What can I do about my depression?
In contrast to anxiety’s excessive energy, depression leaves you depleted and lacking motivation. Often you don’t want to do anything, especially your schoolwork, when you’re depressed. You may feel like sleeping or watching TV for hours on end. Nothing seems worthwhile and you want to give up on yourself and your plans to complete college.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by many of the following symptoms: feelings of sadness, crying for no apparent reason, poor appetite or overeating, insomnia or hypersomnia, low energy or fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, poor concentration or difficulty making decisions, feelings of hopelessness, diminished interest (or pleasure) in most activities, and/or suicidal thoughts.
Depression can come on suddenly or lurk in the background for months before becoming apparent. It has been reported that 33% of college students had felt so depressed some time in the last 12 months that it was difficult to function. When depression occurs in college, it is often in response to a big disappointment, such as a poor grade on a test or a break-up with a romantic partner. The trigger, or the disappointment, can unleash a whole host of negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, such as “I knew I wasn’t smart enough for college” or “I knew I wasn’t attractive enough or lovable enough to have a lasting relationship.” Self-disparaging thoughts and feelings like these create a vicious cycle, that is, more negative thoughts lead to more depression, which, in turn, leads to more negative self-evaluations.
What can you do when you’re feeling “down”?
1. CONNECT WITH OTHERS
One of the most important things you can do is reach out to others, that is, friends and family, and talk with people you trust about how you feel. Even if you don’t want to talk to anyone, do it anyway, but make sure they are trusting individuals who have your back.
Don’t isolate yourself! Being in contact with others reminds you that you are a valued member of this world and that others care about you.
Besides that, wise friends or family members can offer useful advice about how to handle the problem you are experiencing.
2. COMPLETE AT LEAST TWO TASKS PER DAY
Make sure you do at least a couple of things each day that give you a feeling of accomplishment. The tasks you perform can be anything, big or small, that lead to a feeling of mastery. The tasks can be ordinary ones, such as doing a crossword puzzle or an easy homework exercise for your Algebra class. They can also be more challenging, if you find such activities to be a source of motivation for you.
Overall, you need to remind yourself that you are a competent person capable of many things.
3. HAVE SOME FUN
Bring back pleasure into your life.
Too often, people lose their zest for life when they are doing little besides hard work.
If you are burned out, re-introduce some of the things in life you used to enjoy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an ice cream cone in your favorite flavor, a funny video, or a game of ping pong, as long as you find it gratifying or fun in some way. Doing things that bring a smile to your face or cause you to burst out in peals of laughter is always good for you, but especially when you are down.
4. ASK YOURSELF IF YOU ARE ANGRY
While there are many explanations as to the cause of depression, including family history, one non-genetic viewpoint is that depression is anger turned inward. That is, instead of feeling angry toward the individual(s) or cause(s) where it belongs, you turn that anger toward yourself. Often you can’t directly confront the person you’re angry with, but what you can do is write about it. In a journal, ask yourself, “Am I angry with someone?” If so, write about that anger there. On a positive note, getting in touch with your anger can be energizing and motivating.
As one elderly gentleman recovering from a period of depression once said,
“Madness is better than sadness because when you’re mad you can do something; when you’re sad, you don’t feel like doing anything at all.”
And, he was right.
5. SEEK HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT
Lastly, but most importantly, seek out help from the university counseling center when your depression persists for more than a week. There, you can talk with a counselor about what is bothering you and get appropriate help in the form of talk therapy and/or medication.
Sometimes, depression is caused by high levels of chronic stress.
So, reducing anxiety becomes an important part of treatment. Whatever the recommendations, you will feel better that you have someone in your corner (the counselor), who will be there with you as you get back to feeling like yourself.
I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.