About the Aware Blog. Each month we will post an article on a range of topics relating in some way to Depression. A blog post may be the author’s personal experience, a reaction to public events, or views on how better we can support ourselves and others who experience depression or related mood disorders. Each of our posts will be from an individual viewpoint, this means that some blog posts may not reflect official Aware policy.
Shift your focus – express gratitude –
have a different day!
Depression can feel overwhelming. When you feel depressed it can seem as if so much needs to be dealt with that it may be hard to know where to start. Given the perceived magnitude of the problem little changes can appear pointless. It is natural to over-think, yet all that effort brings little in the way of a
solution. Could making a small change such as ‘shifting your focus’ – which I will expand on further below – really have any effect on this feeling of being overwhelmed?
My own experience tells me that the answer is ‘yes’, even a tiny change can make a difference. When feeling depressed I would continually think about the myriad of problems I felt I had. Eventually I realised I needed to try and stop over-thinking and attempt to shift my focus to something more positive. I chose to focus on two things: ‘taking a step back’ and ‘gratitude’. At the outset, this shift in focus seemed a fairly simple and insignificant thing to do but it changed my life.
To illustrate my point I’ll ask you to imagine a golfer who is playing badly. With his last shot the ball ends up fifty metres away from where he was aiming. Obviously fifty metres is quite a distance so it looks like a lot of work will be required to make up the difference. You can imagine how hopeless he might feel his game is. Now imagine someone telling him that he is only a few millimetres out. What would the golfer’s response be? More than likely he would tell his friend how naïve and misjudged his comment is. However when his friend explains that by changing the angle at which he is aiming by one millimetre the resulting shot could be on target it begins to make sense. A one millimetre change could resolve a fifty metre discrepancy. So maybe a little shift in focus, bringing positive options into view could have a similar effect in all our lives!
It is human nature to focus on the negative results of our problems and they can feel overwhelming. Changing them can seem an impossible task. However if we can take a step back, like the golfer, maybe our problems won’t seem quite as big. By shifting our focus and allowing some space for positive options to come into view then everything around us can begin to change for the better. One small change can results in more positive changes.
With depression the conscious mind may be over-worked either doing a post mortem on past events or worrying about upcoming ones. The problem is that this over-thinking can drown out the unconscious mind. It creates paralysis through over analysis. Richard Weismann in his publication, ‘59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot.’ (Macmillan, 2009) talks about how our unconscious mind can be a better problem solver than our conscious mind. We may feel that in order to deal with a problem we need to spend a lot of time concentrating on it while actually the opposite can be true. It has been shown that more problems are solved when you leave them alone for a little while, shift your focus and come back to them later. For example, how many times have you tried to remember someone’s name with no luck, only to remember it later when you were doing something completely different? This is because our unconscious mind will continue to work for a solution in the background while we continue with our day to day tasks.
So what can you do?
1. Take a step back and give your mind a break from the current problem you have. This can be done by concentrating instead for a short while on something challenging and enjoyable like a crossword or puzzle. Another way to distract your mind is by meeting a friend for a chat or reading a good book. When you think about the problem a little later, see if your unconscious mind has come up with any solutions?
2. Express gratitude. Begin each day with a feeling of gratitude. I cannot stress enough how powerful this simple technique can be in helping change your outlook for the better. To do this simply start listing anything you have in your life that you are grateful for. As you go through your morning routine spend two minutes (yes! all it takes is two minutes) listing at least three great things in your life. For example my list looks something like this:
I’m so happy and grateful that I’ve a loving family.
I’m so happy and grateful that that I can afford a cup of coffee.
I’m so happy and grateful that I’ve internet access and can read this …
The things you list can be fairly simple. The beauty of this list is that it gives you an appreciation of all the good things you have in your life, which is something we can all too often overlook. In doing this you begin your day by focusing on the positives, and so your day is more likely to continue in this positive light. Basically you’re making sure you get out on the right side of the bed. This process may give you a renewed enthusiasm for the day ahead and help start a process for happier times.
Wishing you all the best, Carl.
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