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The First Step for Overcoming Depression and Finding Joy

If you feel that you are in a depression or low energy, low enthusiasm state that has been building up over time and is stealing the joy from your life, it may be what we call Dysthymia. You may have been to specialists already and been diagnosed with dysthymia, a mild but chronic form of depression that can hang around for years.

You may be so bored, stressed out or tired with your life that you even consider ending it! When we feel stuck with no control over our lives it brings about depression. It can happen right in your own day to day life, you don’t have to be locked in a prison or refugee camp in order to experience this very real phenomenon. Any chronic stressor or problem can bring this about.

Please note that the form of depression discussed here is not of the biological nature such as that which accompanies Bipolar Disorder or other medical conditions.

For some the dysthymia and depressive state begins in childhood with a dysfunctional family system, for others, it may be a lack of life skills that weren’t taught or with dysfunctional thought patterns that lead down an unhealthy path.  These patterns also can be picked up along the way, they don’t have to start in childhood, but they are problematic no matter where they originated.

The process usually looks like this:

  1. You have an area in your life that is making you very unhappy-career, relationship or finances, for instance.
  2. You stress and have a great deal of anxiety over it for an extended period of time.
  3. Your stress hormones and brain chemicals that deal with stress finally holler “I quit!”.
  4. You go into a depressive state or slump that can last a long time while your brain and body try to restore normalcy.
  5. If you haven’t fixed the problem this cycle will continue, with the slumps typically lasting longer and longer as you get older or as you give up trying to fix the problem.

You may feel stuck in a bad job or a bad marriage, living in a place you would rather not live or you may be feeling grief or loss for an opportunity not taken, there are many scenarios.  None of them feel good and can actually result in you being bedridden with depression and overwhelm at the very thought of having to make a change. Change can be scary. Major life changes can be very scary.

So whats the cure? It will take some doing if you are facing a huge overhaul but getting excited about it is the very first step. It has to be something that absolutely sends you into a tizzy of excitement. It can be a very small addition to start with, such as a new hobby or a new group of friends to chat with, anything that adds value to your life and interests you. Something that makes you feel alive.  Something doable that is worth waking up for. Just start with that as your focus. We all have something.

Just that little bit of a serotonin boost will get you started on your way out of the slump. It is the first thing to try, has no side effects and is guaranteed to make you feel better. Think of each addition you make as a building block or rung on the ladder out of the depressed state. You are not going to just wake up one day feeling better if you haven’t added things to your life that make you happy and satisfied.

That is why I started by calling this post “The First Step for Overcoming Depression and Finding Joy”.  Overcoming depression is a process, not a one-shot deal or something that medication will necessarily fix. The beginning of that process is fueled and kept alive by you starting to experience something that feels good and gives you some hope that there is a life beyond depression or dysthymia.

Then find that root cause of your problem.  Give it a name. Know that if that problem were resolved you would most likely feel better. Identifying and naming it gives you forward movement.  You can’t map out a life plan that eliminates depression if you don’t identify where it begins. It might be something you haven’t wanted to give a name because it is so huge. Like “I have a really crappy marriage that I need to get out of”. By not naming it outright you are not tricking your brain, it still thinks it and knows it is a problem, you just haven’t wanted to go there.

Decide what skills you need, what kind of help you may need, what needs to change in order to deal with the depression once and for all. It doesn’t have to be all done at once.

Use the small building blocks of joy to energize yourself until you are ready to deal with the root cause. Keep adding good things.  It might be two weeks or it might be two years, but if you know you are working toward a solution and have some things that make your life pleasant in the meantime you will feel forward movement and not helplessness.


The First Step for Overcoming Depression and Finding Joy

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2018). The First Step for Overcoming Depression and Finding Joy. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Aug 2018
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