I’ve been working with clients who have serious mental illness for many years. These illnesses, depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia, all carry higher risks of suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and 3rd leading cause in young persons age 11-24. A hallmark of depression and suicide are feelings of hopelessness.
As a counselor, I do my best to help instill hope in lives of my clients. One modality I use is goal setting, but what I have noticed throughout my practice is that sometimes the depression and hopelessness have some so short-sighted, that goal-setting is overwhelming; the future is just too impossible to even consider. In that case, I take a different approach in which I help the client create something to look forward to.
I conceptualize this a bit differently from a goal. I tend to think of a goal as a sort of personal improvement one is moving towards, while creating something to look forward to is establish a small thing to help us move through each day, week, month, and year. While goals can and are certainly something to look forward to, this exercise takes the pressure off of the action orientation that goals usually emphasize until a person becomes confident in their ability to create and achieve goals.
Since the nature of depression and anxiety can make it difficult to look to the future, we start day-to-day: What’s going to get you out of bed? What’s going to help you make it through the day?
I commonly hear people looking forward to that first cup of coffee in the morning or that glass of wine when they get home from work. Personally, I finish my day off with an orange soda. Is there a certain ritual you have? If not, can you create a simple one? What about specific people you look forward to seeing everyday?
From there, think week to week. Many people enjoy celebrating the end of their work week with their co-workers. I’ve also heard others making a tradition of watching their favorite tv show as a family. Weekly traditions are something that help me thrive in the middle of a tough work week.
The next step is, logically, monthly. Many people have daily rituals or weekly routines that they look forward to, but monthly traditions tend to be less common. One suggestion I usually make it finding time for friendships. Many of our friendships exist digitally these days. A once a month commitment is generally doable and gives you plenty of days to coordinate a busy schedule. Who can you call and set up a monthly time with? Some other monthly rituals I have heard include spa days or getting massages. A little treat, that when done monthly, is affordable.
Next come those yearly traditions: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, summer vacation. Establishing these traditions not only gives you something to look forward to each year, but also establishes closeness within the family unit. Many people already have established traditions, but don’t be afraid to switch things up! Get creative too! I knew a family who chose to do their Christmases at the beach. I’ve also heard to some families celebrating off--beat holidays. National Picnic Day is June 18th. Why not make that a yearly tradition for your family? Google can help you find all sorts of wacky holidays your family may like!
When the veil of depression or the overwhelming feeling of anxiety begins, as hard as it may be, start looking forward. One step at a time. Pull yourself up each day, each ritual, each tradition, and soon you’ll find your way out of your rut.
Written by: Kristina Zufall, M.Ed., LPC-Intern