This post is about functional depression. I’m not a psychologist so this blog post includes purely my opinion. I wanted to write this post because I have experienced functional depression in the past and I think some of these ideas might be helpful to those currently experiencing functional depression; or those who know someone who is.
Function depression works something like this:
“Functionally depressed people are depressed, but they are able to function in daily life and can meet the minimum expectations. However, they are sad, they do not have dreams, they do not set goals, they often have low energy levels, and find that maintaining their social circles is more of a chore than a pleasure. They put on a good show in front of others.”
I want to write about functional depression because I think it is important.
It is important not only for those people who live with it – but also for the friends, family members, coworkers, and acquaintances of those suffering with it. Understanding, acceptance, and support of those who are suffering from functional depression is critical to their recovery, so I hope that this post will help you identify the signs and help as much as you can if you notice someone in your network is suffering.
Functional depression is a topic which deserves more attention than it currently receives. I have experienced several phases of functional depression during my life, but fortunately have been able to recover from each one. From my experience, I have developed a greater understanding of what functional depression is and how it works… as well as how to defeat it.
When I was fighting back against functional depression, I felt as though I was inside a garage and the garage door was shutting and I was underneath it, trying to push it back up to allow the sunlight in. But almost every day that door closed anyways and I was left alone in pitch black darkness. Ensuing feelings of inadequacy and panic would follow. Last fall this happened for many reasons; I was in a new country. I had several toxic relationships in my life. I had recently made a huge career shift. I didn’t know what the future held.
I was in full on survival mode.
On David Wolfe’s awesome health blog, he shares 4 signs of high functioning depression. Here, I review as applicable in my case:
- Being tough on oneself. I am sure all of the first born overachievers out there can identify with this from time to time. Wanting to be perfect and do everything just right can lead to mental anguish and disappointment. In the fall of 2015, I was tough on myself about everything… I thought I was failing in my new job, in my relationships, and I was even mad at my own body for being so ill. I had struggled for months with disorienting heat exhaustion that resulted in me going out for a run and not remembering how to get home. I also had painful plantar fascitis and was gaining weight as a result of stress and extremely limited access to healthy foods I had enjoyed at home. I felt as though I couldn’t do anything right and this type of thinking was crippling me into inaction.
- Work becomes a grind. I dreaded going to my job every day. I felt like I had no support network, I was not passionate about what I was doing, most of the time it was hard for me to even feel interested. This is in comparison to September 2015 when I woke up every day excited to work with children, and later in the spring of 2016 when I again enjoyed planning exciting lessons, coloring, and singing songs.
- Substance abuse problems. A drink after work was becoming a part of my everyday routine. I have worked with several clients with moderate to severe substance abuse problems over the years as a personal trainer and health coach and I understand just how easy it can be for one glass of red wine to turn to two glasses and then the whole bottle. I also understand that shots of vodka go down smoother than feelings of panic and loneliness.
- Feelings of wasting time. Even though I was staying busy teaching 22 classes per week at school plus another 10 hours of private tutoring after school, writing articles and blog posts, planning European travel adventures and talking to friends and family – I constantly had the feeling that I was wasting time. Depression works like a thief – it steals the feelings of enjoyment from previously rewarding activities. I felt like there was a lot of uncertainty in my life and thus I felt like almost everything I did was a waste of time.
If you identify these warning signs in your own life or if you see a friend suffering with these… It is possible to lift up that garage door and see the sunshine again. Often in the middle of functional depression, it can feel like you are lost at sea with nothing to hold onto. The problem is that no one is going to throw out the perfect sized life raft for you to climb into and be cozy and warm. Instead you just have to start swimming with as much force and dedication you can muster towards the nearest piece of land.
So, now – the 10 strategies I used to escape from functional depression and reprogram my mind:
- Get rid of the toxins in your environment. Toxins come in many shapes and forms, but you have got to get rid of them before you can recover. If it’s a toxic relationship, end it. If it’s alcohol abuse, throw it down the drain and get it out of your house. Same thing for other addicting substances. I did a complete revamp of my kitchen pantry and it really helped. If you don’t have the addicting substance (whether it is wine, vodka, chocolate, cookies, or potato chips) in the house, it is much easier to prevent those toxins from entering your body.
- Next, clear out your mind. Identify what thoughts are only serving to drag you down and keep you there. Change your negative thought patterns into positive ones. I did this by getting a piece of paper and writing down my self-defeating thoughts in one column and the positive replacements in another. Every time I caught myself thinking one of the negative things, I stopped and read the positive affirmation to rewire my brain.
- Read things which will support you and build you up. Part of rewiring your brain with positive messages involves reading books and articles which can help to rebuild your self confidence and restore your self efficacy. I read “The Happiness Project” last December and it really helped me to enter 2016 in a better place mentally.
- Get rid of negative “channels” on social media. Amazingly, when you “unfriend” all of those people with huge negativity biases, your world somehow seems brighter. And please, think about the effect your negative rants will have on other before posting. Once in awhile is okay, but we all know someone who spurts hatred and negativity. Those are the people you need to “unfriend” because you don’t want that trash in your head. I “unfriended” several offensive people and now my news feed is much more positive and uplifting. While you are at it, purposely “like” and “follow” positive social media feeds such as The Secret or Health Magazine.
- Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Just because you aren’t posting anger-fueled rants to social media doesn’t mean you should not communicate how you are feeling. Choose a trusted friend or family member who can listen to you without passing judgement. My best friend helped me work through some of the more difficult moments.
- Talk to yourself in a new way. Intrinsic motivation is just as important as external motivation and one way you can train your brain to process your reality in a new way is by writing down and reading (daily) affirmations about yourself. If you are having problems with your self-esteem reading “Today I feel strong, beautiful, and confident.” every day can really help to redefine how you see yourself.
- Create motivation checklists, write down quotes you like, make a vision board, create a motivation board on Pinterest. Surround yourself with positive messages! Write down the things you want to achieve. Get excited about your plans for the future. I created a wall with all of my upcoming travel reservations and tickets. Looking at that wall every day helped me to stay calm and focused even on bad days.
- Create things, make art, color, express yourself. So many of us spend so much time bottling our emotions up inside and never letting our true feelings show. Creating something – anything – whether it is baking, crafting, or painting, helps to allow us to express ourselves. Creativity is an excellent outlet for relieving stress.
- Change it up, do things a new way. If something you used to enjoy isn’t appealing to you anymore, find a way to change it until it does. This happened to me with exercise. I was so burnt out of my exercise routine. It took completely revamping and rediscovering my love for exercise for me to find joy in movement again.
- Make a mantra. A mantra is a simple, short phrase that you can repeat to yourself over and over again while trying to fix negative habits. The mantra I used was: Appreciation beats anxiety every time.Whenever I started to feel upset or anxious, I would repeat this mantra over and over to myself in order to calm down and recenter.
I’m not saying that these 10 strategies will work for everyone or that they should replace therapy sessions with a licensed psychologist. I’m just saying that these are some things that helped me when I was feeling down – and they might help you (or someone you know) too.
The cool thing is that these strategies generally serve to boost your mood whether or not you are feeling down. And in my opinion, each one helps to boost your positivity bias, so that you look for and see the best in everything instead of the worst.
I think it is a shame that our society often ostracizes people struggling with mental illnesses instead of supporting them. If you are struggling with functional depression, I have been there and I’m happy to help in any way I can. If you know someone struggling with functional depression, why not suggest doing some of these activities together?
It shouldn’t be embarrassing to tell people “I’m suffering with functional depression.” There is no shame in telling others we have a cold or the flu… why should there be such a stigma around illnesses of the mind? Just like the cold or the flu, people do not choose to be impacted by mental illnesses. Neither are most mental illnesses permanent conditions. By educating yourself about symptoms and treatments for mental illnesses, you can help yourself and others to fight back and defeat afflictions of the mind.
If you found this post interesting or helpful, please leave a comment below!