Analogies are often necessary to describe how depression can escalate; how a mild pain mutates into something more excruciating. This downward spiral process is a lot like adding heavier and heavier weights to your shoulders. The first weight may be unexpected. Perhaps a stressful situation triggers the onset of depressive symptoms, such as fatigue, hopelessness, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities), irritability, restlessness, intense sadness, and a feeling of emptiness.
Of course, experiencing these symptoms is painful. But one of the reasons why depression can become so agonising and unbearable is because of the way in which we react to these unpleasant feelings. After the first weight (symptom), we increase the burden when we say to ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this sad”, “I’m weak because I become hopeless so easily” or “I’m going to feel like this forever”. This way of thinking encourages negative self-judgement, feelings of guilt and shame, and more anxiety and hopelessness. It’s a habitual thought pattern that only serves to make the depression worse. It’s a kind of self-attack.
Eliminating the symptoms of depression is ideal, but it’s not so easy. There are steps you can take, however, that will allow you to manage the symptoms so that you can avoid being crushed by those extra weights.
Instead of reacting to these negative thoughts and feelings, you can protect yourself by simply being mindful of them. If you just notice and watch yourself become irritable, not only will the experience not escalate, but it will pass sooner as well. If you say to yourself, “Oh look, I’m becoming irritable again”, instead of, “I wish this feeling would go away”, you can free yourself from a great deal of psychological pain. As the spiritual teacher Ram Dass stressed, we suffer so much, not because pain exists, but because we either become entangled in the pain, or we try to avoid, resist or deny it.
You can cope with depression by practising 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation every day. Sitting with eyes closed, you focus your awareness on breathing in and out. Unpleasant thoughts and feelings may pop up. But you just notice them arise, label them, and then watch them pass.
The existing body of evidence shows that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is effective at reducing both the severity and frequency of depressive episodes. So anyone who suffers from the condition may benefit massively by incorporating a mindfulness meditation practice into their daily routine.