Depression may be the most discussed psychological problem in the country. 

Unfortunately, as common as it is to hear about it, depression is often only vaguely understood. This article is designed to shed some light on a few factors that create depression and some things that can help alleviate it.

What is depression?

Depression is different for everybody, but there are some common ingredients that usually create deep depression. Most depressed people are facing something that is stretching their ability to cope. In response to that struggle, they sometimes do things that are meant to help but actually do more harm than good. 

These include:

Ruminating. People who tend to get depressed often devote tremendous energy toward thinking their way out of their difficult circumstances and painful feelings. Unfortunately, instead of providing relief, this often results in an endless review of their worst experiences and scrutiny of past mistakes. We call this repetitive and damaging process rumination.

Critical self-reflection. Depressed people are often quick to blame themselves for their difficulties, believing if they could just change themselves they could fix their problems. But as people ruminate on their faults, they often come to conclusions that are overly harsh and don’t leave much room for hope.

Isolation. Because they feel overwhelmed, exhausted, flawed and alone, depressed people often isolate themselves. Connecting with others looks much less appealing when you are tired and feel like nobody can understand or tolerate the problem that’s consuming you. It can be very tempting to stay home or hop into bed. Even if you muster the strength to go out, you may still feel isolated as you feel you have to hold back your feelings and act like everything is okay.

These ingredients quickly create a downward spiral. As people ruminate, criticize and isolate themselves, the world feels increasingly lonely and fruitless.

What should I do if I’m depressed?

Your problems may feel insurmountable, but there is good reason to feel hopeful.

If you’re feeling stuck in depression, try doing the following:

• Resist rumination. This is easier said than done. Your brain is designed to identify problems and solve them. If you’ve been through damaging or traumatic experiences in the past, the urge to obsess about your problems may be stronger than normal. Instead of relying on willpower, try replacing the rumination with these practices:

• Talk about your feelings. Rumination happens when you try to solve your overwhelming feelings by thinking about them alone. You’re better off talking about how you feel with someone you trust.

• Find creative outlets for your feelings. Writing, drawing, making music or another creative project can help you process a feeling more effectively than ruminating about it.

• Get some space and calm down. Of course you need to face your problems, but you’ll do your best problem solving when you’re feeling calmer. Give yourself permission to go on a walk, meditate, exercise or find some other activity that can occupy your mind.

• Challenge self-criticism. Pay attention when you start to criticize yourself. Would you think the criticism was fair or constructive if it was directed toward someone else? Try to imagine a compassionate response to someone in your circumstances and apply it to yourself.

• Get help! If you start to feel stuck in depression, the sooner you get professional help, the better. When contemplating getting help, people often ask themselves if they need a professional, assuming that they need to be completely overwhelmed or in grave danger before seeing a professional. Not necessarily true, if professional help will make you feel better it is better to get help. 

• Be patient. If you’re depressed, you can do all the right things and not feel any differently for a while. Seeking treatment, making connections, getting out, exercising, opening up and staying engaged in your hobbies can be helpful, but results require time. Take small steps toward re-engaging with life and the people around you, knowing that the benefits come gradually.