The story of a lawyer who is dealing with bipolar disorder. What it meant to him before, during and after his diagnosis as well as moving forward in his life. Read it here.
Depression makes everything harder: motivation is low, we get little pleasure from things we normally enjoy, we have no energy, and relationships tend to be strained. Small wonder it’s the leading cause of disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Several treatment options are effective in reducing depression. The majority of psychological treatments with strong research support are cognitive-behavioral (CBT) and focus on changing thoughts and behaviors to improve mood. Some forms of medication, such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be as effective as CBT, at least for as long as a person takes them.
So, which treatment option should a person choose? Obviously, it’s an individual choice and one that should be made in consultation with one’s doctor. For those who prefer to start with a psychological treatment—either because they’ve not found medications to be helpful and/or the side effects weren’t tolerable—CBT is a good candidate given the strong research support.
A recent study, the largest of its kind—showed that a simple treatment requiring less
Harvard Law has taken a ‘cold, hard’ look at issues affecting their student body, one of which is student mental health. The ‘grisly reality’ is that, in a survey taken last year, a quarter of the student body reported suffering from depression. Read more here.
We seem to really get a kick out of complaining about work. We hover around the water cooler, confide in our friends, and even share our workplace horror stories with our spouses.
But recounting all the things that made us miserable one day doesn’t help us enjoy our workday more tomorrow. A better strategy is to actually address the negative feelings we have.
When annoyance, self-doubt, or the blues surface at work, we can learn to work through these feelings. Here are three emotion regulation strategies you can use—and how to put them into practice for a happier work life.
- Mindful acceptance: Let the things you cannot change be.
Negative emotions exist. Pushing them away or ignoring them does more harm than good, even if we might be tempted to do so.
Instead, try acknowledging your emotions and giving them a seat at the table. Maybe you feel bad because your boss plays favorites—and you’re not the favorite. Or maybe you’re frustrated because your teammates are always running late. It’s okay to feel these negative emotions. You don’t need to judge yourself.
To learn how to practice acceptance at work, start at home by writing out a list of the things you can and cannot control. First, focus on the things you cannot control. Let any emotions you have rise to the surface. Work on accepting these emotions, and yourself, just as you are—saying things like, “I am angry that I didn’t get a promotion, but that’s okay. I am allowed to feel angry.” Experience these emotions, but don’t hold on to them or ruminate on the causes. Just let them fade in their own time.
A word of caution: You might be better served by actually changing your situation if you have the ability to do so, rather than accepting an abusive boss or unhealthy work environment. Use that list of things you can control to take action.
- Self-distancing: Observe your situation like a fly on the wall.
We all experience unpleasant situations, especially at work. You may ruminate about a meeting that went poorly, a coworker who slighted you, or a lack of acknowledgment for a project you poured your heart into. But the longer you feel bad, the more that bad feeling compounds.
To calm these negative emotions, mentally removing yourself from the situation is a helpful trick. Research suggests that a more distanced, third-party perspective can reduce the intensity of the negative emotions you feel. To try it, imagine that you’re a fly on the wall, observing your situation. How do you see the situation? How do both people look—you and the other person? By cultivating a broader perspective, you’ll often discover that the situation is not as bad as you thought it was.
A word of caution: Be careful not to mentally remove yourself from the situation permanently. There are many benefits to staying mindfully present for your work life.
- Reappraisal: Find the positives in negative situations.
Finding the positive in negative situations is an especially useful regulation strategy when something happens at work that you judge to be undesirable.
To begin to change your perspective, learn to pause in the face of something negative and think of or write down at least one positive. For example, did you get critical feedback on a recent presentation you gave or a report you wrote? Might you reappraise this as helpful information for your career growth—an opportunity to learn how to do better next time? The more frequently you challenge yourself to find the positives, the easier it will be for your brain to start noticing them on its own.
By Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.
Tchiki is a consultant, writer, and expert on well-being technology. Over more than a decade, she has helped build happiness products, programs, and services for non-profit and for-profit businesses, for children and adults, and for online as well as in-person audiences. Tchiki is currently working with Silicon Valley tech companies and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center to build more effective well-being technologies.
Although it appears to be a mundane sort of thing, I find disorganization and chaos to be one of the biggest problems reported by depressed and anxious individuals. Emotional baggage has a way of building up and then expressing itself in an outward display of turmoil — as if a tornado had let loose in your brain and your surroundings.
The symptoms of feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to face the day often stem from not knowing where to start or not wanting to face the mountain of tasks that lay ahead. I have found folks to be so bogged down with even the everyday task of leaving the house on time that their entire day is a mess before they ever get started. By 8 am they are frazzled.
There are screaming children, pets that need walking, work begins at a certain time, the laundry isn’t done, and available clothing is something picked out of the bin from the week before that didn’t make it to the dry cleaner. Stress chemicals are running rampant, and irritability and panic set in as well as resentment of the household, job, family and everything else.
What is worse is that typically if disorganization is a problem at home it is a problem at work as well. A cluttered desk, half-finished tasks, and unmet deadlines are the career version of the problem and are also with you all day.
Does your automobile look like a homeless person’s shopping cart? If so, none of your major environments is peaceful. There is nothing pleasant about your surroundings, and this is a major stressor.
The problem is not that you have too much to do or work full time, it is that you have not found a routine and effective organizational plan, or you found one but are not consistent in following the plan.
Running around willy-nilly, being chronically late, never being able to find things, and having a dirty or sloppy house are stressful conditions and contribute to the anxiety depression cycle. Things scattered about affect your ability to concentrate, and irritability sets in if not outright anger.
Simply put, the stress chemicals from disorganization eat up the good chemicals needed for mood stabilization. With that process in effect, you feel depressed and overwhelmed.
Look around your house. It should be your sanctuary, not a hell-hole screaming your name to come clean it. The house and time management issues are all about the planning and execution of a schedule and routine. If something is not getting done or is causing you distress in the household it is because you have not found the right system for you.
Very simply, a place for everything and everything in its place is a good saying to live by. Think of the simplicity of that statement. Yet this is the biggest bug-a-boo I see, not knowing where you left your car keys, clothing, sports equipment, checkbook, you name it.
We often allow our emotional state to dictate these sorts of practical matters. “I am so depressed I don’t care what the house looks like.” “I am so nervous I can’t concentrate.” “I am so ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), I will never be able to organize myself.” It does not matter if you are depressed or anxious, your house and time need streamlining, and with that will come an improvement in your symptoms. You will feel an immediate shift just from the empowerment and taking control of your life. If you really are ADD then organization and time management are the very set of skills that you need.
To get started take an inventory of the areas where you need organizing. Maybe there is just one area out of control or maybe the entire place needs an overhaul. Either way, it can get done and not be overwhelming by breaking it down into sections and tasks. The major areas that cause disruption are your house, car, purse or wallet, finances, and paperwork.
I am now going to take you through a general plan that you can begin to institute immediately.
- Get out a pad of paper and look around. Jot down room by room what the major problems are such as laundry everywhere, kid’s toys, and paper clutter. Where are the major stressors?
- Now go to where these items would ideally reside. Is there enough room for them all to be put away at once? Do you need to get rid of some of it or do you need more space or better organization of it? If you have enough space, then it is probably more a problem of time management and routine. If there isn’t enough space, you may be keeping too much stuff or just not have the proper storage solutions.
- List all chores that require travel such as groceries and dry-cleaning. Can you do those on your way home from work? Can you do them all at once in order to be more efficient rather than make multiple trips?
- Think through your morning routine, this is usually where the day starts to go downhill. How much time do you need to get yourself ready? Pets? Kids? Breakfast? Pick up your house before you leave so as not to come home to a depressing mess. If you have a family, I suggest getting up 2 hours prior to when you need to leave or when they need to be out the door. This gives you time to get ready, get them up and ready, prepare and have breakfast as a family, and squeeze in a 30-minute walk or exercise of some sort. In order to do this, you will need to have already planned the night before for things such as:
- Projects of your own
- List of priorities for the day, knowing exactly where to focus your energies on any given day
- Gas in the car
Now think through your evening routine. How do you get the above things done? Is there too much stuff in your evenings? Maybe the kids are in too many activities or you need help getting them around. Are you eating healthy food at night? Are you eating too late and not cleaning up because you are exhausted? Then you have to get up to a mess and again it’s all downhill from there. Remember you are in control of your schedule and your life, and sometimes too much is just too much. Even though you are trying to provide a quality of life by having many activities available for your family, it is not a quality of life if you are depressed and agitated and the house is a mess and you are eating takeout every night. Think about the memories you are creating.
Now you should have an idea of where the problem areas are and where your time is being utilized. Here are some general guidelines that will make a world of difference immediately if you put them to work for you.
- Keep dishes and plates put away all the time, fill dishwasher after every meal.
- Do a good cleaning once a week. Enlist the family, including children, to help especially in their own rooms. Many people feel guilty making their children learn chores but there is nothing to feel guilty about. They are simply participating in the household and will have to run their own households someday. If they learn now they will not have to struggle with these issues later.
- Keep money matters in one place as well as files for all your important papers and issues such as credit card information, taxes, medical, legal, travel, etc.… It is very nice to be able to put your hands right on something the minute you want it.
- A place for everything and everything in its place. It’s really that simple.
- Go with a schedule for cleaning, weekly daily, monthly and seasonally. Then stick to it.
Does your car look like you live in it? This too is very stressful and carries chaos from your home into your driving. You will be more distracted and harried while driving if your car is a mess.
- Clean it out daily from anything you may have eaten, wrappers, coffee cups and work-related papers.
- Wipe console free of dust and grime with a wipe made for this to free your view of dirt.
- Take it to the car wash once a week if finances permit or at least every other week. Allow them to vacuum it and wipe it down.
- Each child riding in the car is responsible for his or her own seat area if old enough.
- Dog nose prints on window wiped off daily.
Another war zone, filled with extra papers, bunched up money, cough drops, candy with dirt embedded in a wrapper, year-old receipts, hair items and cosmetics. This is a virtual dumping ground of things we collect daily. None of them should be here.
Go through all purses and wallets, and take out all junk. If you use multiple purses clean out one per day until they are all done.
Vacuum or wipe out purses as you go.
I know these things sound very simplistic and not the topic you might think to bring to a psychologist. But I really can’t tell you the number of times that I have seen clients experience great relief from their symptoms of depression, anxiety, and anger just from taking control of their life routines and belongings. It frees up your time for more constructive thinking, planning and daydreaming!
There are many books, as well as internet resources, pertaining to organization and time management. If this is an issue for you, begin reading one today! It’s never too soon to start, and you won’t believe how just 15 minutes a day dedicated to organizing your home can make you feel better fast!
About Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.
Sherman is a psychologist, speaker and author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. She has been working with individuals and families for over 20 years and her expertise is in helping others to overcome the emotional baggage that keeps them stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. She currently works with clients in person or via Skype or telephone. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, her book, and workshops you can visit her website, PsychSkills.com.
An innovative approach to counteract feelings of stress, anxiety and other negative mental states, this watch-like device allows users to feel gentle vibrations on their wrist when their heart rate increases. Read about it here.
The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates on Monday will Consider a Proposal Urging Law Firms, Law Schools, Bar Associations and others to bolster their mental health and substance abuse problems. Read about it here.
Great blog about one of the more overlooked factors contributing to poor mental health-an unhealthy diet. Like many aspects of mental illness, poor nutrition and a negative mental state reinforce each other, creating a downward spiral that affects both physical and mental well being. And like in other aspects of our lives, it can be very beneficial to be mindful of what we eat and even how we prepare our meals. Read more here.
A trap for those suffering from depression and anxiety is that many of people’s natural coping reactions make the problem worse rather than better. Here are a few examples of that, and some practical solutions.
Note: Please be compassionate with yourself if you can relate to any of these patterns. They’re common pitfalls, not an indictment on you as a person.
Number 1: You don’t fix problems that frustrate you.
Feeling irritable is one of the main symptoms of depression for many people. Some problems that trigger repeated irritation and frustration are easily fixable. However, people with depression often go into a passive “survival” mode and don’t address these issues, even though they could.
For example, you don’t have enough power outlets in the spot where everyone in your household likes to charge their devices. You’re constantly annoyed about people unplugging your device in favor of their own. This is the type of tension that can be solved by getting a multi-plug or another similar practical solution.
People with depression often just put up with this type of issue (and complain about it), rather than deploying a solution. It’s understandable to do this, but not very helpful.
Number 2: You’re waiting for your sleep to improve before you take other actions.
Difficulty sleeping is one of the most horrible symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, it’s often the last symptom to resolve when people’s mood starts to improve. Therefore, even though it’s hard, it is important that you start other strategies even though you’re feeling tired and grumpy. For example, exercise. If you over-focus on getting your sleep right before you start other strategies, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Number 3: Wanting a pill as a cure-all.
Medication is helpful for many people with depression but it certainly doesn’t address all of the thinking and behavioral patterns that are associated with depression. For example, you’ll likely still need psychological strategies to deal with tendencies towards rumination (overthinking) and avoidance/procrastination.
Solution: Try drawing a pie chart and estimating what role you think medication has in your depression recovery. Include whatever is relevant to you in your pie chart, such as thinking changes, exercise, meditation, laughter, problem-solving etc. Your personal pie chart won’t be the same as someone else’s since everyone’s preferred mix of strategies for depression recovery is a little bit different. When you start adding all these other components to your pie chart, you’ll see that medication is only a part of the picture.
Number 4: Asking for help too often.
People with depression frequently struggle along on their own for far too long before seeking effective help, and may not realize they’re depressed. However, sometimes people can become over-reliant on others when their mood is low. Examples include too frequently asking for help with: making decisions, using technology, or reaching out socially (such as making phone calls).
The same person can be too resistant to seeking help in some respects and too reliant on others in other respects!
When someone who is depressed constantly leans on others it can create anger, resentment, and other problems in relationships. This is especially the case when the depressed person repeatedly asks the same people for help or asks for help with the same task that they could learn to do themselves.
This point relates to the next one, so keep reading to learn more.
Number 5: Putting life, learning, and projects completely on hold.
People often feel like their brain is foggy and their concentration is impaired when they’re depressed. Therefore, it’s natural that people withdraw and think they’ll put off working on projects or learning anything new until they’re feeling better.
When you’re depressed, it’s a great idea to go easy on yourself and resist taking on too much. This does not mean putting off anything and everything challenging or unfamiliar. If you do this, you’ll, unfortunately, dig yourself into a very big hole, where you withdraw from life and avoid, and your confidence and energy erode further.
Don’t push yourself too hard, but understand that experiences of both pleasure and mastery are incredibly important for mood hygiene and depression recovery.
Solution: For this tip, I like to think of each day in three chunks – morning, afternoon, and evening. Aim to have one experience of pleasure and one experience of mastery in each of these chunks. These can be tiny, like canceling a subscription you’ve been paying for but not using.
You can actually fold other advice for alleviating depression into this strategy. For example, exercise could be either a pleasure or mastery experience for you or both. Something like taking the stairs rather than the elevator could be counted.
If you include mastery experiences in your day, you’re not likely to fall into the traps of asking for help too much or failing to solve easily fixable problems that trigger your irritability.
Which of these problems seems most relevant to you or your loved one? Which of the solutions presented seems most important for you to try? How can you implement that in the easiest way possible? How can you bypass the most likely obstacle to your succeeding with your strategy?
By Alice Boyes, Ph.D. Alice has had her research about couples published in leading international journals, including Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.Her work focuses on how people can use tips from social, clinical and positive psychology research in their everyday lives and romantic relationships. She is regularly interviewed for magazines and radio about a wide range of social, clinical, positive, and relationships psychology topics. She can be contacted for media interviews by emailing email@example.com