A-Z

Depression

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.

 

Says that you may only be able to tackle small activities when depressed, but you can progress to...

Says that you may only be able to tackle small activities when depressed, but you can progress to...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Because when I'm depressed I' I wasn't able to do anything about it, really. I just felt overwhelmed by it. And so you do have to just tackle the bit that you can get a grip on, and it might be something very small. And with my depression, when I was feeling very low, I would, I did decide to just concentrate on small things; going for a walk, baking some bread, you know pottering around in the garden. Just trying to get through day to day, I think, was how I came out of the suicide attempt. And that lasted a long, long time, really and I don't think it can be rushed, that recuperation really'

And then I spent some time working on a farm, actually, which was quite good because there was the exercise and the fresh air, and there was also the camaraderie of other people who thought it was a crap job as well. So, you know'. not doing anything too demanding'. 

It might almost seem common sense to people that if you distract yourself from some of these things, it might give a bit of relief. That actually in the long term, if you keep doing it, it's a good way of slowly coming out of depression. But yes, it might seem common sense, but it's not what you feel like doing all the time, not at all.

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.

 

While very depressed, doing exercise helped to fill in the day, and watching Wimbledon also...

Text only
Read below

While very depressed, doing exercise helped to fill in the day, and watching Wimbledon also...

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 45
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
My day would start 10 o'clock. I used to be having breakfast at 11 or finishing at 11. I never leave the house without a shower even if I go to the gym or even after work, I come back from work; if I go for a run I take a shower before. So by the time I left to go to the gym it was 12, so by the time I got to the gym it was half past 12. By the time I came back from the gym it was 3 or 4 o'clock so the day had almost gone by then for me. So it was almost time to think about having dinner and stuff. So that made the day go a bit quicker' I don't like television in general, I never sit down to watch, I don't like TV but in June one of the things that also kept me going was watching tennis on the television because we had tennis, yes, we had Wimbledon. So I was, there were days when I was in front of the TV from 12 until God knows, 8 o'clock with breaks going to the gym, watching in the gym all the while but. And I did watch another championship, I think it's called Queen's in London, so to a point that when the'. this tennis period ended, I said [laughing] now I am going to learn tennis, because I got really hooked! So yes, exercise kept me going'.

 

Says that having a hobby can distract from negative thoughts as well as provide meaningful...

Says that having a hobby can distract from negative thoughts as well as provide meaningful...

Age at interview: 73
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
But you see that kind of hobby, and I would recommend anyone having hobbies, and that' that gets depressed people through because the thing that you can't think of, you know two things at once whilst you're thinking about that, you aren't worrying about where am I, what's happening'

I'd become a bowler, gained an interest in bowling, got onto the committee, moved up to treasurer, and I am currently chairman of the bowls club. From that I got such a great reward, I sort of blossomed because in amongst new people, an interest and all the rest of it, and being one of a bunch. And that seemed to be important to me, to be one of the boys, or that sort of thing. 

I was pretty well able to hide it (depression) to a large extent, and I didn't have that many friends. And that was partly the reason I took up bowling and these other things to get friends you know.

 

His doctor recommended physical activities, so he took up gardening, even though sceptical, but...

His doctor recommended physical activities, so he took up gardening, even though sceptical, but...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I remember once I'. when' in my second episode I had when I was about seventeen'And I remember a particular time, it was a hard time, it really was a hard time. The day that I suddenly felt things picked up, I wanted to do something, I wanted to do something physical. I'd been told, my doctor said to me, "You're not allowed to read any books, you've got to do just physical things." 

So I started to garden, I've never been in the garden before. And it was crap at first, but gradually it was alright, you know you start to think, 'Yeah, this is kind of distracting me a bit.' And there was one day I remember having my Walkman on [laughs] and I was trying to listen to a record, I can't even think what it was now, and of course the bad stuff comes, the bad thoughts come. And I remember the first time that I felt, 'Oh, I'm winning here.''And for the first time I felt hey, this fighting is working' 

People tell you to do things, they say in this case you know, work in the garden. And you do it the first few times and you just think, 'Oh fuck off, this isn't going to work.' And strangely, these sort of laborious tasks do begin to work, so you have to stick at it.

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.

 

Feels people need to find ways to express their feelings (e.g. poetry, music, dancing) so that...

Feels people need to find ways to express their feelings (e.g. poetry, music, dancing) so that...

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Just one other thing really that's been really very' that I feel is very important for anybody is the ability to express feelings'.. If you can try and express yourself. And it can be in a variety of ways because I do it in a variety of ways, in ways that I found out I didn't even know I could.

Such as?

Such as poetry. I wrote a poem when I was in hospital, and it literally flowed out of me. I wrote it and a couple of people have read it. I've written lots more since. And it's been a good way of getting these feelings out'.For me writing it's a good way of putting something down in black and white that sometimes is very difficult to express in words. When somebody says to you, 'How do you feel?' sometimes it is difficult to say, to sum it up in a few sentences, how you do feel.  

You know it's a mind body thing. Sometimes you feel things in your body that you just can't express. So I would encourage anybody to do whatever they feel comfortable with doing, whatever their means are to express themselves, whether it be music, dancing, or something, or screaming or getting in to the car and having a good shout is a good thing because nobody can hear you when you are driving along in your car.  

Let it out because if it doesn't come out, it gets stuck, I think. And it builds up and builds up and you get full and you get full of all these feelings that have never been expressed.
 
 

Wrote a poem called 'Time' in hospital to express her experiences of working and living in a...

Text only
Read below

Wrote a poem called 'Time' in hospital to express her experiences of working and living in a...

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 40
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And I wrote a piece called Time and I didn't know about it, but the art-therapist entered it for the competition, and it wasn't until.... I wasn't even in the hospital anymore and they passed it onto my NHS therapist and I'd won first prize in the prose contest and  '50 of book vouchers and the, one of the psycho-therapists is putting it into a book that, he asked if he could put it into a book that he'd written.

What were you expressing in that poem?

Just, it was mainly how hectic today's world is, and it was really based more around exactly my own experience of how work had become for me. And it was a bit like a tape recorder, there was a forward and a rewind and a... but no stop button, you know, and life was like this there was fax machines and mobile phones and there was never any stop, you know. There was never any time to sit down and watch the sunset or the sunrise or, and it was basically it's just about saying that this is what the world's like now, there isn't any time to....  Do you remember the last time you walked along the riverbank and really watched what was going on, you know. Quite emotional all the prose pieces I wrote, were all emotional in the sense that... expressing how I actually felt at that time. And people that I'd showed them to, people who suffered from mental health have found a lot of the pieces that I wrote very helpful, because they couldn't express that themselves but that was how they were feeling.
 
 

An NHS Day Centre near her home offering creative activities was a welcome distraction from her...

An NHS Day Centre near her home offering creative activities was a welcome distraction from her...

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
What did you get out of doing the art and craft classes at the day centre?

When, when I've been depressed I... I get really very desperate to do anything that will be a distraction, and that's really basically what it was. I mean I am naturally quite artistic and, but it's, it's' when you're as ill as that it's an effort to do anything, so it was, it was just good to be with other people, not be alone, not be stuck in the house, and to be doing anything, you know, in terms of drawing or, or, or pottery. It was, but you don't, there's not, not a sense in which you enjoy it in the same way as you do when you're well. It's, it's a distraction.

 

Has chosen work that is creative and allows him to express himself, connect with others, and help...

Text only
Read below

Has chosen work that is creative and allows him to express himself, connect with others, and help...

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 32
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Well my work is my great privilege you see because I think the fact that I've chosen work that is creative and so self-expressive and it also.... its not just about me, the nature of my work in...and the way I've crafted my practice, it's about connecting with other people. So it's at one and the same time it's all about me and it's all about the people I'm working with, it's about who they are and what's going on for them. And it's... I don't think its any accident that although I am the kind of visual artist that I am, increasingly I draw in elements that make the process as important as the results. I interview people, I create as much opportunity as I can for them to reflect on who they are, and what they're up to and what's happened and what it all means. Not like in a' I'm no therapist, I'm not therapeutic but a lot of people take it like that because it's a rare opportunity for them to express and explore and play with who they are.

 

Recites a poem she wrote while depressed in hospital.

Recites a poem she wrote while depressed in hospital.

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
But this was the very first poem I wrote and it came straight from the heart so it will always be my fondest poem [laugh]. Would it be alright for me to read it? It's actually called Black bird on my Shoulder. I think this came, maybe came from a lot of people who called depression like a 'Dog' and that came from Winston Churchill. But for me it felt like a black bird that always sat on my shoulder and was with me all of the time. But I will read the poem.

Black bird on my shoulder

Screeching in my ear

Nobody else will listen

He has been there year after year

Black bird on my shoulder

Crying me to sleep

Whispering to me

Give it up

No tears now left to weep

Black bird on my shoulder

Daring me cross that line

Into madness I surrender

Oh insanity, how divine

Black bird on my shoulder

Didn't think I'd come this far

Where do I go to now I plead?

Wading through this thick black tar

Black bird on my shoulder

Please, please just fly away

One more chance just give me

Just give me one more day.

So I guess in a kind of' although I was in a very deep dark depression at the time I was still kind of asking in the very last sentence, 'Give me one more day. Give me, you know, give me something. Somebody help."

 

Sings a song where he wrote the last verse.

Sings a song where he wrote the last verse.

Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 39
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
This is, it's a folk song, I'm into folk but I also, I made up the last verse of it its called 'The Nightingale''

One morning in spring by chance I did rove

I lay myself down by the side of a grove

And there I did hear the sweet nightingale sing

Never heard so sweet, oh I never heard so sweet.  No I never heard so sweet as the birds in the spring.

All on the green grass I sat myself down

And all the sweet nightingale's echoed around.

Oh say don't you hear how they quiver the note

Never heard so sweet, oh I never heard so sweet.  No I never heard so sweet as the birds in the spring.

Well I'll sing like a nightingale all of my days

For why should birds only be singers of praise?

And so I do now like a nightingale sing

So I do sing sweet oh yes I do sing sweet.

Oh yes I do sing sweet like a bird in the spring.

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.

 

Says that doing voluntary work can be enjoyable and less pressured than paid work, helping you to...

Says that doing voluntary work can be enjoyable and less pressured than paid work, helping you to...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So I thought no I love horses, let's'.. the Citizens Advice Bureau has got a great big leaflet on ' or sorry the Volunteer Bureau have got a huge booklet and there is so much out there. There is like loads of stuff that I'd you know, you could be visiting people and taking their dogs out or youth'.There was just so much stuff that I would be interested in doing, and this was like, also it was word of mouth.  I'd seen it in the Volunteer Bureau. But also I had spoken to a friend and she said she had worked out there.  I phoned up and being doing that a year now and it's great. At the beginning I used to get anxiety attacks and some days I could just phone up and say, 'Look I'm not feeling well'. If you are doing it voluntary' I felt I wasn't letting them down, even though I did feel like I was letting them down which I shouldn't. I was letting myself down more than anything. This is'. the same pressure is not there, and I can go in as little or as often as I want.

So'voluntary work I would definitely advocate because it gives you a sense of'.it helps build your confidence, self-esteem and it usually leads on to other things. I've learnt to drive, drive horse and carriage which this time last year I wouldn't have known, just wouldn't have a clue. And I started out cycling [coughing] and I've progressed and that and now I can actually take out a horse and carriage, which is like amazing. What else have I'I know we are doing something different now but I've taken up things this year that, like canoeing. It is always something I've wanted to do. I did a canoeing course this year, and started doing things for me. So it's like. Do stuff you enjoy doing. That's what I think helps. It's just doing things for me. Looking after myself.
 

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated September 2017.

donate
Previous Page
Next Page