Depression: distraction, activities and creativity

No one we talked to found that rumination (thinking over issues in your head), was helpful in depression. In fact, the reverse was true - rumination could make negative thoughts worse. As one man said, initially, 'you don't know which is right, whether to look inwards or outwards.' Clearly though, chewing over issues while depressed, without a skilled counsellor or therapist to guide you, was of little help to anyone.

Any kind of distraction from the tendency to ruminate (e.g. such as counting different coloured cars) can give at least temporary relief from depression. However, for better relief from depression in the long term, distraction is just a first step. 

The second step was to replace inactivity and rumination with meaningful activities. It was pointed out that initially, the meaningful activity could be very small (e.g. getting out of bed, getting dressed, going for a walk or baking bread). As one man explained, to people who are depressed, these apparently small achievements are as important as the larger achievements of people who are not depressed.

The third step is to try engaging in more difficult activities. One man used all his energy to push himself to go to the gym every day during his depression and he also found he got distracted by Wimbledon! Another isolated man eventually started to play bowls, and was able to make valued friendships as well as become 'one of the boys' - something he had longed for in life. One young man was initially sceptical that his doctor's advice to 'do just physical things' could work to help lift his depression. Nevertheless, he was pleasantly surprised to find that gardening made it easier for him to defeat negative thoughts.

One very depressed woman often forced herself to get out of bed and do gardening while very depressed. She found being active in nature distracting and beneficial for her wellbeing. There is research evidence to support the view that just being in nature reduces stress, increases positive thinking and aids concentration (Townsend & Mahoney 2004).

Several people emphasised the benefits of creative activities, such as writing poems, singing, drawing and painting, as an important outlet for feelings. People frequently said that feelings during depression are difficult to put in words, yet they could find an outlet in creative activities. One woman was able to get an NHS referral to a Day Centre. She believed that being able to attend the Centre every day during her depression and engage in creative activities, exercise and companionship was a saviour. Some fortunate people were able to express themselves creatively in paid work. Some people wanted to express their creativity on our website, by reciting a poem they had written or singing a song.

Some people started doing voluntary work in their areas of creative interest. Not only were such jobs satisfying and beneficial to their wellbeing, but unpaid work sometimes also led to paid employment.

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated September 2017.


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