Stop “fighting” depression and “chasing” happiness

Stop “fighting” depression and “chasing” happiness

The language we use to speak to ourselves is important.

Very important.

Words become thoughts; thoughts become actions; actions and behaviours are … well, they are our lives.

So what you say and how you say it becomes how you live your life. This can be a good thing, if your self-talk is realistic and helpful, if it’s constructive and positively leads to happiness and health, thriving and flourishing.

But too often we make the mistake of using words and language that ultimately, can add to our distress and difficulties. 

Why would we do this?

There are many possible answers to this question but one of the more simple is that this is the common language of our society. We’re told to “fight” depression, or that depression and mental ill-health is something we need to “beat” or “defeat”. We’re encourage do “pursue” or “chase” happiness, or that happiness is something we should try to “find”.

In my experience, however, as both a therapist / coach AND as someone who lives with mental ill-health and has tried many ways to live with it better, no one wins a battle against severe distress and happiness isn’t out there waiting for you or anyone to discover it.

Is this just theoretical semantics? 

Maybe; but as noted earlier, semantics are important. And in this case, using some of the language noted above can easily lead to frustration and disappointment, even more depression and stress and anger because this thing we’re trying to fight, just fights back harder, and this thing we’re trying to find, remains elusive and beyond our grasp.

So, what’s the answer? 

Well, to be honest, the answer will be different for everyone. Why? Because we’re all different and what works for me might not work in exactly the same way for you. You need to find your words and you need to create a language that’s helpful for you. This might take some trial and error, but it’s very much worth the time and effort.

In general, however, one of the most important steps you can take is to be more mindful of what you’re saying to yourself and especially, of how you’re thinking about your psychological wellbeing and happiness. Once you are more aware, begin to ask yourself if what your thinking is helping? What else could you say that might be more helpful? What might you say to someone else that you could say to yourself?

Personally, I stopped “fighting” my depression some time ago when I eventually learned I couldn’t “beat” it. That doesn’t mean I gave in, but what it meant was that I faced up to the cold hard realities and approached them in a better way.

One metaphor I’ve found helpful is that just like I can’t “fight” bad weather, I can’t fight or wish away bad feelings. What I can do, however, is check the forecast and prepare more effectively; I can wear more appropriate clothing, for rain or cold, and I can carry an umbrella. In the same way, I can monitor for early warning signs, indications my mood is trending down, and begin, sooner rather than later, to use the strategies that have shown they work for me. 

In the same way, I’ve stopped thinking that happiness is something I’ll eventually find one day, “when” this or that happens or “when” I change or achieve something. Instead, I’ve learned that happiness isn’t something I get to enjoy when everything’s just right but rather, that happiness is something I’m more likely to experience when I accept things for what they are.

In short, I guess I’ve swapped antagonism for acceptance, and I hope you can also find a way of thinking and self-talking that brings you more peace, love and understanding.