Clinical depression is a serious medical condition. Something is not working in the body’s complex process of dealing with stress hormones and production of feel-good chemicals. When someone is depressed, they can be easily overwhelmed by thoughts, feelings, and even body sensations regarding a specific issue, set of issues, or even the state of the world. Overwhelm is a symptom of depression and also feeds it, resulting in feelings of hopelessness and in being ineffective in dealing with everyday life issues. This is “Depressive Overwhelm.” One factor is the time of year: The New Year is a symbol of hope, moving from darkness to more light, but unfortunately, it also marks one of the seasonal peaks of depression. Holiday bills, family and relationship complications, high self-expectations and not meeting ones’ goals, even the return to work after a holiday can compound unhappy feelings.

Overwhelm is a significant part of clinical depression. In psychotherapy, overwhelm is seen in dreams or images of floods, tsunami, earthquakes, fires, wild animals, etc.—things out of your control. The problem with depressive overwhelm is that it clouds your thinking and makes everything seem out of your control and unmanageable, which leads to withdrawal, isolation, and shut-down, or irritation and anger (more common in men). It is a vortex of unapproachable, overwhelming emotions. This feeds the untreatable feeling of depression; isolative behaviors and negative assumptions do not allow room for anything else. One path through this maelstrom is distilling overwhelm and dealing with what is within your control, in a reasonable way, and letting go of factors you have no control over.

7 Steps to dealing with depressive overwhelm:

  1. Notice Your Negative Assumptions: “This is hopeless,” “What’s the point,” I am never going to get through this,” “Nothing I do is good enough,” I am just going to fail,” “This is too much/too overwhelming,” “I can’t do anything about it”; etc. Notice your thoughts and assumptions without judgment.
  2. Label Your Assumptions: Noticing and labeling your thoughts without negative self-judgement is key here. If you say to yourself, “That is so stupid, I can’t believe I feel like I am responsible for…,” you further reinforce negative assumptions about yourself. Instead, try saying, “That is an automatic negative thought” (a NAT, like the little irritating insects, gnats).
  3. Differentiate between what is within your control, and what you have no control over: One of the main tools in managing depressive overwhelm is to differentiate between what is in your control and what you have no control over. Write down specific issues that are overwhelming. On the left side of the page put everything you can directly and realistically control; on the right side is everything you have no immediate and direct control over.
  4. Release what is out of your control: See yourself opening your hand and releasing NATS outside. The put your attention onto the areas you have control over.

Note on overwhelm while engaging in these steps: Be careful that this exercise is not another opportunity for overwhelm to sneak in. If you physiologically start to feel overwhelmed, set the exercise aside until later and try some relaxation tools—a slow stretch routine, slow yoga, a walk, etc.

  1. Break down issues into manageable steps: Write 1-10 on a sheet of paper and divide an issue or task into ten steps. If these seem overwhelming, take each step and break it down into smaller steps until you have a manageable set of tasks. These tasks are not supposed to feel completely anxiety free, just not overwhelming to the point that you become paralyzed and start focusing on N-A-Ts.
  2. Implement one step: Avoid feeling like you need to fix everything at one go; this is a recipe for overwhelm. If you plan to call up some friends and meet for tea, it might be overwhelming to do that all at one sitting. Instead, one step could be sending one friend an email, “Happy New year; would love a chance to chat.” One small step accomplished will generate positive momentum.
  3. Move towards what feeds you: Dealing with depression is similar to recovery from a marathon or physical injury. You need to take care of yourself and focus on things that bring you health, sustenance, meaning, comfort, companionship. Connect: depression makes you isolate, recovery involves reconnecting to people, activities, work, and intellectual /spiritual well-being. Even if it does not feel worth the effort, connecting is essential and will help. Taking care of your physical being helps. You may not feel up to a complicated recipe but some yoghurt, bread and cream cheese, or sandwich gets your body tools it needs to feel better. Options to connect abound: take a walk in the woods or by the sea, contact friends or family, consider joining a volunteer group where you are contributing to something greater than yourself, time with a pet, meditate, and enjoy a hot bath.

With severe clinical depression, a doctor’s visit is essential to assess what else might be contributing. Iron levels, thyroid functioning, and hormone levels are typically tested. Your doctor can also discuss any medical treatments that might be beneficial. Therapy is also important. With negative emotions, our brain needs help to process them so that the intensity lowers. Contact me for more information on how I can help you manage depression and overwhelm.