Your 4-Step Guide to Happiness
By Cassie Shortsleeve
Looking for a med-free way to lift your mood? Talk it out. A new study in The Lancet adds to an existing body of research suggesting that therapy really does help alleviate feelings of depression.
Six months of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is aimed to change negative thinking patterns and beliefs, reduced symptoms in almost half of depressed people who weren’t responding to antidepressants. And the results lasted for a year.
While real therapy is your best bet if you’re depressed, we wondered: How can you apply CBT to your own life sans a therapist? Here are four easy ways to dig yourself out of the dumps, starting today. (And please, see a doc if you have major depression symptoms, including suicidal thoughts.)
Break a Sweat
CBT is a two-pronged approach: “Half [of the therapy] targets the way you think—your faulty cognitions—and half targets your actions,” clinical psychologist Rob Dobrenski, Ph.D., tells MensHealth.com. See, there’s a lot of sedentary behavior that goes along with depression. And adding in moderate cardio three to five times a week adds more than just serotonin to your brain. “You’ll get in better shape, have more self esteem, and be more social,” Dobrenski adds. These are all known mood boosters.
“One of the first things depressed people will say is, ‘when I feel better I will work out,’” Dobresnki says. But the opposite works: Change your behavior and your emotions will follow suit. (See why we call exercise The Drug-Free Depression Cure.)
Grab a Pen
You don’t need to keep a teen diary, but the moment you notice your mood change, write your thoughts down in bullet points, Dobrenski suggests. “One of the hallmarks of depression is assuming that all of your thoughts are true,” he says. “And it’s been shown that with depression, people have skewed thoughts.” When you see your thoughts on paper, you’re more likely to recognize that they’re not all true—maybe they’re too global (“everything is falling apart”), or too dark (“this is the worst day of my life”). Realizing that your thoughts don’t match reality can help bring you back to reality. Pro tip: When you’re done writing, throw the paper out—it’s The Easiest Way to Beat a Bad Mood.
Buy a Book
“I always recommend a workbook,” says Dobrenski. Why? It’s like a course in CBT. No matter your obstacle—money, time, insecurity—workbooks offer solutions to common thinking errors or roadblocks that many depressed people face. The best part: You can do it at your own pace, on your own time—and they’re usually pretty cheap. Try Mind Over Mood, or The Feeling Good Handbook.
Set Small Goals
CBT is goal-based, Dobrenski says. Your move: Picture yourself when you weren’t depressed or picture someone who isn’t depressed, and do what those people would do, says Dobrenski. People who aren’t depressed usually have good balance in their life, he says. And small steps can make a big difference. Start by planning a few post-work activities every week with friends or coworkers, and go from there. “Depending on the level of depression, the problem can be entirely behavioral,” says Dobrenski. “So work on that first.”