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A Powerful Exercise to Manage Depression and Rumination

July 29, 2022

Author

Caitlin Laun is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Thrive for the People.

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Do you have an introspective nature? Maybe you often find your mind turning inward, getting caught up in questions about your feelings, actions, worries, or regrets. Why did I do this? Why did I say that? Why does this keep happening to me? Self-reflection can be a useful endeavor for gaining personal insight and making changes. But left unchecked, it can also lead to rumination: a problem-focused thought loop without an off-button. Too much rumination can impair your ability to solve problems, think critically, focus on tasks, and connect with your support network. Overtime, it can lead to symptoms of depression. As a therapist, I serve as a guide for introspection by encouraging honest, productive reflection for my clients while helping them avoid getting stuck in the trap of rumination.

One tool I like to use with clients to help with productive self-reflection and ease symptoms of depression comes from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan to help individuals cope with intense emotions using mindfulness, acceptance, and emotion regulation. Dialectical means an integration of opposites. DBT helps clients integrate the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change. In therapy, I use the DBT House exercise to help clients identify both the strengths they currently possess and the changes they would benefit from making through therapy.

Grab some colored pencils to try some structured self-reflection out for yourself.

Healthy Self-Reflection Exercise

First, draw a large house with four floors on a blank piece of paper. Make sure your house has all the essentials: walls, a roof, a door, and a chimney. Give it something special: a large sign in the front yard. Feel free to use your creativity to design the house any other way you’d like.

The Foundation: Your Personal Values

Now let’s dive into some introspection. Every house starts with a strong foundation. Our personal values, the principles we strive to live by and guide our decision-making, serve as foundational pieces of who we are. Consider your personal values and write them along the bottom of your house. Reflect on how the values you hold have shaped you and your choices throughout your life. 

  • Do you value honesty, success, spirituality, humor, wisdom, independence, or helpfulness?
  • Are there any values you’ve strayed away from that you would like to reconnect?

Your Support System

Next, we’ll focus on the walls of your house. Consider anyone or anything that provides you support in life and write these along the walls of your house. 

  • Who or what do you turn to in times of challenge (e.g., family, friends, pets, healthcare providers, spirituality)?
  • Have you expressed gratitude to your support system recently?
  • Are there any holes in your walls or missing pieces to your support system that you can patch up?

Your Best Coping Strategies

Moving up to your chimney. Consider all the ways you “blow off steam” and write them inside the chimney. Reflect on how these have helped you and consider whether you would benefit from developing additional coping skills.

  • How do you cope with stress, have fun and relax, or recharge after a long day?
  • Do you exercise, listen to music, get creative in the kitchen, meditate, or go for a hike?
  • Do you seek connection and spend time with loved ones, or prefer time alone?
  • Do any of your go-to coping skills come with downsides? 

Your Sources of Shame

Next, turn to the front door of your house and consider the things about you and your life that you keep behind closed doors, hidden from others. Write these inside your door. Therapy can provide a safe place to begin opening this door.

  • Are you holding onto secret shame, regret, or maybe holding back your true authentic self?
  • What are the costs or benefits of keeping these secrets?
  • What fears do you hold about letting others see these parts of you? 

Your Sources of Pride

Now moving to the sign in your front yard, consider what you are most proud of about yourself and your life. The things you want others to see and celebrate about you. Write these on your sign. Personality characteristics, skills, achievements, your growth and progress. Maybe your passions and interests. Give yourself permission to feel proud.

Your Goals for Growth

Now stepping inside your house to the four floors, let’s look at some goals for personal growth. On your first floor, list behaviors that you want to change or gain control over. Perhaps the way you show up as controlling in relationships or your constant self-criticism is preventing you from feeling at peace in your life. Maybe you find yourself engaging in unhelpful behaviors like binge drinking, overworking, or isolating.

Your Emotions

On the second floor, list the emotions you want to experience more often, more fully or in a healthier way.

  • How long has it been since you felt joy, curiosity, satisfaction, hope or confidence?
  • Do you find yourself trapped by anxiety, fear, stress or anger?
  • Do you feel helpless to move through grief?

Your Source of Joy

On the third floor, list all the things in your life that you are happy about or want to feel happy about. 

  • Are you happy with your social or professional life?
  • Do you struggle with self-confidence and want to feel secure within yourself?
  • Do you want to feel happier and more comfortable in your relationships?

Your Life Worth Living

Last, but not least, on your fourth floor describe what a fulfilling life looks like for you. 

  • If you were living your most satisfying life, what would you dedicate your time and energy toward?
  • How would you feel?
  • How would you engage in your relationships or relate to yourself?
  • Where would you find meaning?

Final Reflections

  • What thoughts and feelings did this exercise in self-reflection prompt for you?
  • Did you identify the strengths you already possess and find any behaviors, emotions, or experiences that are holding you back from reaching your full potential? 

Begin Therapy for Depression in Ballard

Are you struggling with unproductive rumination? Do worries, regrets, and memories keep you awake at night? If you are looking for relief from negative thinking patterns, depressed mood, fatigue, low motivation, and difficulty getting out of bed, a therapist who specializes in depression treatment can help. Strategies like DBT have been shown to be powerful and effective in decreasing symptoms of depression and rumination so that you can get back to a life that is vibrant, joyful and fulfilling. Here at Thrive for the People, our therapists have advanced training in DBT, CBT, ACT, and other evidence-based depression treatments. We are committed to help you turn your insights into meaningful action. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation today to see if we are a good fit for you.

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