The Game Depression Plays With Your Mind
I think of depression as the game Whac-a-Mole I played in the arcade as a kid. You know, the one where you take a mallet and smack a mole back into its hole, only to have another one pop up next to you. Depression can be just as tricky. Right when you think you have a leg up on it, it thinks of one more way to pop up and drag you back down into the pit.
Depression knows all kinds of tricks to win this game. One of its favorites is convincing you that brooding or obsessing about your issues helps. In reality, putting your mind in overdrive is usually a losing strategy.
If you’ve ever felt depressed, perhaps you know what I’m talking about. It’s early in the morning and you have things you know you need to do, like workout, walk your dog or, say, arrive to your job on time. But your brain kicks in and tells you that, instead, you should think about your problems—just a little bit more.
Your brain convinces you this is an excellent way to spend your time. It instructs you to indulge yourself, because if you think about your problems some more you will figure them out. The issue is that so often what you are really doing is brooding. And in a warped way, it feels really good to ruminate, in the same way it does when you scratch a mosquito bite.
So, you are off to the races and the tape starts to loop again and again. You think about that thing you said at work (was it stupid or not?), the reasons your boyfriend gave you for dumping you, whether you raised your voice too much in front of the kids, why your marriage fell apart, the feedback you got in your last unsuccessful job interview—all of it, in detail.
Before you know it—although you were only going to think about it for a little while—40 or 50 minutes have passed. Now there is no time left for the gym, or anything else you needed to get done, and you feel bad about that too.
No good comes of this mind game. I’m not saying that people don’t find solutions when thinking about their problems. I’m saying that ruminating, obsessing and brooding rarely help you work through your depression or anxiety.
And the reason it is so hard to stop doing this to yourself is because your brain is playing tricks on you. It is incredibly sophisticated and powerful, and it can bring you down. But it can also lift you up, if you let it.
Recognizing what your brain is up to is part of the solution, and it is incredibly empowering. So, the next time your brain tells you to stay inside and spend more time thinking about how you “messed up,” smack it hard with your mallet.