Dumping Depression: Part 3 - Dumping Unhelpful Habits
"The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken."
- Warren Buffett
The Killer B's: Brooding, Blaming, Bottling, and Bad Boundaries
Africanized honey bees are tiny insects that are were created to be more effective at producing honey than the standard honey bee. They are relatively small insects, and because of this, you wouldn't see them as a major threat. Their street name, however, is more telling. These bees are commonly known as "killer bees". These bees are relentless in their pursuit of anything that they perceive to be a threat. These bees swarm together by the thousand and will chase their victims for miles. If their victim is unable to escape, they will collectively continue to sting their victim up to 2000 times or until death.
The killer bees are a surprisingly relevant analogy for certain habits that we often hold on to in our lives. But, much like the killer bees, these habits can seem like they're not that dangerous; but when a person engages in these behaviors, especially while depressed, it can feel like stinging yourself with deadly venom over and over again, with each sting becoming increasingly lethal. Brooding, blaming, bottling, and bad boundaries are relentlessly dangerous habits that can worsen depression if they are not dumped ASAP. In this blog we discuss these lethal habits and how to stop engaging in them.
We have so far discussed some thinking patterns and co-conspirators that go along along with depression. So far, the things we have discussed are largely out of our control - things that have a biological root that are difficult to change without the help of a trained professional. This section addresses the issues that we have a bit more control of; our habits. We can't do much about the thought patterns we have learned in our childhood, but we can begin to change the way we engage with them. These are things that we can often catch ourselves doing and make an active choice to change when we notice ourselves doing them.
Have you ever replayed something in your mind over and over again? Sometimes we fixate on negative thoughts or feelings and descend into deeper and deeper states of depression, possibly even to the point of feeling suicidal. We brood over things instinctively, playing it over and over endlessly, like the increasingly annoying song on repeat on the radio. The more we think on this thing over, and over, and over, the worse we feel.
This rumination is pretty common, but it isn’t helpful. It perpetuates a cycle of negative thoughts, activating negative emotions within us. These compound until we suffer from worsening depressive episodes that at times can become chronic.
What you can do about it:
It's totally understandable that when a situation occurs or is on your mind, we have a propensity to think long and hard on it. Have you ever found this to be helpful, or to actually fix anything? Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists stated on their podcast that we fool ourselves into thinking that if we think on the problem long and hard enough, we will solve it. But, this hardly happens! This is even more apparent when we have shame attached to it. Our problem solving center in our brains actually shuts down when we feel shame.
What we often seek in these situations is actually control. Write out your feelings: make pros and cons lists, journal your feelings, make notes on what questions to ask or topics to research. Taking it out of your brain and onto paper (or a screen) allows your brain to stop worrying about remembering every detail or angle, and activate the tortoise brain; the part that slowly and subconsciously looks for new ideas and solutions. This is where our best ideas often come from and where our solutions will most likely come from as well. This is why “sleeping on it” is a common tactic and good idea; it uses this part of the brain.
Another thing that can worsen depression is blaming. Much of our negative thought patterns involve misplaced blame. We blame ourselves for things that have nothing to do with us, or we might blame others for things that we ourselves are truly responsible for.
Blaming is often a tool to regain control in a situation or to feel absolved. We blame ourselves sometimes because if everything is our fault, then the solution will always lie with us. If someone else to to blame, we can’t control them. Thus we can’t control when or how quickly a problem gets resolved.
We will often blame others in order to protect our egos, or our self-image of ourselves that we take to be our actual selves. Sometimes we go to pretty far lengths to make ourselves look good or superior in a situation. The ego, these mental photos of how we think we are that we carry around, are pretty deeply important to us, so our brains will change reality as much as needed to protect those images.
What you can do about it:
Take back control: own your situation. Even if you have no power in the situation, focus on what is in fact within your control, what outcomes you would like and what to do about them. This is often referred to as locus of control. You can draw a circle and list the things outside of your control outside the circle, and those within your control inside the circle. This is a great way to battle many negative thought patterns.
A third thing that can worsen depression is bottling our feelings. This can be a tough one because many of us may not even be aware that we are bottling up our feelings. A good way to begin to tell is by learning our cues. How do our bodies react when we are fed up? It is highly likely that a bout of depression is itself a sign of bottled up emotions overflowing. And keep in mind that depression can manifest itself with irritability rather than sadness or numbness.
Many of us are taught that it is good to not show our feelings. Some of us have bottled our feelings out of necessity in a dangerous or abusive environment. It’s hard because we may no longer be in that environment but are still stuck in the same defensive tactics. A good question to ask yourself may be, “Is this still working for me? Or does this still fit with my current life and relationships?” If not, it may be time for some trauma therapy.
Related: The Baggage Breakdown Series
What you can do about it:
A lot of us struggle to express our emotions because we don’t even know what thoughts create them. We need to get in touch with our thoughts. Things that can help include a situation processing journal, meditation, or other types of mindfulness.
Depression thrives on the feeling of hopelessness, the feeling of not being able to do anything about the situation you are in. By battling the behaviors we discuss here you will begin to find a way to hope. By working of undoing these negative habit you begin to see more clearly how you can move forward. Depression is tough, but so are you.
This one remains a chicken-or-egg question; "did unhealthy relationships trigger my depression, or did they simply come from it?" Toxic relationships of any kind can really weigh us down, sap our energy, and give us a really negative view of ourselves, which can match with many depression symptoms.
Poor boundaries can mean being walked all over like a doormat in the case of excessively loose boundaries, or keeping people distance and at bay in the case of excessively rigid boundaries. Either way, the quality of our life suffers when the quality of our relationships suffers.
What you can do about it:
Learning and practicing assertiveness skills can really help improve your relationships. It is important to have a willingness to lose certain relationships that are not positively contributing to your life. Learning new ways to say no and saying sorry only when you mean it are small steps to a richer, more fulfilling life.
This is admittedly hard because depression makes us feel low-energy, unmotivated, and we feel undeserving of better relationships. It is perfectly OK to save this step until you can some progress from therapy and/or medication.
Killing the "Killer B's"
The habits of brooding, blaming, bottling, and bad boundaries regularly unite to bring despair into our lives and introduce or worsen depression. Overcoming them is a journey, and it's not a linear one. These aren't patterns to be sworn off "cold turkey", but a commitment to regular self-reflection is a very powerful tool against them. You'll recognize one of them once here or there, and slowly, over time, you can notice them more and more. Eventually, you will move to stopping them, challenging them, or redirecting your thoughts and behaviors. Take it easy on yourself, trust the process, but try not to doubt that you will beat them.
Get Help Today
As stated in the previous blog, it can be difficult to get help because you are not motivated and the route to getting help is hard to figure out even when you want to. Here are some ways to get help:
- Psychology Today - Psychology Today has the largest list of therapists in the United States and many other countries. Feel free to filter by your insurance, specific areas of treatment, and even what gender of clinician you would like to work with.
- Talkspace - Talkspace is the leading site which offers counseling services over the internet. This may be helpful if you are uninsured, or have a high copay for mental health. A counselor can work with you via messages, and also through video chat.
- Betterhelp - Betterhelp is another large online counseling site that offers you unlimited access to a counselor for a weekly fee. Sessions take place via messaging and also via video chat.
- GoodTherapy - Good Therapy is a large therapy directory with therapists available worldwide.
If you know any others that may be helpful, or services in other countries, please contact us and let us know!
Help for Suicidal Thoughts
Depression can be a debilitating illness, and we implore anyone dealing with it to take it seriously. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 in the United States. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Here are some international hotlines as well:
Thanks to the International Bipolar Foundation for this list!
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