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Beating the Blues

Beating the Blues

Have you shut yourself off from the people and things you used to enjoy? Do you feel like crawling under the covers and hiding from the world? Are you avoiding phone calls, ignoring your e-mails and letting your Facebook page go silent?

Everyone gets down from time to time, but when feeling blue starts interfering with your life, it might be a sign of depression. Slightly more than one third of college students report feeling depressed in a typical school year. Fortunately, there are strategies than can help. But remember, if you can’t shake your blues or these strategies don’t work for you, talk to a friend, counselor or your family doctor.

Time for Change: Challenge Your Negative and Unrealistic Thoughts

Depression is a mental habit that has to be broken, so to “break the habit,” it helps to practice another way of thinking. This is a technique called “ cognitive restructuring.” The goal of cognitive restructuring is to help you understand your negative thoughts and turn them into neutral or positive ones. Here’s how to get started:

  • Observe your thoughts and catch them early. Most of us are in the middle of second-guessing our decisions or beating up on ourselves before we even know we’re doing it. Try to be more aware of your thoughts and notice what kinds of thoughts you’re having throughout the day. Start a thought diary to record and reflect on your thoughts.
  • Explore your thoughts. As you learn to become better at observing your thoughts, it’s necessary to think even more about them. What thoughts heighten your negative feelings about yourself? For example, are you criticizing yourself by thinking that you’ll always be loser? Or are you worrying unrealistically by saying that you won’t be able to stand it if _ happens? Thoughts like these can contribute to depression. Instead, try to respond assertively and ask yourself: “Will I still feel the same way about myself next month or next year?” “What would I do if the worst thing happened?” “When else have I done something similar and it turned out okay?” Questions like these can help you see things in a more balanced, realistic way. Write down your thoughts, and then attack them one by one with realistic responses. Write those responses down too.
  • Tracking the outcome. As you reflect on and analyze your thoughts, try tracking the outcome of the events that you were worrying about. Think about the probability of different outcomes by comparing what might happen with what really happened. You can record the actual outcome, whether good, bad or indifferent, and evaluate how important it was several weeks or several months later. Most of the time you will find that all the emotions and thinking that went into it were a waste of precious emotional energy—and certainly not worth crying about.

Behavioral Activation: Feeling Better Through Doing

Behavioral Activation is a fancy name for doing the exact opposite of what you really feel like doing. When depressed, many people want to isolate themselves. But, staying isolated actually makes you feel worse by creating a vicious cycle of more isolation, more negative self-talk, leading to…more isolation. The goal of behavioral activation is to break the cycle and get you moving again.

How to start doing the opposite?

First things first. If you are not taking care of your basic daily activities like brushing your teeth, taking a shower or combing your hair, then this is where you have to start. If you do nothing else that day, getting ready for the day can mobilize you to go out into the world. If you’re already doing those things, keep it up.

Make a list of activities you used to enjoy. List all the things that used to make you happy, give you pleasure or put a smile on your face. Think back to high school days or summers as a kid. Think of things even if you think they are silly or you do not like them now. Remember having depression can make even pleasurable things seem like an insurmountable task. Here’s one sample list:

  1. Going swimming at the lake
  2. Playing with my dog
  3. Riding my bike
  4. Playing video games
  5. Hanging out with my friends after school
  6. Finding the perfect pair of jeans
  7. Watching my baby cousin
  8. Playing basketball with my friends
  9. Talking on the phone with my best friend
  10. Painting in art class
  11. Playing the drums

Can’t think of anything? Take a look at what other people around the world have written down as their top fun things to do by clicking here.

Select one new activity per day to do and start doing it. You may want to start small and build yourself up to bigger and bigger things. For instance, you may want to call just one person a day or go to the pet store and play with puppies. Later you can build up to meeting a friend for a cup of coffee or setting up a time to play basketball. You may have to be creative and try new activities or do things in a new way. For example, if you liked hanging out with your baby cousin but there are no babies around, you could find out about volunteering at the local hospital or you could go to a local playground and swing on some swings. Remember to give yourself credit for doing something different and taking a step toward getting yourself back.

Pat yourself on the back. Depression is a hard habit to break, but each step you take helps to combat the depression. As you learn to evaluate your negative thoughts, gradually increase your activities and start reconnecting with friends, your depression will have less of a hold on you, and you will notice that you begin to feel better and better.

If you notice that your depression is not lifting or you feel like you still need help, please call and make an appointment with your school counseling center or call you student health center to find out more about ways to treat your depression.


Campus Health and
National Institute of Mental Health