No matter what kind of depression you have, the pain is the same-caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain. No matter what you’re depressed about, or even if you don’t know why you’re depressed, there are some simple things you can do to reduce your pain and anxiety, and get yourself feeling better.
Simple cognitive behavior techniques and exercises can lessen pain and stimulate more productive thinking. Low-key physical and mental activity can also speed recovery.
1. Relax your shoulders, take a deep breath and don’t panic! Millions of perfectly normal people have struggled with all kinds of depression and learned how to get out of it. You are not alone. You have options.
2. First, why do you feel so bad? It’s not because of your problems. It’s because of your brain chemistry. There are two main parts of the brain, the thinking part (the neocortex) and the emotional part (the subcortex). When you’re depressed, your subcortex is reacting to stress chemicals, and producing excruciating pain and panic.
3. To add to your misery, your subcortex sucks up additional neural energy from the neocortex until it is practically non-functioning. So you can’t think straight, plus you’re in agony.
4. You feel helpless, but there’s a lot you can do. Your body is experiencing a perfectly normal reaction to the over-supply of stress chemicals in your brain.
5. You need to reduce the neural energy in the subcortex and re-power the neocortex. You can do this with cognitive behavioral mind techniques that will spark up neural activity in the neocortex. With a little practice you will be able to do this any time depression hits you. A few facts about how your brain works will also help you cope.
6. Your first task is to free yourself from the kinds of negative and downer thoughts that power the subcortex and support the pain of your depression. Get rid of thoughts like:
• ‘I’m depressed’
• ‘I feel terrible’
• ‘What’s the use’
• ‘I can’t stand this pain anymore’
7. Switch your Thoughts! To get rid of any depressive thoughts, simply switch out of thinking them. Since the brain is basically a ‘yes brain,’ it’s hard to not think something. The way to not think a negative or depressive thought is to think another thought instead of it.
8. The best way to think another thought instead of a depressive thought is to use the simple cognitive behavioral technique called ‘brainswitching.’
Choose any neutral or nonsense thought, in advance, to have ‘at the ready’ to substitute for any depressive thought that pops up. When you’re depressed, you’re in too much pain to think one up.
• Make it a thought that will not stimulate any negative emotional association. It could be
• a silly song or rhyme fragment like ‘Row, row, row your boat’
• a mantra like ‘Om Padme’
• a neutral or nonsense word like ‘hippity-hop, ‘green frog,’ or ‘yadda yadda’
• a prayer like the 23rd Psalm.
9. It may seem silly to suggest that saying ‘green frog’ over and over to yourself can get rid of depression, but there’s a scientific reason for the exercise. Thinking a neutral or nonsense thought interrupts the depressive thought pattern and weakens it. How? See #10.
10. The brain always follows the direction of its most current dominant thought. When you make your neutral or nonsense thought dominant by thinking it over and over repetitively, it automatically kicks the depressive thought out of its dominant position and the brain ceases tracking it so actively. It turns toward the neutral thought.
11. Brainswitching will automatically increase neural activity in the neocortex, and reduce neural activity in the subcortex. It will continually interrupt the message that you are depressed from one part of the brain to the other.
12. Brainswitching distracts your attention from your emotional brain and directs it to the thinking part of the brain. Depression only happens in the subcortex. There’s never any depression in the neocortex.
13. You can brainswitch for a few seconds the first time you try it. With practice you can do it longer. You may be surprised to know that, even in the worst depression, your neocortex always remains calm and immediately available to you. And you can always brainswitch to it.
14. Keep choosing your neutral thought again when you lose concentration. You must actually do this exercise to activate the neocortex. It’s not just an idea. Ideas don’t work for depression. Only behavior works. A thought is just a thought but thinking a thought over and over again is behavior!
15. Always brainswitch to break the continuity of depression’s grip on you. Depression, like any other anxious emotion or feeling, can’t maintain itself unless you think it repetitively. Think something else instead-like ‘green frog.’
16. Do not think a depressive thought twice. No depressive thought can, by itself, turn into depression if you continually refuse to think it. A depressive thought is over as quick as any other thought. Don’t choose to think it again. Depression hits you with a first thought but you can refuse to think the second thought. For depression to ‘take hold,’ you must continuously think it.
17. Move into Action! Always brainswitch whenever a depressive or stressful thought threatens to ‘ take over.’ An unhappy thought is just a thought. It can pop into your mind at any moment. It is an event that happens to you. Choosing to think an unhappy, anxious or depressive thought over and over is behavior. It is something that you do and you can learn not to do it.
18. Be aware of the ‘early warning’ sad or negative feelings that usually precede a full-blown depressive episode. Confront your depression right away. ‘Okay I know what this is. This is depression coming. I have to side-step it with a neutral thought.’
19. Get out of depression at earlier stages by checking out the passive thinking that happens when you just let your mind wander. Passive thinking can often ‘go negative’ on you. When it does, switch to on-purpose thinking before negative thinking becomes dominant in your brain. The way you do ‘on-purpose’ thinking is to choose a specific thought to think, or by deciding to do some task which then directs your thinking in line with the task at hand.
20. Pry yourself loose from being fused with the pain of your depression before you disappear into it.
Find a small thinking space between you and your pain. Yes, you feel agonized and hopeless, but you can also focus slightly aside from your agony and hopelessness. You are not hopeless, you are the observer of your feeling of hopelessness. Accept some discomfort in a more detached way. Depression is a horrible feeling. It is not you! YOU are you! You are not a feeling. You are a person who is having a feeling.
21. Focus your mind on some low-key physical action:
• Brush your teeth.
• Clean your desk.
• Swing your arms in circles.
• Jog, or take a walk, and keep on walking until you feel tired.
• Smile! -not because you’re happy, but to relax your tense face muscles.
22. Get yourself up and going with any kind of moving-around exercises. The more you move into physical action, the less depression has a chance to settle in on you. Put on some music, dance around the room. Not because you will feel like dancing, but because depression hates you to dance. Do something your depression hates.
23. Distract yourself from the pain of depression with small chores. Do them while thinking your neutral or nonsense thought. Do your chore. Think your thought. Ignore your depression by thinking objectively about what you are doing not subjectively about how you are feeling. Your stress and pain will begin to lessen.
24. Look around you if you can’t think of any chores to do. There is always some ‘next thing’ that can distract you from your pain. Any outward-focused action can help you turn away from self-focus on the pain of your depression. Take out the trash.
25. Do the ‘next thing’ when paralyzed by fear or depression. Life never abandons us without giving us the ‘next thing’ to do. It is security for our sanity and for the healing power of positive behavior. The next thing may just be to take a shower.
26. After the first task, the second task will become even more obvious. Do what you decide to do, not what you feel like doing. Depression never deprives you of ‘will,’ only motivation. You won’t want to do anything, but you can do it.
27. Focus on Behavior, Not Feelings! Since depression kills motivation, use your ‘neutral thought’ exercise as if it is a motivation pill. Quick! Slip a neutral thought in on your depressive thought.
28. Decide ahead of time to do your exercise anyway, even though you feel like it won’t work. Anticipate the fact that depression always robs you of all hope, including hope that any exercise will work.
29. Behavior always trumps feelings. But for a trump to win, you have to play it. No fearful or depressive feeling is powerful enough to prevent you from engaging your body in some kind of mental or physical behavior. You just need to stand up to your fearful feelings and show them ‘who’s boss.’ Behavior is boss.
• No fearful or depressive feeling can rise up and conquer you. It must frighten you into surrendering.
• Feelings are just your own neural patterns twanging for attention.
• Accept fearful feelings; move forward with positive behavior.
• When you accept fearful feelings, they finish and die. Fear feeds them and keeps them alive
• Feelings cannot be more powerful than you are–behavior rules!
30. Depression is not something that you are, it is something you do and you can learn not to do it. Depression is a terrible feeling. Feelings are very powerful but they are not intelligent. They can be wrong. You don’t have to do feelings. You can change the thinking that caused the feelings and then the feelings will change to reflect the new thoughts. On-purpose thought always trumps passive or automatic thought.
31. On-purpose thought is always more current than passive thought, so automatically it’s more dominant than passive thought. Your brain always follows the direction of its most current dominant thought. If your depression patterns are well-imprinted from practicing them, don’t worry. Practicing new thinking forms new brain patterns without depression. You can use the new get-out-of-depression patterns instead of the old get-into-depression ones.
32. During depression, the physical pain, the psychological fear, the feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and despair, are all bound up and entangled in a neural pattern that takes on a life of its own, seemingly independent of our will. The key here is seemingly. We are not usually aware that we focus our attention away from our will when we’re depressed. We focus only on the depressive pattern. We can focus on our behavior instead.
33. Decide to concentrate on something–a book or some work. Depression doesn’t prevent you from concentrating. That’s a myth. Depression makes you forget that you are already concentrating on something-on depression! Don’t let depression interrupt work. Let work interrupt your depression.
34. Whenever depression interrupts your concentration, interrupt it back! You have one attention only. If you are thinking a neutral, nonsense, rational, or productive thought, you cannot, at the same instant, be thinking a depressive thought.
35. Pay attention to your self-talk. It will indicate what kind of thinking you’re doing-passive or on-purpose, self-focused or outer-focused, subjective (about your feelings) or objective (about other things). Self-talk is that on-going conversation you have with yourself in your own mind that you usually don’t pay any attention to.
36. Don’t Forget-Your Mind is Tricking You! Your mind tricks you into anxious thinking via unnoticed self-talk. Trick it back! Replace negative self-talk. If you hit a red light, self-talk might be ‘I’m going to be late!’ Change to ‘Relax, I’ll be fine.’
37. You think you’re depressed because of your problems. This is a mind trick. You’re always depressed because of your depression. It’s the chemistry! Anxious thoughts trigger the fight-or-flight response that produces stress chemicals, causing a chemical imbalance in your brain.
38. It seems your whole self is depressed. This is a mind trick. Depression only occurs in the subcortex. There’s never any depression in the thinking part of the brain.
39. Depression seems like present reality. This is a mind trick. Depression is a feeling, already past, which you must then replay (rethink) in memory ‘as if’ it is present reality. This is due to the instantaneous process of ‘pain perception.’ To experience any feeling of physical pain or emotion (which is always produced in the subcortex) we must first think (acknowledge) the feeling in the neocortex-after we have it.
Cases are recorded of athletes who break a bone during a game and don’t experience any pain until the game is over. Neocortical concentration on the game blocked pain signals sent to the neocortex that should have alerted them to the pain of their injury.
40. Depression is the opposite of living in the NOW. Thinking how you feel is past feeling re-played in thinking ‘as if’ it’s present. The process of experiencing a past feeling as if it’s a present happening is beneath our level of awareness but once we are aware of it, we can slip a quick neutral thought in on our depression and weaken it.
41. There’s a huge difference between self-focus and self-awareness. Self-focus is thinking about how you feel, and it is never connected to present reality. Self-awareness is connecting with present reality by getting outer-focused. When you find yourself self-focused, get outer-focused as soon as possible with physical or objective mental activity that connects you to the neocortex. Self-focus is the opposite of living in the NOW because self-focus is thinking about your feelings which are always ‘past.’
42. To get out of self-focus and connect to present reality, think objective thoughts about the people or the physical things around you. Think about or talk to another person. Objective thinking can immediately help detach you from the subjective thinking of the pain of your depression. It also helps when you feel self-conscious, socially stressed and alienated.
43. This is really tricky. If you feel bad, you have unwittingly instructed your brain to feel bad. The brain works by learned association (think ‘salt,’ the thought ‘pepper’ automatically fires up). A negative thought is instructions to your brain to fire up other similar negative thoughts in its memory bank. If you think ‘sad’ then similar ‘downer’ thoughts like ‘depressed’ will pop up, or ‘worthless’ or ‘ I feel terrible.’
44. When you think any thought at all, that thought becomes a specific instruction to your brain because it works by learned association. Your brain will pick up the thought like a football, and connect it with the other similar thoughts stored in its memory banks. Think ‘green frog’ not ‘sad.’
45. Use ‘learned association’ to get out of depression the same way you got in it. Neutral thoughts spark up other neutral thoughts and your brain moves from depressive thinking to neutral thinking.
46. Get the ‘process of positivity’ working for you in your brain. The inherent importance of any small victory is not relevant. The process of being positive is more important than the content.
47. Even if you over-ate there might be some small thing you passed up. ‘Hey, I didn’t eat that third brownie. I was victorious over the third brownie.’ Our small triumphs don’t need to make sense in the ‘real world.’ They just need to be positive so that they will stimulate positive thinking in our mind by learned association.
48. Re-engage! Your depression wants you to isolate yourself and keep yourself stressed. Fight back! Re-engage with other people or things-go to the movies, read biographies in the library, take a long walk downtown.
49. Question your thoughts. It is helpful to think this, or is it unhelpful? Is it helpful to believe this, or is it unhelpful? Unhelpful thoughts should never be an option. No thought can make you think it. You have the power to not think any thought. In order to not think a thought, simply think another thought instead of it-like ‘hippity hop.’
50. Don’t call yourself names like ‘I’m Depressed’ or ‘I’m Bipolar.’ Labels of illness like ‘I’m bipolar’ don’t contribute to wellbeing. Cancer patients feel better who tell themselves that they are ‘doing better,’ rather than thinking, ‘I have cancer.’ Treat
these names like any negative thought.
51. See your problems in context of time, a week out of your lifespan; in terms of help that might be available from family or friends; in terms of developing character from the experience of your failure.
52. Carry a paperback joke book. When depression threatens, read the book for at least five minutes. Depression will not want you to do this. Do it anyway.
53. Laugh out loud for two minutes. The brain doesn’t know the difference between being happy and pretending to be happy. Happy thoughts produce happy feelings. The feelings are genuine though the thoughts that generated them were fake.
54. Put off depression as long as you can. ‘It’s coming, but I’ll do my exercises first before it’s all the way here.’ Or, ‘I’ll check my email first.’ This way you interrupt the direct neural pathway to depression, and the brain can ‘forget’ it was heading for depression.
55. To produce calm thinking, force neutral thoughts on your brain as you would force exercise on your body. This imprints in your memory bank a usable neural pattern that you can access whenever depression attacks. If you want to be happy, you have to first get your brain to do happy.
56. Allow space for your panicky feelings. They are very scary, but they are just normal reactions to stress chemicals that are the same in every human body. It might be difficult to breathe or swallow, your heart might start racing, you might get the shakes or the sweats, feel like you’re going to die! Let your feelings be where they are, while you temporarily focus your attention on some deep breathing. Just easy. Just easy. Breathing doesn’t have to be perfect. Just easy. Watch your breath coming in, and watch it going out. In and out.
57. Depression is not real life. It’s a panic room of the mind. Get back out of your panic room into real life again.
58. You’re responsible for your mind, not to your mind (as if it were in charge of you.) You should be in charge of your mind, so it does what you want. You should direct your thinking, not collapse into it; manage moods cognitively, not obey them.
59. Do not re-think old horror stories. Say to yourself. ‘I will not go there.’ How you don’t go there is head elsewhere in your mind. Your brain can’t follow two chains of thought going in two directions at once. It will follow your current dominant thought.
60. It’s possible to choose to live by the precept that you will accept no other option than going forward with your day in some productive manner, no matter how humble, no matter how desperate you feel.
61. There’s the power of positive thinking. There’s also the power of positive doing! When you get depressed, do something physically and mentally active. Re-engage your attention in any objective thinking or outer-focus, and get yourself out of dangerous subjective self-focus.
62. Thoughts are not reality. They are tools to help you through your day. Choose the right tools. If you think good thoughts you will have good feelings, you will see good in others, and in yourself, and you’ll see good things in your path.
63. You can’t always decide to be happy. You can always decide to be cheerful. Happiness is a feeling. Cheerfulness is on-purpose, rational behavior. Being cheerful ultimately makes you happy.
© A. B. Curtiss 2010