The start of a year can be full of new beginnings, resolutions, and exciting goals. But for some, this time of year is a struggle. When the parties are over, but winter drags on, life can feel dull, overwhelming, and grim. People who experience symptoms of depression often feel alone and even ashamed that they’re so unhappy when nothing is “wrong.” But if you’re feeling low right now, you’re certainly not alone. For many people, once the holidays pass, depression sets in. There are many reasons people may experience post-holiday blues. Regardless of the reason, there is help available. At Trillium Counselling, we’ve found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a powerful tool for dealing with depression. Here’s a look at what it is and how it can help you out of seasonal depression.
Why Do I Feel Bad Now?
The holidays may be joyful, but they can also leave unhappiness in their wake. There are many reasons, such as exhaustion from all the preparations and socializing. You could be experiencing anxiety about the money you spent or how much you ate and drank. People often have expectations of the holidays that are impossible to meet, leaving them feeling let down and defeated.
The holidays are also a classic time for grief to show up, even over losses that occurred a long time ago. Experiencing these feelings of loss at a time when everyone looks like they’re happy can make painful emotions even harder to deal with.
Another common issue this time of year is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some people are more susceptible to how the light affects the body and find that winter’s long, cold nights weigh them down more than others. Whatever the reason, if you’re struggling with symptoms of depression, you deserve the support you need to feel better.
How Can CBT Help?
An analysis of studies into the use of CBT for mood disorders shows that it’s an effective treatment for depression. Not only can it help improve mood, but it also seems to help change people’s thinking patterns in ways that protect them from relapse.
CBT focuses on how your thoughts and behaviours interact with your emotions. It can feel impossible to shift your emotions, especially when you’re struggling, but in CBT, a therapist guides you to discover new ways of thinking and acting that bring relief. Here are some examples of the techniques a therapist may explore with you.
1. Cognitive Restructuring
This concept is at the heart of CBT. If you can identify the thoughts and beliefs that keep you stuck, you can choose other ways of thinking that will free you. Cognitive restructuring helps you examine the thought patterns you have that are causing you distress. With your therapist, you look for examples of cognitive distortion.
One common cognitive distortion is catastrophizing, a thinking pattern people fall into where they assume the worst will happen. For example, someone could have an argument with a romantic partner and assume that this means that their partner now can’t stand them and is going to leave them, and they will end up alone.
Cognitive restructuring enables them to keep in mind that all relationships have conflict. Instead of getting overwhelmed by fear of what might happen to the relationship, they can address what happened and how they want to respond.
2. Successive Approximation
This is also known as “breaking it down.” When someone feels upset, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by what they think they should be doing. This makes it difficult to make effective choices, leading them to fall behind on tasks. The shame over “failing” to get things done worsens this pattern, causing things to escalate until it seems impossible to fix the situation.
Successive approximation lightens this burden by breaking it down into smaller steps. For example, someone who feels bad about the fact that they still haven’t put away their Christmas decorations may feel shame and be overwhelmed by the task. But instead of thinking about it as a single, huge job, you can break it down into smaller, manageable steps. Start with step one: bring in the boxes you need to put the decorations away. Achieving that first small step makes moving on to the next one easier.
3. ABC Analysis
This technique helps people confront behaviours they want to change, such as losing their temper. To understand why this happens, they take a situation where it occurred and break it down into three parts: the Activating event, Beliefs about the event, and Consequences, including how they felt and acted.
If someone snapped at a friend, they first consider what Activated that moment. Were they upset about something their friend said? If so, what is their Belief about what they said? If their friend commented that they saw a mutual friend, and they believe that they were intentionally excluded, is that a helpful belief? Looking at the Consequences (they spoke harshly and upset their friend), what would they want to do differently?
4. Mindfulness Activities
These stress-reducing actions can range from guided meditation to simple, short breathing exercises. Mindfulness is a powerful tool to escape thought patterns that can become overwhelming and painful. Simply taking a minute to check in with what your body is experiencing can interrupt thought spirals.
A journal can be a beneficial tool as you work to replace unhelpful thought patterns with ones that serve you better. Journaling is a great way to explore the thoughts behind your feelings. If you’re sad about a situation, writing down your thoughts can give you a glimpse at what’s feeding those emotions.
CBT Can Help You Shake Off Seasonal Depression
If you’re struggling to engage joyfully with your life, you don’t have to go through this alone. Many people have found help through CBT.
At Trillium Counselling, our therapists are here to support you, whether with CBT or another approach. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.