4 Steps for Overcoming Depression and Getting Through Tough Times
By Dr. Craig Moorman
We all face difficult circumstances at some point in our lives. And sometimes, those circumstances can lead to a sense of despair that feels overwhelming. The good news is you don’t have to go through hard times alone. Therapy for depression can help you overcome despair and give you strategies to cope with adversity.
As difficult as hard times are in the moment, they often offer an opportunity for building strength and resiliency.
A Story of Resiliency
In 2010, 33 Chilean miners were trapped 2,300 feet underground for over two months. They were in deep despair and so were their families. For 17 days, the world thought they were dead. Cut off from the world above, they almost lost hope.
On day 17, a drill probe reached them in the shelter. They spray painted it orange and stuck a note in a plastic bag and shoved it up the probe. The note read: “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33.” “All of us are well inside the shelter.”
On October 13, 2010, 69 days after being trapped under 45 stories of dolomite, a rock harder than granite, all the minders were miraculously rescued in good health.
How did these men get through this challenge? How can you make it through hard times?
As we examine what the Chilean miners did to get through this very hard time, a four step approach begins to emerge. I call these the four L’s of Living Through Tough Times:
1. Lift Your Spirit Up—Stay Positive
The miners reframed their circumstances positively. Normally only 16 men would have been down the hole at this time, but there were 33 men in the hole when the mountain broke off. They could have easily perceived this as a negative. Most people in this situation would ask themselves why so many miners were in mine when this tragedy happened. Instead, they saw this as so unique and unusual that they reasoned that there was must be some greater purpose that they were all suppose to experience. They saw this as a sign of hope. What a positive reframe!
The miners also kept stoking their minds with positive thoughts, imagining coming out in the sunlight and seeing their families, and rehearsing good thoughts about themselves and the future. They worked hard to see their situation, as bleak as it was, behind them.
In her research on resilience, Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, the author of Positivity, noted several important findings:
When not-so-resilient people face difficulties, their emotions just follow the events happening around them. If things are bad, all their emotions turn bad and they feel terrible. If things are good, they feel good. They have little power over negative experiences.
Resilient people, on the other hand, tend to find some silver lining in even the worst of circumstances. While they see and acknowledge the bad, they also find a way to see the good.
In hard times, the bad things can overshadow the good in our lives. Basic things such as our family, our home, and our career fade into the background. We have to deliberately draw attention to these things to feed ourselves positive emotional energy. This gives us strength through tough times.
2. Leverage Your Challenge into an Opportunity
The more you can leverage challenges as opportunities to grow and evolve, the more resilient you are likely to be. Take time to ask yourself, “What is this situation teaching me?”
The 33 Chilean miners leveraged their opportunity to become world renown through books, legend, and a Hollywood movie. They went from a place of being trapped, 98% humidity and 104 degree temperatures to the place of legends and notoriety.
In their book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire write:
Art born of adversity is an almost universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds. For artists who have struggled with physical and mental illness, parental loss during childhood, social rejection, heartbreak, abandonment, abuse, and other forms of trauma, creativity often becomes an act of turning challenge into opportunity.
Much of the music we listen to, the plays we see, and the paintings we look at—among other forms of art—are attempts to find meaning in human suffering.
Researchers at the University at Buffalo-the State University of New York and the University of California, Irvine found that people who had experienced a few adverse events in their lives reported better mental health and well-being than people with no history of misfortune.
3. Launch Your Serotonin—Open Your Heart to Others
Serotonin is the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. In studies, researchers found that people who have just engaged in an act of kindness use their serotonin more efficiently.
This means that being of service to others is a powerful way of stoking resilience.
This can happen in the midst of challenges, especially if there are others going through it with you. For example, the men in the Chilean mine served and encouraged one another. They looked after each other and would not let anyone fade away from the group and go into deep despair. They shared food and offered up thousands of acts of kindness to one another.
However, you don’t have to wait until you face difficult circumstances to open your heart to others. Multiple and consistent acts of kindness have an accumulative effect on serotonin, creating a well of resiliency to draw on.
The men in the Chilean mine constantly used humor to get them through each grueling day. They even danced in a circle laughing, singing and shouting, “Chi chi chi le le le mineros de Chile.”
From the beginning of time, humans have found that humor in the face of adversity can be profoundly pain relieving. “Playful humor enhances survival for many reasons,” writes resiliency authority Al Siebert in The Survivor Personality. “Laughing reduces to tension to more moderate levels … Playing with a situation makes a person more powerful than sheer determination. The person who toys with the situation creates an inner feeling of, ‘This is my plaything; I am bigger than it … I won’t let it scare me.’”
“Laughter doeth good like a medicine.”
Seek Out Help
These strategies can be helpful for facing difficult times, but you also may need professional help. This is especially true if you are struggling with prolonged depression. Remember that you don’t have to face challenges alone. If you’re feeling stuck or hopeless, don’t be afraid to seek out help. Therapy can help you identify triggers, reframe your thinking, reduce the associated symptoms, and bring you out of despair and back in the light.