The Downward Spiral of Depression

· January 8, 2016

Being depressed is much more than feeling sad, downcast, and wanting to cry. We often say that we are depressed because something stressful has happened in our lives or a delicate situation has taken place, but after a normal period of adaptive sadness, we are finally able to overcome it and continue our lives in a normal way.

If on the other hand we are not able to, we do not know how to do it, or we do not have the resources to overcome a given situation, be it of great import or not, we can fall into the claws of depression.

Depression is characterized by a very low mood and a marked loss of interest in those things that we used to like or that used to be pleasurable for us. The ability to enjoy things is lost along with all desire to do anything, resulting in behavioral inhibition. On a physiological level, we may feel very tired, suffer insomnia or hypersomnia, and have no sexual drive.

But why don’t all of us get depressed? Even when two situations are equally stressful, why don’t we all react in the same way?

It is obvious that our mind plays an important role in these differences. For a person to get depressed, our subjective interpretation of life situations has to become involved.

Let’s be realistic: there are very hard situations in life that would affect any person in an important way. But even so, it is our thoughts and beliefs that will determine, in the end, whether or not we become depressed or keep our heads above water.

This is good news. It is possible for a situation to be unresolved and unchanged, but we can almost always change our thoughts, which is why we can say in this sense that we have leeway and sufficient control.

How do we become depressed?

Some years ago, it was thought that depression was a physical illness stemming from the lack of a series of neurotransmitters in our brain that determine our mood. It is true that chemical substances like serotonin have a certain influence, but this is not the only factor involved, which is why drug therapy often ends up failing.


For a person to end up becoming depressed, there must be vital changes in their environment which they perceive as disagreeable. A loss of boosters is spoken of; that is to say, the person loses something that they found to be very precious and valuable, like for example a partner, a job, a change in city, or their own self-esteem.

When the person does not confront the situation, they start to feel overwhelmed and horribly sad, and they let their minds be filled with negative thoughts about themselves, the world, and the future. Logically, if you feel so bad, the thing you will want least is to go out, interact with people, or do things to enjoy yourself or clear your mind, and you will choose instead to stay locked up at home, not doing anything or lying in bed.

It is here that depression plays its trick on us and traps us in its spiral, which it is hard to escape from if we are not conscious of the importance of our thoughts, emotions, and actions.

The vicious circle could be summed up in the following way: the person has thoughts about themselves like “I’m no good for anything,” about the world like “People are evil and you can’t trust anybody,” and about the future like “I’ll never find a good job or make it as a person.” These thoughts cause us to feel very miserable, hopeless, and sad, which leads to our lost of interest in almost everything.

By not doing anything, not going out, not seeking a job, not meeting or interacting with anybody, I am confirming my negative thoughts. “I’m not good for anything,” and I confirm this to myself when I am sprawled in bed, not wanting to do anything. And what’s more, this attitude means a greater loss of boosters added to the original loss.

For example, a person who loses their partner loses one of their main boosters. And they do not only lose their partner, but also going to dinner with that person, hugging them, etc., which at the same time are also boosters. Their sadness is so great that the last thing this person wants is to do something enjoyable, to go out, to meet new people, to spend time doing something…

Here is where the error lies, for along with losing their partner, they are losing the chance to meet other people, to have fun doing new things, to find a job…which means more and more loss.

This vicious cycle must be cut off at some point to enable them to leave their depressive state, and the way to do this is by the person becoming active, doing things that do not require great effort and that end up being enjoyable for them. And this is where the “I don’t feel like it,” “I can’t,” come up. Maybe you don’t feel like it, but you don’t have to feel like it to go do things; you just have to make yourself do them.

There is no reason why motivation must come before the action; rather, motivation will come on its own after the action and the desire to do things will come back more and more strongly.

Cognitive work is also very important, but it will be done at a later phase, at the beginning of behavioral activation. Depressed people see the world in black, interpreting reality in a dysfunctional way.

Cognitive restructuring will be the chosen technique, allowing the person with depression to learn to identify their automatic negative thoughts, to evaluate their usefulness and truth, and to change them into more realistic and adaptive ones. This technique is carried out through asking oneself various questions with the goal of evaluating whether what one’s thoughts reflect objective reality or are guided by one’s subjective interpretations.

The solution is in our hands. Do not allow your happiness to depend on your surroundings, on any situation, as horrible as it may be; you have the ability to come out ahead if you want to. Even if you think that you have hit rock bottom and that you cannot do anything, you can. Get to work and show yourself that life is waiting for you with arms wide open.

You largely constructed your depression. It wasn’t given to you. Therefore, you can deconstruct it.

Albert Ellis