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Depression is often triggered by untoward traumatic events that one is unable to deal with emotionally. These events may be sudden and severe like accidents, gradual and continuous like terminal illness or even ongoing and day-to-day like conflicted relationships. At any given time, many people are affected by the particular trauma. However, only a few end up suffering from depression. What makes some people more likely than others to suffer from depression?

The reason for this is a biological and psychological vulnerability.

While the biological vulnerability and events that usually trigger depression might not be under our direct control, the psychological vulnerability, to a great extent, can be worked with.

What is psychological vulnerability?

It is basically a pattern of thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, emotions and behaviors that is dysfunctional and unhealthy and involves/leads to inadequate coping mechanisms.

What you can do to strengthen your psychological immunity and thereby prevent depression:

1. Manage emotions:

One of the biggest strengths you can develop is learning how to deal with emotions, both positive and negative ones. Developing the appropriate outlets, modes of expression and belief systems which help you deal with the emotional charge before it becomes septic for you and others is of fundamental importance. Teach your children how to do this for an early age, and if you are struggling doing so yourself, here are some tips to help you manage your emotions better.

2. Learn to identify your emotions correctly :

Seems like something everyone already knows? Surprisingly not. Feeling ‘bad’ can mean anything from feeling hurt, angry, resentful, disappointed to a plethora of other emotions, all of which are relatively distinct. Understanding what you’re feeling is the foremost step in dealing with it.

3. Accept your emotions non-judgmentally :

Emotions are not good or bad and they do not make you a good/bad person. Positive emotions like joy, love and contentment are just as natural to human beings as negative emotions like rage and jealousy. Discounting negative emotions doesn’t make them go away. Judging yourself for feeling negative emotions will just create more negative emotions of guilt. You cannot change what you cannot accept.

4. Understand the ‘Why’?

Understand what has triggered this emotional response. The obvious answers would be someone’s misbehavior, mother-in-law’s taunts, boss’s insult, wife’s criticism. But when you go just a little deeper, you realize that it is always your own thoughts that triggered that emotion. It is how you perceived the situation and the inferences you drew out of someone else’s behavior that made you feel this way. Accept this responsibility.

5. Reality Check:

Once you understand that your thoughts are the trigger, try to take one step back and check just how rational the thoughts are. Often we catastrophize without realizing or come to big conclusions based on little evidence, focus on the negative etc. {for a deeper understanding of this, coming soon a post on basic REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy)}

6. Express, Release and Let go:

Learning to express emotions in a healthy manner is one of the most useful skills one can ever develop. This in turn involves aspects like using the right words to say and finding ways to discharge the emotional energy through activities like writing, drawing etc.

7. Stay connected:

No, this is not the connection to 850 people on social media like facebook and twitter. This involves building and being involved in healthy interpersonal relationships, be it with friends, family, neighbors or the society. This will keep you occupied, reducing the time you spend ruminating in isolation and will provide a strong social support system, which you can turn to when in need.

8. Have fun:

As obviously important as this is, it is often the one thing that gets ignored most easily in our busy lives. Remind yourself, that the sole reason why you are working so hard is to be happy, whether that happiness comes from success, money, security, satisfaction or fame. Why keep this happiness waiting till the future, take some time out and experience it right now. You have worked so hard to get where you are today, so allow yourself the reward. Do things that you enjoy, be it reading, watching movies, adventure sports or whatsoever. This is the food for your mind, can’t live without it.

9. Be Active:

Walk, dance, exercise – get your body moving. Have a healthy diet. Allow and boost the natural detoxification and rejuvenating properties of your body to keep your physical and mental health optimal. Take care of yourself. Many find it difficult to get out of bed or are just rushing through the day too fast to stop and exercise. One simple tip is to choose an activity which you really enjoy, so the work out actually becomes a fun time out instead of another chore. If you dislike waking up for early morning walks, join a dance class; if you detest dancing, join yoga. Initially it might be a good idea to join a structured class of some sort so as to push you to keep going till you get used to it and don’t need external motivation any more. Finding it difficult to start an action plan? Read here about simple ways of starting a plan effectively.

Post contributed by: Mahima Gupta (Psychologist, Inner Space, 2010-2012)

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