Clearly if you’re suffering from serious depression, it is advisable to seek help from your doctor. The following interventions have proven to be very helpful for those with mild to moderate depression, in not only clearing the fog but then going further and building real resilience to buffer against future events.
There are numerous, effective positive psychology interventions that work for depression, here I will share some that I’ve found to be the most broadly useful for my clients.
Feeling genuine hope when looking into the future is a natural buffer against depression. Here are a few simple, yet powerful techniques to help build your hope:
- Best Possible Future Self exercise - Firstly, when doing this exercise try not to judge yourself and simply write in a ‘dumping’ manner for about 15 – 20 minutes straight. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling, simply get into the flow and write. So, think about your life in one year from now. Imagine everything had gone as well as it possibly could have. You’ve worked hard, your life dreams have come true. Picture what you’re doing now and what life looks like. Now write about the details. Try to be as specific as possible. I find it’s best to write it one day and then come back to it the next day to tweak up bits after they’ve had a day to percolate.
- Silver Lining perspective - Reflect on any painful experience in the past or present and look for the good that came from the experience. The ancient Greeks believed that ‘all wisdom comes from suffering’ and I think there’s something in that. So rather than only focussing on the pain (and it’s natural and ok to feel negative emotions) but also try to balance that out with uncovering a benefit from this pain. Try to get into the habit of always looking for a small positive from every negative situation. An example may be if your relationship breaks down you can reflect on what new gift of learning this has given to you, such as helping to identify communication problems so you can deal with them differently next time, or even notice that the choice of partner was wrong and how you can avoid that again.
- ‘What if’ technique - Our brains have a natural negativity bias. From an evolutionary perspective this served us well for the survival of our species, however today this often diminishes hope as we accidently focus on what’s wrong. Regularly using a counter statement of ‘what if’, is one way to reduce the power of the negativity bias. For example, we tend to worry about what might go wrong by using statements like, ‘what if I don’t get this job?’ or ‘what if they don’t like me?”. By using the opposite positive outcome, it reduces the negative impact, for example, change the previous questions to, “what if I do get this job?’ and ‘what if they do like me?’. It also helps to just use the positive ‘what if’ statements towards things that you’re doing in your day, such as, ‘what if l have fun at this party?’, ‘what if the weather is great?’, and ‘what if I stopped listening to my negative voice?’. It helps to prime our mind to notice more good which helps us to feel more hopeful.
Being intentionally grateful has numerous benefits, such as better relationships, improved self-esteem, better sleep and improved psychological health, including reducing depression. Here’s some proven techniques for increasing gratitude and reducing depression:
- 3 best things - At the end of each day, write down 3 things you’re grateful for (or thankful for) in the day. You can either write it in a journal or type it into an App on your phone/iPad. I use an App called Gratitude Journal by Carla White which I like because it also sends you a reminder which can be helpful when you’re starting out. Try to be as specific as you can but if you're really struggling to find anything on a tough day then you go high level, such as a roof over your head. And the things you’re grateful for don’t need to be huge things, it could be a flower bud that has opened. Also reflect on what was your contribution to that good thing happening – eg the beautiful flower emerged because you’d watered the plant.
- Gratitude letter - Dr Martin Seligman is often referred as the father of Positive Psychology and he describes the Gratitude Letter in his book ‘Flourish’. This is what he says: Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week. Got a face? Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter. This single act of writing the Gratitude Letter and delivering it can be hugely impactful on boosting wellbeing and happiness.
People have a deep need for friendships and to be socially connected to others. Nurturing, positive relationships is one of the most powerful and consistent predictors of good mental and physical health. To enhance your connection with people, there is a wonderful technique created by Professor Shelly Gable, called Active Constructive Responding. Use Active Constructive Responding to help people celebrate the good. Sharing good news contributes to wellbeing above and beyond the impact of the good event itself. Gable calls this effect capitalising and explains that as people tell their story, they re-live and savour the experience and draw more meaning and fulfilment from it. This leaves the person feeling more connected to you because you helped them to increase their positive emotions, thereby deepening your relationship. You can look at my blog where I explain how to use Active Constructive Responding.
So there you have it. Some simple tools for greater wellbeing and life satisfaction that will buffer against depression. Take them as a gift for Christmas that will bring you far reaching happiness long after the material presents have been opened. Merry Christmas everyone. May you have a very safe, fun, love-filled Christmas.