According to the American Psychological Association, studies show that the more exposure you have to the news, the more likely you are to experience symptoms of depression. As a former journalist I hate to admit that this is why, for my own mental health, sometimes I need to avoid the news.
When death and catastrophic events make up the headlines every day, it’s hard not to feel like life is pointless and nothing matters. And, if you are consistently having hopeless thoughts like these, it’s important for you to pay attention because you may be struggling with depression.
Depression is different than feeling sad. Sadness is a natural human reaction to loss, but it is temporary and doesn’t affect your daily life. Depression, on the other hand, lasts for at least two weeks and can continue for months and even years without treatment.
Below are some things you can do when life feels pointless. These suggestions are supplementary to therapy because, just like you can’t treat diabetes or asthma or another physical illness on your own, you also can’t treat depression without the help of a health professional.
Make a list of things you can control.
As someone with anxiety disorder, I spend way too much time worrying about the unknown. After my uncle died earlier this month, it only reminded me of how fragile life is and how much of it is out of my control. I had to remind myself that, while I can’t control how/when the people I love will die, I can control the time I spend with them and the things I say to them today. And, while I can’t control how/when I will die, I can control how I spend my time before that happens. I know how easy it can be to obsess over what’s beyond our control – but, instead, try to refocus your thoughts on the things you can control and the goals you can work towards.
Do something good for someone else.
It’s hard to feel like your life is pointless when something you did made a difference or helped someone else feel better. For me, that’s why I decided to write this monthly column and why I’m so open about my own mental health. It’s because I know, by doing this, I’ve helped others who are struggling with similar issues not feel so alone.
When you feel yourself losing faith in humanity, think of something you can do to help those around you. Maybe it’s reaching out to someone you know who is struggling. Maybe it’s joining a cause that’s important to you or volunteering for an organization. Or maybe it’s as simple as buying the coffee of the person behind you at the drive-thru, or complimenting a stranger. These things can help make someone else’s day.
Recognize your importance in the life of others.
I was suicidal in high school and thought, “If I died, no one would care.” That’s a lie that depression tells you, and it’s not true. Even though, at the time, I didn’t open up to anyone about my suicidal thoughts, my mom could tell something was wrong. With tears in her eyes, she told me that I was her angel and that she couldn’t stand it if anything happened to me. Her saying that honestly saved my life because it reminded me that, no matter what I thought about myself, there was one person who cared about me, loved me no matter what, and whose life would forever be affected if I died.
Whenever you are feeling like life is pointless, remind yourself of how important you are to others. Your child relies on you to care for them. Or maybe it’s your pet, who you gave a forever home and a better life. Your family and friends would be devastated if you were no longer here. What greater proof that life is not pointless than recognizing the meaning your life holds for the people and animals in it.
Take a break from the news.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I could spend hours consuming news story after news story – a habit which has been termed “doom scrolling.” I noticed that the more I did this, the more depressed I became. So, for my own mental health, I made myself stop. I stopped reaching for my phone to check the news when I first woke up in the morning. And I would set limits to my access to media – which sometimes meant turning off my phone completely so I wouldn’t be tempted. If consuming the news is affecting your mental health, it’s okay to stop. Turn off the news and, instead watch a funny TV show or your favorite comfort movie. Put down your phone, and go for a walk outside. Do something that relieves your stress instead of adds to it.
Depression can affect all aspects of your life — your relationships, your work and even your will to live. If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental illness, talk to your primary care physician, who can treat mental health issues or refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist for additional help. For resources, visit https://bcbsm.com/mentalhealth. If you are experiencing suicidal ideations, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which is available 24/7, or visit https://988lifeline.org to chat online.
Opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan or its subsidiaries and affiliates.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Monica Drake