This is a book excerpt from The Upside of Down. To read more about how Tamra Mercieca overcame depression the natural way, visit: www.theupsideofdown.com.au
Negative experiences are part of life. No one enjoys them. And while it is good to have a positive outlook, it’s OK to feel sad or get upset when something bad happens. The problem is that people who suffer from depression often exaggerate the badness of the situation; we catastrophise.
Depression affects the way your brain processes things as well as your perspective. When you are depressed for long periods of time, small problems tend to magnify. I am using the word ‘problem’ in the broadest sense. For me, forgetting where I had put my keys was on the same scale as having my car stolen.
When you are depressed, a seemingly mindless task can become a major trauma. It is not as if those with depression go out of their way to develop annoying phobias or fears, but rather that the illness has ways of messing with their minds. Someone who is depressed will often catastrophise a situation or event when they are already low. It could be something minor, and something you would not usually get upset about, but because you are low the rational part of your brain goes on strike.
We tend to catastrophise in two ways:
- By viewing things as much worse than they are – awfulising
- By thinking of things as unbearable – can’t stand-it-it-is
When we awfulise we are implying to ourselves that something is a source of terror, the worst thing that could happen or the end of the world. Can’t stand-it-it-is is when we believe that we are unable to cope with a situation.
There are a couple of reasons for catastrophic thinking. First, as a society, we have become obsessed with having to feel good all the time. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel happy, but we must understand that occasionally things will simply not go our way. And you need to learn how to cope when that happens.
Second, catastrophising can provide some advantages. We can exaggerate the circumstances to attract attention to our woes. Telling someone you feel horrendously awful will attract more sympathy than simply saying you are ill. Of course, that does not mean you are consciously seeking attention.
The first step to overcoming this is to identify when we catastrophise. Learn to catch yourself out by knowing the cues. Watch for words such as ‘awful’, ‘terrible’, ‘disastrous’, thoughts like ‘I can’t stand it’ and feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. Once you are aware that you are doing it you can stop doing it. But be warned: old habits die hard.
Learn to think of things in moderate terms. You do not want to play down the significance of an event any more than you want to exaggerate it. It is all about realistic thinking – seeing things as they really are.
Do not deny reality by telling yourself that something could be worse than it currently is. Instead, think of it as either unpleasant, uncomfortable, undesirable or inconvenient. That way you will avoid attaching unnecessary emotional pain to the real problem.
Remind yourself that you are still functioning and that the world is still spinning. Try writing down the worst possible outcome of the situation and honestly evaluate if it is really that bad.
Your catastrophe could be as silly as stepping in a puddle and getting a muddy foot on the way to an important dinner. The worst that could result from that situation is that you have to go home and change your shoes or find a bathroom and wash your foot.
Will it ruin your day? Only if you let it. When it really comes down to it, getting a wet foot is not a life or death situation and you need to recognise that. Try to laugh at yourself, or laugh at the situation, and refuse to take life so seriously.
When it comes to bigger problems, try to approach them with a positive spirit, knowing that the worst possible outcome is often the least likely to happen. Remember that catastrophes are usually like nightmares: their terror lies only in the imagination.