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    Breaking out of the downward spiral
    This month I'm looking at an issue that comes up frequently in my correspondence with readers, in my work with coaching clients, and even at times in my own life. How do we break out of the occasional downward spiral that, if not stopped, may end up in something resembling depression? It tends to rob us of joy, of motivation, and of purpose. It is insidious because it doesn't really seem like "anything." As a result, it is often ignored, and hence permitted to take us spiraling downwards so that over time we become less productive, less happy, and less able to stop the process.

    Although anyone with serious depression needs to seek professional help, many of us experience times when our lives seem flat. Not much is exciting. Not much is fun. It becomes easier to see the negatives in events, in our relationships, in our surroundings. At such times there are things that we can do to pull ourselves out of this downward direction. For some perverse reason, however, this is exactly the time when many of us may experience a tendency to do precisely the opposite of what we need to do to pull ourselves up and out of that sad and occasionally dangerous funk.

    For the most part, we know what needs to be done

    . - We need to reach out to those friends who constitute our personal support group.
    - We need to exercise regularly, which has been shown to be an effective antidote to depression for many. We may think that we are too tired, but in fact an appropriate (and not overdone) work-out will leave us revved up and energized.
    - We need to get our lives under control in terms of any tendencies toward addictive or obsessive behaviors.
    - Lastly, for those of us who try to follow any spiritual practices, we need to focus in on them, to reach out to our Higher Power, by whatever name, so as to put the spiral in reverse and head back in an upward, and exciting, direction.

    We know all this. We know exactly what we need to do. Each and every one of those activities will help us to know that our lives have focus and purpose, and to reverse the downward spiral.

    Instead, though, what do we do?

    We tend to withdraw from our friends.

    We exercise less.

    We often spend more, eat more, especially of the less healthy foods. We obsess more. We fall back into old behaviors that we thought we had put behind us. Some of us shop. Some us drink, or indulge more in other ways.

    We find ourselves unconnected with our spirituality, we stop meditating, drift away from our spiritual communities, "don't have time" to journal.

    With all of this, we may actually accelerate the process of the downward spiral, and the further down we go, the more difficult it is to reverse the process.

    We all know that the low times will come. The trick is to recognize them immediately, and take action!

    Create a check-list
    I'd suggest that, just as we have insurance against accidents and illnesses, we develop a system to which we can turn when we realize that we are entering that downward spiral. Perhaps we may even set up a check-list of actions that may be helpful. Here's one adapted from a list that I developed many years ago, to which I still turn when needed. I'd suggest including in that list all the contact and time/place information that you will need. Remember that when you hit the downward spiral, something as trivial as needing to look up a phone number can put you off track.

    Reach out
    Look through your address book, contacts lists, Christmas card lists. Who is there that you would like to sit down to talk with, perhaps over a cup of your favorite beverage, perhaps over lunch or breakfast? Who is further away, but can be reached with a phone call, or an email, that you have not interacted with in a while? Make a list, set up a rotating system so that whenever you look at it you know who you have spent time with in the past few weeks or months, and who has been absent from your life. You haven't talked with Susan for almost a year? How about setting up a breakfast together? Peter is in another country - could you email him to set up a time to have a talk, or even just call him to chat a while and see how he is doing? (There is often an extraordinary magic about such calls. When you randomly pick someone from your list, and make an unplanned call, you will be astonished at how often that person is in a state of mind where they, too, really NEED to talk to someone. Suddenly, instead of reaching out for help yourself, or perhaps "bothering" someone as you may have thought of it, you are both providing to each other the strength and hope that you need. In the process of helping someone else you, too, will feel stronger.)

    Is there an organization in which you used to be active but from which you have drifted away? When is their next meeting? How about a visit?

    Is there some activity about which you have often thought "Oh, I'd like to do that... sometime"? Add it to your list together with contact information and dates/times so that, when you need the list, the information that you need is already there.

    At one time of lost-ness I made a commitment to myself to visit one new place each month. Perhaps it was a local tourist area, or a concert, perhaps a walking trail - nothing expensive or complex - just something new. If money is an issue, perhaps you could check the "free or low cost" section of your local newspaper and pick one activity or event to attend.

    In similar vein, I determined to visit one new restaurant a month. Again, it did not have to be anywhere that would stress my budget. It could be a village diner that I had driven past but never explored. The important thing was that it had to be somewhere new to me - and that a new location of a chain or franchise with which I was already familiar did not count.

    Pick a healthy eating pattern and tell yourself you can stick to it for a week. Then try to extend it but don't beat up on yourself if you don't. Just try to cut the sugar/starch and increase the fruit/veggies.

    Walk around the block. Walk around two blocks. Extend it. Buy a workout tape for indoors so that the excuse of bad weather, or an unsafe neighborhood, cannot be used as an excuse for not exercising. IF you will make real use of it and can afford it, join a fitness club.

    Set a limit on your impulse shopping. One item a month? A week? But a limit. Make your credit cards less easy to access so that getting to them is enough of a nuisance that it will irritate - and remind - you when you access them. A couple of elastic bands around them might do the trick, etc. For serious spending issues, some people unwilling to actually discard their cards choose to freeze them in a block of ice.

    Pick one thing that bothers you about your home or office environment and fix it.

    Inner and upper connections
    Set a time to meditate, and do it.
    Keep a gratitude journal daily.
    Visit your chosen place of worship. Or visit a new and different place of worship that sounds interesting.

    If you make such a list - adapted to fit your own mind-set lifestyle and foibles, keep it where it is easily accessible when you need it. And when you need it - use it!


    � 2006 by Diana Robinson, Ph.D.
    Choices Success Strategies Coaching
    Work in Progress may be reproduced in its entirety only, including this copyright line. Disclaimer -The contents herein are solely the opinions of Work in Progress owner, and should not be considered as a form of therapy nor advice. There is no guarantee of validity or accuracy. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, services of a competent professional should be sought. TO SUBSCRIBE to Work in Progress send a blank e-mail to workinprogress-On@lists.webvalence.com. To offer feedback e-mail Diana.