DEPRESSION FATIGUE & THE WONKY ELEVATOR

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There is a hotel in Canada with an unusual elevator. To go to the second floor from the lobby, you need to press “down”, and to go from the lobby to the second floor, you need to press “up”. So unless you’ve been there before, or have somehow been warned, you are likely to find yourself not where you had wanted to go.

When we feel tired, we intuitively want to rest in order to help ourselves. Much of the time, for example, when we’ve walked a long way or have a fever, resting is helpful. One of the very common symptoms of depression is fatigue, and it feels just like any other fatigue. However, because it has psychological components that may be subconscious, it is not made better by rest. It, in fact, is worsened by rest, and helped by activity. So in order to achieve what we are truly after, which is to feel better, we need to go against the intuitive urge to rest, and engage in some type of activity.

Because of the decrease in energy, motivation, and interest that often co-exist in depression, it is very common and understandable for individuals to do less, and to sometimes spend more time in bed. If you find this happening with you or someone you know who is not physically sick, do not be quick to make a wrong judgement of laziness, but instead think about depression, which is very common. With depression, the mood may be either flat, without much emotion, or sad, or a combination of the two. People with depression who are doing less are just following the inclinations that the illness is producing, and so deserve compassion, not judgement. However if they ask themselves whether the extra rest is helping them feel less tired, they will find that the answer is NO. Alternatively, if they reflect on how they felt with an activity that they undertook, they will notice that it made them feel at least somewhat better. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pleasant activity or accomplishing something, even simple. While physical activity is particularly helpful, any kind of activity is better than none. An excessive amount of screen time is not good, leaving one often listless, lethargic, and more irritable. While depression often makes people want to isolate themselves, the isolation feeds feelings of depression and aloneness. Humans have a basic need for connection, and connection is helpful for people with depression, who tend to feel isolated.

The way to get someone with depression and decreased activity, whether it’s you or someone else, is not with judgement or a whip, but rather with loving encouragement. Do NOT use the word SHOULD, as it only tends to induce guilt and resistance. Nobody wants to be under somebody’s thumb, including their own! One strategy is to imagine an angel or some other “perfect friend” who is understanding of how you feel, compassionate, gentle, and strong; who can help you up, come up with a good idea of something to do, remind you that it will help you feel better, and accompany you. Or you can be that “perfect friend” for someone. It is much better to encourage and invite, and give the person options, rather than to take charge and force anything.

So remember that wonky elevator, and use the increase in activity to help you get where you want to go instead of trusting your inclination in this instance. As people with depression increase their activity levels, they feel more alive and engaged in the world, and this in itself can have a significant antidepressant effect.

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