Millions of Australians are affected by depression every year. The good news is, with help and support, recovery is possible! Here are two of the key patterns which are common in depression, and how to disrupt them so that you can break out of the depressive cycle:

Pattern 1: Withdrawal and Inactivity.

What often happens when people begin to get depressed, is that they start losing motivation to fully engage in life. They may reduce or stop exercising, begin taking more time off work, and ignore invitations to go out. Sometimes it’s even difficult to find motivation to do basic tasks like preparing healthy meals.

The problem is, withdrawal from others can compound feelings of isolation and loneliness. Then when you’re not engaging in life, you miss out on the stimulation and sense of accomplishment that activity can bring you. This can exacerbate that sense of being stuck with no way out and no positivity. Worsening diet and lack of exercise feeds right back into the depression through changes in physiology, and sometimes also via increased weight and resulting difficulties with body image. So it can become quite a vicious cycle.

Breaking the Pattern

Once we understand the self-defeating nature of this pattern, we can engage our will and take steps to start breaking those patterns.  Make the choice to do something even though you don’t feel like doing it.  It is well established that increasing exercise can help in recovery from depression, so that can be a good place to start – but if it feels overwhelming, start small. Just walk to the corner and back. Then just replace one sugary snack a day with a piece of fruit. Call up one friend. Make one appointment. You have already begun to make choices which disrupt the pattern of withdrawal, helplessness, hopelessness and isolation.

Pattern 2: Negative Thought Spirals 

We are constantly creating narratives or stories in our minds to help us understand and explain the world around us. For example, if my child is jumping on the bed at 10pm, I might be think ‘maybe she’s overtired, maybe all those lollies weren’t such a great idea’. This kind of explanation might be helpful because we can use it to make changes.

But when difficult or painful things happen in life, sometimes the ‘narratives’ (stories or explanations) we come up with, and spin over and over in our minds, can become a path leading down to depression. You might get passed over for the promotion you really wanted, or perhaps your partner breaks up with you, or you fail an exam, or your child’s behavior keeps getting worse.

For all those scenarios, there might be a number of plausible explanations. However, you might begin to tell yourself things like ‘maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not smart enough. Maybe I’ll never get a promotion. Maybe I’m a hopeless parent. Maybe I’ll always be single’. Then it can turn into a pattern of ‘depressive rumination’, which ‘spins around’ in your head, keeping you awake at night, and distracting you during the day. The ‘maybes’ begin to seem more believable, and may begin to strongly pervade the way you see yourself.

Breaking the Pattern

Once again, a first step is to become aware of the pattern. The way to do this is to begin looking AT the thoughts themselves. Begin to notice how you might be filtering information. Instead of just assuming the first explanation that jumps to mind to be true, recognise that our thoughts may not be true, and even those that seem based in truth are not necessarily helpful to be dwelling on. Start looking at other possible explanations and different ways of thinking. This can look quite different for different people and you may find you need some help to identify and change the more subtle, unhelpful thoughts.

Many people find that combining this process with increasing activity and engagement levels, helps them get well on the way to recovery from depression.

More Help

We understand that depression is not easy. We have psychologists at ATUNE who are here to listen and help. You can request an appointment here.


Article by Linda Rowland, Psychologist at ATUNE Health Centres.