As I write in my book Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis, depression is often a symptom of lack of power. Depression involves feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness, and/or worthlessness. So the less control you have over factors in your life, the more likely you are to be depressed.
Genes, health status, and behaviors certainly make a difference in depression. But often the best thing you can do is to increase your sense of power or your actual power.
But how can you increase power? Obviously, some things really are out of our control. But there are some possible ways to increase power.
There are three major sources of power. One is resources, especially money, insurance, and other things that make life more secure. Second is self-confidence (sometimes called self-efficacy), the belief that you can do the things you want to do. Third is social support, the help of other people.
Can we increase available resources? Many times we can’t, but sometimes getting a better job, or applying for disability pay or assistance (with utility bills, for example) can help.
Building our self-confidence is always possible. Keys are:
Changing negative thoughts. If we believe we can’t do something, or believe nothing we do will do us any good, or if we believe that life is not worth much effort, or that we ourselves aren’t worth any attention, we are likely to be depressed.
The good news is that we can change these thoughts fairly quickly. First you have to identify the negative thought (for example, “I never finish what I start.”) Then you check the negative thought against reality. Is it really true that you never finish what you start? Can you think of any counterexamples? (Remember that time you fixed the kitchen sink?) Then come up with a more balanced, truthful thought. “I sometimes have trouble sticking with things, but I’m doing the best I can,” or “I finish the things that are important to me.” It has to be a thought you can believe. Then you repeat the thought to yourself whenever you need to.
This “thought-changing” is the basis of cognitive therapy, the most popular and effective kind of psychotherapy there is. Often, just 3–6 weeks of practice will change destructive thoughts to healthier ones. You can get help from a cognitive therapist if needed.
One step at a time. The other big key to building self-efficacy is to start small and build up. When you succeed at something, even something small (for example, checking your blood glucose once a day), it builds your confidence and helps you succeed at bigger things. Pick small changes that you are pretty sure you can do.
It also helps to keep logs, records of what you have done. When you have a written record of how many times you’ve walked this week, you can’t really say you never do it.
The Power of Other People
Another way to boost self-confidence is by associating with other people who are succeeding. If you have a friend who is going through the same things you are going through, your successes can feed off each other.
In fact, other people are usually the best source of power. Family members, neighbors, other people with diabetes, a congregation, or professionals can give you emotional support and practical help (like an exercise partner or a ride to the gym.) They can be role models for you and you for them.
Power with a Big P
The power relationships in our society are extremely unfair. There’s a wide gap between rich and poor. You can’t change these relationships with positive thoughts alone! So you might want to join with others to change the environment in your neighborhood or community, say by getting a job program or community center going. Or you may want to get involved politically.
If you can’t do that, consider trying to change the environment in your own home, at least! A home filled with love, peace, and good food is a great source of power. A home filled with arguments, white bread, and Oreos will make healthy living much more difficult.
Do any of these ideas work for you? What have you tried to feel more empowered or be more powerful? Who has helped you, and what has gotten in your way? Has any of that made a difference in your depression or your mood? Let us know with a comment below.