It’s relatively easy to get depressed. People do it all the time.
There’s a kind of ‘formula’ you can follow and, if you get the steps right, the chances are you will be feeling pretty down, pretty soon.
On the other hand, if you want to avoid depression, you could do the exact opposite, and notice you are more resilient, can ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong (as they inevitably do from time to time) and that you can deal effectively with life’s ups and downs with emotional intelligence.
But, if you’re curious about how to get depressed, feel really down, anxious and miserable, here are the guidelines.
If you follow them closely, you’ll definitely notice depression kicking in before too long.
Step 1: Worry
A sure way to wear yourself out emotionally is to start worrying. Worry ‘eats’ Serotonin is your feel-good hormone.
For many people, depression starts when there is an event in their life about which they start to ruminate. They churn the thing over and over in their minds, often going over old ground time and time again without coming to any conclusion, having a strategy for dealing with the issues or a plan of action.
Worrying then becomes a 24/7 activity and is enormously tiring as tip number 2 will show.
Step 2: Sleep poorly
The more you worry in the daytime, the less you will enjoy good quality sleep at night.
There’s a very good reason for this. One of the primary roles of dreaming is to resolve the emotional arousals of the previous day, clearing the brain circuits to deal with the issues of the next day.
If there are a lot of anxious and worrying thoughts going around your head in the daytime, there is much more for the brain to process by night. This means you may spend quite a bit of time in dreaming sleep (REM).
It’s okay to dream for around two hours a night, as most mammals do, but too much dream sleep eats into your slow-wave, deep sleep which we need to allow the body to repair itself.
So if you worry all day, you will sleep very poorly at night, and wake up in the morning with two problems: You now have your original set of worries and you feel tired and emotional too, which brings us nicely to step 3.
Step 3. Get tired and emotional
Assuming you’ve gotten into the habit of worrying all day and sleeping poorly at night, you will probably find you’re now feeling pretty rotten both physically and mentally and are less able to cope.
When we get tired and emotional, our brains go into a kind of polarised all-or-nothing thinking style which sends you the emotion- laden message that everything is a mess, none of your life is working and things will never get better.
This is how your emotional brain sees the world. It’s either in rest/digest mode or fight/flight. There are no shades of grey in the emotional brain. It’s all black and white in that angst-driven land!
What’s more, the emotional brain has the ability to ‘switch off’ rational logical thinking so, the more emotional you become, the less you are able to problem solve or consider all the options with clarity.
This mechanism is called ’emotional hijacking’ and can easily project you into step 4.
Step 4. Isolate yourself
Let’s say you are worrying all day, sleeping poorly at night and waking up in the morning feeling absolutely shattered, you’re probably now well on the way to feeling rather depressed.
But, to become fully immersed in depression, it’s important to put in place the final step: Isolation.
Human beings are social animals. We tend to stay sane by connecting with other human brains and we have a range of emotional needs which we need to get met from our environment.
These are the SAFE SPACE needs for Security, Attention, Fun-Family-Friends, Emotional intimacy, Status, Privacy, Achievement, Control and Engagement with life.
However, if you’re feeling worried and anxious in the daytime, sleeping poorly at night time, waking up in the morning feeling tired and emotional, you will probably also start avoiding going out, perhaps even sleeping in the day, upsetting your body clock and depleting you serotonin stores even further
You might take time off work, disengage with your usual hobbies or activities and start avoiding people, telling yourself you’ll go out more when you begin to feel better.
This kind of self isolation, of course, only frees up more time and space for further worry and introspection. Before long, you will find you’re ‘spending too much time looking in the mirror and not enough looking out of the window’. It’s not uncommon for people who have become very depressed to be thinking about themselves and their problems most or all of the time.
This completes the 4-step worry cycle of rumination, poor sleep, emotional hijacking and self isolation.
Avoiding the road to depression
If you want to avoid travelling down the steeply spiralling ‘road of depression’, you will need to begin by ‘putting a fence around worry’.
This simple technique involves allocating space and time each day to consider all the things you are worrying about and dividing them into those you need to ‘put on the backburner’ and those you can do something about.
Allocating 15 or 20 min a day purely to worrying, allows you to free up the rest of your day.
If you find worries popping into your mind at any other time during the day, you can gently reassure yourself that you will attend to them in your special ‘worry time’ when you can sit down and problem-solve with your sensible head on.
If you choose to put a fence around worry, there is much less anxiety for the brain to process at night. You will find you sleep more peacefully and awake more refreshed in the morning, ready to tackle the issues the following day brings.
You now have a strategy for dealing with problems, and have enough mental and emotional ‘spare capacity’ to deal with life, with all its challenges, in a calm and clear way.
It’s amazing how easy it is to get depressed, and it’s much easier to avoid depression when you know what not to do.
Resilience is like a muscle. When you exercise it, it grows stronger!