rumination is a toxic process that leads to negative self-talk such as, “It’s my fault. Who would want a friend from me? “
“There is a saying, ‘When you are in your own mind, you are in enemy territory,’ says Mark Goulston, MD, psychiatrist and author of Get out of your own way. “You leave yourself open to these thoughts and the danger is to believe them.”
Rumination can also cause you to interpret neutral events negatively. For example, when shopping for groceries, you might notice that the person at the checkout smiles at the person in front of you but doesn’t smile at you, so you take that as an affront.
“When people are clinically depressed, they typically spend a lot of time and energy repeating negative thoughts, often for long periods of time,” says Ilardi.
The fix: Redirect your attention to something more absorbing, like socializing or reading a book.
Trap n ° 3: self-medication with alcohol
Turning to alcohol or drugs to escape your woes is a pattern that can accompany depression, and it usually makes your depression worse.
Alcohol can sometimes ease anxiety a bit, especially social anxiety, but it has a depressive effect on the central nervous system, Goulston explains. Plus, it can ruin your sleep.
“It’s like a lot of things we do to cope with feeling bad,” he says. “They often make us feel better momentarily, but in the long run they hurt us.”
The fix: Talk to your doctor or therapist if you notice that your drinking habits are making you feel worse. Alcohol can interfere with antidepressants and anxiety medications.
Trap # 4: skip the exercise
If you’re the type of person who likes to go to the gym regularly, giving up a set of exercises can signal that something is wrong with your life. The same goes for imparting activities – like swimming, yoga or ballroom dancing – that you once loved.
When you are depressed, you are unlikely to follow a regular exercise program, although it may be exactly what your doctor has prescribed.
Exercise can be extremely therapeutic and beneficial, says Ilardi. Exercise has a strong antidepressant effect because it increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two brain chemicals that often drop when you’re depressed.
“It’s a paradoxical situation,” says Ilardi. “Your body is capable of physical activity. The problem is, your brain is not able to initiate and get you to do it.”
The fix: Ilardi recommends finding someone you can trust to help you get started exercising – a personal trainer, coach, or even a loved one. “It has to be someone who understands, who isn’t going to harass you, but actually gives you that prompting, that encouragement and that responsibility,” Ilardi said.
Trap # 5: look for sugar spikes
When you’re feeling down, you may crave sweets or junk foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar.
Sugar has mild mood-uplifting properties, Ilardi says, but it’s only temporary. In less than two hours, blood sugar plummets, which has a depressive effect on mood.
The fix: Avoid sugar spikes and the inevitable post-sugar crash. It’s always wise to eat healthy, but now more than ever, your mood can’t afford to take the hit.
Trap # 6: negative thinking
When you’re depressed, you tend to have negative thoughts and prevent yourself from trying new things.
You might be like, “Well even if I was doing A, B, and C it probably wouldn’t make me feel better and that would be a real problem, so why bother trying? “
“It’s a huge trap,” says Goulston. “If you rush in and anticipate a negative result, which then causes you to stop trying at all, is something that will quickly accelerate your depression and make it worse.”
The fix: Don’t get too attached to dark expectations. “You have more control over what to do and what not to do than the outcome of actions,” says Goulston. “But there is a lot more chance that if you do, then these results will be positive.”
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