If you are depressed, try to cultivate self-compassion
It is common for people suffering from depression to feel hopeless and helpless in their mental condition and external environment. As a result, they do not have motivation in their life and even have thoughts about ending their lives. A client of mine had exacerbated depressive mood after finding out her chance for being promoted to a position she wanted is slim. She felt trapped in her current position and could not tolerate her subjective dislikes in the nature of her current work. In fact, she also failed a couple of job interviews and could not find another job that she might enjoy doing. She felt hopeless about her current situation and her depressive mood gradually exacerbated. As she felt more depressed, she started to blame herself for being inadequate to step out of her depression. She criticized herself as weak and incapable. Due to her non-acceptance of the exacerbation of her depressive mood, she tried very hard to set a strict routine for herself to “cure” her depression. She planned to wake up at 6 am in the morning and go to the gym for aerobic exercises and weight training. She also planned to read a lot of self-help books to help herself to feel happy again. However, the more she forced herself to stick to a strict plan to improve her mood, the less motivated she became. She could not complete the tasks she planned for herself and she felt very hopeless. She kept thinking that she was such a failure. How could she step out of her depression without being self-critical and forcing herself to feel happy again?
People with depression frequently have low level of self-compassion towards themselves. They usually tend to judge themselves basing on their achievement or mental condition. For instance, they would think that being trapped in depressive mood is a sign of weakness. They also felt an intense sense of isolation because they thought that it was only them who had this negative state and other people are all happy and successful. In fact, they tend to over-identify with their negative thoughts in relation to their depressive mood. For example, they believed that they were a failure for being depressed and they were worthless for being unable to find a good job opportunity.
It is necessary for people with depression to cultivate self-compassion during their depressive episodes. The first thing they need to do is to treat themselves kindly and let go of any judgment for themselves. Self-kindness is one of the three elements in self-compassion. To treat ourselves kindly means that we allow negative things happen to us and accept our depressive condition. For the client above, it is important for her to treat herself kindly by not planning a harsh routine for herself. Instead, she could take it easy and only plan to do one light pleasurable activity per day during her depressive episode. She might also allow herself to rest all day at home if her energy level was too low to do anything.
To be more self-compassionate, the second thing people with depression can do is to embrace the concept of common humanity. They need to understand that it is not only them who are undergoing negative states and obstacles in their lives. In fact, it is common for people to have negative mood and to face difficulties in life. It is important to remind ourselves that everyone makes mistakes and has struggles in life. This perspective helps people with depression to feel more connected to other people in their difficult time. For instance, the client above can relate with other colleagues in her company that many of them are trapped and facing similar situations as her. It is because the world economy is not good currently after the pandemic.
Last but not least, it is very important for people with depression to cultivate mindfulness. During our negative mood state, we cannot ignore or suppress our depressive mood. At the same time, we cannot over-identify with these states too. We need to stay in the present moment to surf with these negative mood states and try to be with them. We do not identify ourselves as a failure for having depressive mood. We need to understand that depression does not define us.
With self-compassion, we are able to take care of ourselves well during our depressive state. It is only when we could accept our negative emotions without judging ourselves, we could help ourselves to step out of the depressive episode gradually.