by Mike Toohey, Ph.D.
A hallmark feature of feeling depressed is having low energy. Just as bears hibernate in the winter to expend as little energy as possible during the times of scarce resources, we go through a depressive “hibernation” so we can conserve our own energy while times are tough. In fact, this may literally happen to people when they experience depression every winter. This becomes a problem when, in our efforts to conserve energy in the short-term, we cause more harm in the long-term.
A classic example is the person who pours him or herself into food (or vice versa) when something goes wrong. Food tastes good and can be a source of comfort in the short-term. However, if enough things go wrong this person may turn to food quite often and may become overweight or have increased health problems. These become new problems which lead to more depression, overeating, and so on.
Another example is when a person stays in and withdraws when they feel depressed. If they feel depressed enough they might rarely go out which may cause them to have less interactions with friends and other forms of social support than normal, which would decrease their potential to have rewarding experiences. This, in turn, would lead to more depression, more withdrawal, and even less social interaction.
In both examples the person chooses short-term gains over ones that take more energy but are better in the long-term. In order to break the depressive cycle, it is important to first identify when you are making decisions based on your depression. Ask yourself, “What would I do if I weren’t depressed?” Making decisions out of low energy and fear are based on the short-term and not what is best for you in the long-run. Second, once you realize what choice is best for you in the long-term, fight the urge to simply do what is easier for now. Acting based on the thought of “I’m feeling so bad right now that I can’t stand doing anything else – I need to pamper myself” is short-cited and will cost you more later on. You can stand the urge! You’ve had urges before and haven’t died yet or exploded from them! Stop acting based on your depression and fight it. Do what is best for you and not for your emotions.