What does downward spiral mean
How To Recognise a Downward Spiral And What To Do
Living with Depression, With Audio | by Blurt Team | Print This Post
A downward spiral is when we can feel ourselves slipping into a lower mood and our mental health feels as though it’s declining. They can be hard to handle because we might not really understand why things are sliding again. The nature of mental illness is that it drains our cognitive functions and the downward spiral comes with a sense of hopelessness, frustration, and oftentimes, anger.
We’ve all got areas of our lives which trigger us to feel not particularly good. We sometimes too, have things going on that aren’t particularly healthy for us and these things will be different for different people. They could include things like wonky relationships, taking on too much, living with sustained stress or being alone for extended periods of time.
It can take a lot of thinking, talking, and trial and error, to work out what our triggers might be. We might not be able to spot them all in ourselves; we might need to talk to those close to us to work out some of our triggers or seek professional help to do so. Triggers can change over time, too. Working out what they are can be a constant work in progress.
We can’t necessarily avoid all our triggers. However, once we’re aware of our triggers, we’re more likely to be able to start noticing changes in our mood and adjust things accordingly. For example, if being around people too much has caused our mood to drop, we might be able to build in a little more alone time until we’re feeling better.
Early Warning Signs
We all have early warning signs that our mood is beginning to slip or that we’re heading towards a downward spiral but we don’t always take note of them nor heed them. Understanding those, somewhat subtle, signs that things aren’t going well requires self-awareness and listening to how different situations feel to us.
Perhaps we’ve always slept brilliantly but are experiencing a period of disrupted sleep. Perhaps we’ve always had a hearty appetite but we’ve lost interest in food. Perhaps we’ve been cancelling lots of plans, even those with our most favourite people. We might be experiencing unexplained aches and pains or find that we’re more tearful or fearful than we usually tend to be. It could be that we’re dreading going into work, even a job we love.
These signs are often the first alarm bells that something’s not quite right. Taking notice of them can mean we’ll take self-care action earlier than we might otherwise do. Having an awareness of them can allow us to make a plan for what we could do if one of our signs appears.
What To Do About It
Planning for the bad times can be triggering in itself, it can take us back to where we don’t ever want to be again. It can feel as though being ready for another grotty period, can somehow think it into being. But there’s also something quite comforting and reassuring about having a process in place which helps us to take action earlier on in the downward spiral than we might have done in the past.
Our toolkit might include some daily self-care non-negotiables; the things we know nourish us and keep us mentally well. A list of ‘emergency self-care‘ for the tougher times. A list of organisations we might reach out to for support. Maybe we give our loved ones a list of what they might be able to do to ‘reach-in‘. Perhaps we have a crisis plan in place ‘just in case‘ and it’s communicated to our loved ones so that they understand how and when to help.
Then, when we start to experience and notice our early warning signs, we’re not put on the spot, we know what to do. Whether that’s to up the self-care ante, ask for help, accept help from our loved one or use the crisis help available. We can use our hindsight, as our foresight too.
A Slip Doesn’t Always Mean A Relapse
One of the things we might fear when we can feel things slipping is that we’ll end up in the middle of a relapse. It can be scary to be facing that. Living with mental ill health can be a lonely and painful place to be. Once we’ve managed to improve things a little, the prospect of being in a horribly low place again can be terrifying.
A slip doesn’t always mean a relapse. Our mental health naturally fluctuates, it’s not ever static (as much as we’d very much prefer it to be), and that fluctuation can be influenced by several factors. At other times, it might be the beginning of a downward spiral. But if we have an idea of our early warning signs, and some plans as to what to do about them, it can help us to stop our mental health from deteriorating further.
Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.
Print This | Share This
- Your Name*
- Your Email*
Your donations mean we can continue our important work which not only changes lives, it saves them too – THANK YOU!
The Downward Spiral: What it is & How to Reverse it
- What is a Downward Spiral?
- Risk Factors
- What Causes a Spiral?
- How to Recognize Spiraling
- Warning Signs of a Spiral
- How to Break Out of a Spiral
- Reach Out for Support
Spiraling into a deep depressive episode is common in individuals with depression. Once an individual goes through one depressive episode, they become more likely to go through another one. Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects 4.8% of US adults as of 20194.
While in a spiral, individuals may not be aware of the downward trajectory of their depression. A downward spiral may vary in time duration, but while in the spiral it may become hard to recognize how far down the spiral you have gone.
The trajectory of the spiral may be easily recognized by friends and family, but the depressed spiral victim may not see the signs. A different perspective may be necessary to stop or reverse the downward spiral of depression.
Learning to recognize the signs of a downward spiral can be life-changing for mental health and well-being. With the proper tools and support the spiral can be reversed or moved in an upward direction rather than downward.
What is a Downward Spiral?
A downward spiral with depression is a situation defined by a series of negative thoughts, feelings, or actions that feed into themselves repeatedly causing the situation to become progressively worse. Learning to recognize a spiral before making it to the bottom can help avoid potential downward spirals in the future.
Stages of the depression spiral that can lead to depression spiraling out of control:
- Negative experience(s)
- Suppressing emotions
- Repetitive negative thinking
- Avoidance behaviors
Stopping and recognizing these stages can help stop or reverse the downward spiral of depression.
Sadness is a common emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Chronic and clinical depression, however, can hinder the ability to participate in life. Depression is not a weakness, and in some cases, is a chemical disruption in the brain that requires therapy, medication, or both.
Types of depression include1:
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – clinical depression involving intense or overwhelming feelings that last longer than 2 weeks. Symptoms interfere with daily life.
- Bipolar Disorder – alternation between low mood (depressive) and high-energy (manic) periods. The low periods may include depression symptoms, such as hopelessness and lack of energy.
- Perinatal & Postpartum Depression – can occur during pregnancy and up to a year after the birth of the child. This is not the “baby blues”, this is ongoing stress, sadness, and worry that can be debilitating.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) – severe form of PMS that affects women in the days or weeks leading up to their menstrual cycle. Symptoms may be as extreme as suicidal ideation.
- Psychotic Depression – severe depressive symptoms which can include delusions or hallucinations. Delusions are beliefs in activities, people, or objects that are not based in reality. Hallucinations can occur when seeing, hearing, or touching things that are not physically present.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – depressive symptoms during seasonal changes. These symptoms can occur during the fall and winter or spring and summer.
What Causes a Spiral?
There is no one cause that contributes to the process of the downward spiral of depression. However, risk factors and a combination of causes can push an individual down the spiral of depression. Feelings of loss, suppressed emotions, and feelings of guilt or shame can contribute to a deepening of the spiral.
Feelings of Loss
Feelings of loss can occur when deprived of something important and do not have to be tangible. Loss of a friend, loss of a pet, loss of a job promotion are all losses that can be felt whether it is a living thing or an idea.
Different kinds of loss include:
- Situational Loss – unpredictable life events that lead to loss. Losing a job, being turned down for a promotion, divorce, moving out of the home you’ve been in for many years.
- Perceived Loss – internal loss based on the perceptions of the individual who is going through this process. These losses may not be tangible and may instead be the loss of an idea or belief.
- Actual Loss – losses of something of value that can no longer be touched, heard, or seen. Family members passing away, pets passing away, and losing a job, are all actual losses.
- Necessary Loss – good changes can initiate feelings of loss. A promotion may mean a different office and working away from my friends, but also the opportunity to learn and meet new people.
After experiencing a loss, negative emotions can start to appear. Naturally, negative emotions are not comfortable and are often repressed when an individual does not want to feel. Awareness of suppression of emotions can occur, but often individuals are unaware.
Avoiding feelings can be done by:
- Canceling social engagements
- Paying less attention to friends and loved ones
- Working overtime or taking work projects at home
- Exercising or going to the gym with increasing frequency
- Overeating, or drinking more alcohol than usual
- Spending too much time on social media, or in front of a screen
Emotional suppression is a common reaction to negative emotions, but can be detrimental to emotional wellbeing. Constantly pushing away negative emotions with unproductive and potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms can lead to more severe mental health problems in the future.
Guilt & Shame
Feelings of guilt and shame can negatively impact mental health by reducing self-confidence and self-esteem3. Constant feelings of guilt and shame can be a warning sign that depression is soon to arrive if it has not already manifested itself.
Guilt is the feeling associated when wrongdoing occurs. Conscious behaviors and actions that are not in line with perceived values can cause feelings of remorse and guilt.
Shame is the perceived value placed as a result of behaviors or actions. This perception is not based on logic and rationality but rather is based on an emotional response.
Shame and guilt are often used as a way of self-punishment. This type of self-punishment is a catalyst for speeding up the downward spiral of depression.
How to Recognize Spiraling
Breaking out of a depression downward spiral can be challenging, especially if there is no awareness of its happenings. Being on that spiral can be exhausting even if awareness of the spiral is lacking. The likelihood of a bout of depression increases after experiencing a depressive episode once.
Taking control of mental health and well-being involves awareness and assessment of mental health conditions and struggles at all times. A focus can be placed on promoting mental wellness by doing esteemable acts and self-care and avoiding activities that may harm mental health. Mental health is an ongoing, everlasting perspective of life that can take vigilance and awareness.
Triggers are events or situations that result in feelings of depression. Being able to recognize triggers for depression can be a difficult, but helpful process. Oftentimes, when feeling overwhelmed by emotions or supressing them can happen during a triggering event2.
Addictions to substances or alcohol can cause a downward spiral with depression. Substances are often used as a form of “self-medication” to treat depression symptoms. However, self-medication can lead to addictions and worsening depression symptoms.
Drugs and alcohol can offer quick bursts of stimulus or relaxation, but even occasional use can trigger a downhill spiral because these substances can only alter moods temporarily. Even with out the presence of a substance use disorder, the use of substances and alcohol occasionally can increase depression symptoms.
Stress can be seemingly unavoidable in these times, but it can be manageable. “Normal” stressors like school, work, or households stress can become overwhelming and is often a sign of a downward spiral of depression.
Physical Ailments or Injury
Medical conditions, whether severe or minor, can trigger depression episodes and symptoms. Lack of mobility or isolation due to medical illness can increase depression. Minor and/or temporary illness or injury can trigger depression.
Trauma, Grief, or Loss
Trauma, grief, and loss are commonly known to increase the risk of developing depression and triggering a depressive episode. Traumatic events can include car accidents, divorce, or the death of a loved one. Situations don’t have to be “dramatic” or traumatic to trigger feelings of depression.
Being aware of the triggers that may spark a downward spiral of depression is a good first step, but it’s not always easy to do so right away. It can take time for feelings to take root and transform into a depression spiral that needs attention.
Some warning signs of a downward spiral include but are not limited to7:
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks or situations
- Feeling indecisive about decisions that used to be easy or obvious
- Constantly feeling fatigue or getting easily exhausted
- Losing interest in people or activities that you once enjoyed
- Dreading a return to work after time off
- Feeling irritable
- Participating in negative self-talk
- Constant feelings of stress or anxiety
- Insomnia, sleeping too much, or changed sleeping patterns
- Neglecting self-care routines
These warning signs can be caused by a triggering event or there may not be a clear trigger that caused the downward spiral. Recognizing these warning signs is a great first step towards avoiding the downward spiral – and possibly even reversing it.
How to Break Out of a Spiral
After learning to recognize triggers and warning signs of a depression spiral, necessary action can be taken to avoid going deeper into the spiral. Healthy coping mechanisms can be used to help stop or reverse the depression cycle.
Self-care is crucial when it comes to mental health, especially depression6. Treatment for depression including therapy appointments and medication can be seen as a form of self-care.
Self-care can be little things too like reading a book or watching a funny movie. Journaling can also be used as a tool when suffering from depression. Writing about accomplishments throughout the week can contribute to positive self-esteem.
Engaging in a hobby or participating in a new activity can help revitalize interest in life. If finding a hobby or new activity is too challenging, simply taking a walk outside can help break the depression spiral.
Meditating and practicing mindfulness is a form of self-care that can help with the recognization of emotions and help stay in the present moment. When starting with these methods, begin with small goals and steps to reduce feelings that may arise from being overwhelmed.
Increase the "Happy" Brain Chemicals
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins are all naturally occurring chemicals in the body that help to facilitate feelings of happiness and peace5.
Exercise is an activity that increases all of these brain chemicals and can help improve mood. Finding the motivation to exercise while depressed can be difficult, but even less strenuous exercise can produce these brain chemicals. Exercising outside in the sunshine and fresh air can be restorative and increase the brain’s chemical serotonin.
Oxytocin production can occur when experiencing social interactions and physical touch. Holistic methods like meditation, acupuncture, and massage can also increase oxytocin. Meditation can also increase dopamine and endorphins levels.
Negative thoughts commonly appear during a depression spiral. Negative thoughts can be redirected by talking to a therapist, a friend, or a family member8. Getting feedback on negative thoughts after expressing them can provide relief and a different perspective.
Reach Out for Support
The U.S. culture is heavily focused on individualism and encourages strength and self-sufficiency. Although this is the culture in America, human beings thrive off of being involved in a community. Support and care from loved ones and friends can help with feelings of loneliness and hopelessness that are commonly associated with depression.
Making a list of friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors to call before the next spiral can be helpful in reversing and stopping the depression spiral by providing a sense of community. This list should consist of people that are trustworthy, provide a sense of safety, and are supportive.
Learning to recognize specific triggers and warning signs is a fantastic first step in avoiding that spiral altogether. Mixing this new knowledge with coping tools can help avoid or reduce the downward spiral of depression.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a depression downward spiral, reach out to Safe & Sound in Costa Mesa to seek help. Our compassionate team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our program.
- Cleveland Clinic Medical Professional. (2020, December 31). Depression: Types, symptoms, causes & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9290-depression
- Jabr, F. (2013, February 7). Researchers take a closer look at the most common and powerful triggers of depression. Scientific American. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/triggers-of-depression/
- Kämmerer, A. (2019, August 9). The scientific underpinnings and impacts of shame. Scientific American. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-scientific-underpinnings-and-impacts-of-shame/
- National Health Interview Survey. (2020, September). Early release of selected estimates from the 2019 national … Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/EarlyRelease202009-508.pdf
- Raypole, C. (2019, September 30). Happy hormones: What they are and how to boost them. Healthline. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/happy-hormone
- Raypole, C. (2021, June 28). Self-care for depression: 10 tips to help you feel better. Psych Central. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://psychcentral.com/depression/self-care-for-depression#10.-Consider-dietary-changes
- Rodriguez, D. (2012, September 14). Spotting the signs of a depressive episode – major depression resource center – everyday health. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/major-depression/spot-signs-of-depressive-episode/
- Woolston, C. (2021, December 16). Overcoming negative thinking. HealthDay. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/depression-12/depression-news-176/overcoming-negative-thinking-645055.html
Depression in everyday life, a downward spiral and 3 ways to cheer yourself up
Many people have moments when everything seems complicated and useless. It turns out that such sensations are just a by-product of the interaction of the components of the body's neural network. For most, they pass quickly, like a breath of breeze. But the neurophysiology of each person is unique, so for some of us, depressive moments develop into long and difficult states.
Alex Korb, a neurophysiologist, PhD and author of the novel Ascending Spiral, knows how neurophysiology helps to cope with depression, negative thoughts and conditions that “attack” us from time to time. Today we will talk about the symptoms of depression, what a “downward spiral” is and how to cheer yourself up even on the gloomiest day.
Depression is a downward spiral
We all know what it means to be in a downward spiral of life. For example, one Friday evening you are invited to a party, but you suddenly decide: “It seems to me that it will not be fun there,” and you don’t go. Instead, you lie on the couch and watch TV until late. The next day, sleep for a long time, and when you wake up, you feel overwhelmed. Nobody calls, you feel lonely, and even more so you don’t want to communicate with anyone. Nothing is interesting, and now you are already lying on the couch all weekend.
Depression is a very stable psychological situation: with its occurrence, the brain begins to issue commands for such actions that only aggravate everything - the source.
The feeling of discomfort and loneliness intensifies, and you no longer know what to do with it. Either solution seems terrible. This is the beginning of a state that is usually called depressive.
Downward spirals occur because the events around you and the decisions you make change the way your brain works. If the direction of thoughts changes for the worse, you begin to lose control over the situation, the brain’s work switches to the negative, which grows like a snowball.
Fortunately, in most people, the activity of various neural groups “reverses” in time and stops the brain from going into a tailspin. But many are not so lucky.
What depression really looks like
It is a common misconception that being depressed is just being sad all the time. In fact, everything is much more serious. In reality, a depressed person is not just sad - he is emotionless. He has a void inside. The person feels insecure. He has no hope. The things that you once liked no longer make you happy: no food, no friends, no hobbies. The energy is going somewhere.
Apathy absorbs more and more, source.
Everything seems very difficult, fears appear, but no explanation can be found for this. Nothing seems worth the effort it takes. It is difficult for a person to fall asleep and it is difficult to sleep. Pains and ailments resonate throughout the body more acutely than before. It is impossible to concentrate on something, anxiety, shame and loneliness are constantly oppressing.
The problem with the downward spiral of depression is that it doesn't just push the person deeper into that state, it keeps them there.
Life changes that can overcome depression seem difficult to implement. Healthy sleep would help, but insomnia takes over. The joy of communicating with friends would help a lot, but there is no desire for contact and no desire to disturb anyone. The brain "loops".
How depression occurs: a neuroscientist's view
Depression is caused by a malfunction in the interaction of neural circuits with each other and with the outside world. Imagine the simplest pair of neurons as a microphone and a speaker.
Arranged in a certain way creates an unpleasant echo effect that scratches the ear. Position the microphone and speaker a little differently and the problem will disappear. But it did not arise because of a microphone or speaker - separately, they work fine. This is a matter of adjusting the system and its individual parts.
The downward spiral of depression is vaguely similar to this example: it is fueled by the special tuning of your neural circuits.
The neural circuits in your brain are capable of everything: both happiness and depression - source.
Basically, depression is associated with the problem of "breakdown" of neural groups responsible for thinking and feeling. Although our brain is divided into dozens of regions, the neural circuits that cause depression are concentrated in just a few of them.
Two parts of the brain can be blamed for the occurrence of depressive states in people: the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. To put it simply, the prefrontal area is responsible for thinking, and the limbic part is for sensations. In depression, something goes wrong in the normal mode of interaction between these two areas.
The brain is complex. And the further, the more secrets scientists reveal, - source.
The rational prefrontal cortex should actually help the limbic system, but in depression, something in this contact goes wrong. Fortunately, it is possible to make adjustments to their mutual influence, you just need to work on yourself, and this is what the book "Upward Spiral" is about.
3 ways to cheer yourself up
And now, some practice. If you are depressed, frustrated and do not want anything, try (even through force!) These tricks. You'll see, it will be easier for you.
- If you feel that your mood is rapidly deteriorating, try to go somewhere where there will be people around, such as a library or cafe. You don't even need to contact anyone. Just being with other people in the same physical space will help.
- Thinking about different versions of the same event activates the mid prefrontal cortex, and this increases control over how the limbic system manages emotional state. As a result, it improves.
- As a result of versatile activity, the brain leaves a lot of "garbage", primarily in the form of decomposed neurochemical substances. Just like in your kitchen, these residues must be removed from the body, otherwise they will begin to accumulate and harm. In a dream, a similar “cleaning” plan takes place, which is extremely important for the normal functioning of the brain. So sleeping is a great idea.
In general, there is always hope. Scientific studies have shown how small adjustments in lifestyle and human behavior can change the work and the neurochemical component of the activity of certain sets of neurons. And as the functioning of the brain and the neurochemicals it produces change, so does the course of depression.
You can't always change your location, but you can change your direction. What if, instead of diving, your life spiraled upwards? Try it.
Warning: if you suspect that you have a depressive disorder, consult your doctor! The recommendations from the book can help, but in no case should they be the only way out of the current situation. Be healthy!
Based on materials from the book "Upward Spiral"
Post cover: pexels
⇐ PreviousPage 14 of 37Next ⇒
Let's see how the spiral manifests itself in everyday life. To clearly understand how it can affect existing and future relationships, remember those of them that did not work out. Restore in your memory everything that caused them to collapse in due time. Visualize everything that happened clearly. Remember as many details as possible and live it again. How it all began? What happened next? To understand the full impact of this moment, follow the action guide at the end of this chapter. By writing down each stage of your downward spiral to its lowest point, you will be able to understand the pattern of the development of the conflict.
For example, let's take a marriage in which the spouse gradually becomes obsessed with himself and stops helping around the house. He spends more and more time at work, leaving early in the morning when the children are still asleep, and returning home late at night. All conversations are only about business and money. Perhaps the family has a tense financial situation. Gradually, it grows, disputes become more frequent, each of the partners blames the other for the current situation. The downward spiral is gaining momentum, each spouse (or both at once) begin to seek solace in alcohol, hanging out with friends (or girlfriends), gambling, or, worst of all, in physical or mental abuse of each other. At such moments, the relationship becomes obsolete, and the spiral reaches its lowest point. Couples break up, spouses get divorced.
If you think carefully about what exactly kills relationships, you can start doing something to save them. Even if the relationship has already been lost, you can prevent it from happening again in the future. Vigilance is always the first step towards progress. The same can be said about relationships in business. Here's how it usually goes.
A partnership develops between two people. They have a great idea for a new product or service and invest a lot of time and effort into a new venture. Fully absorbed in their work, they did not draw up or sign any legal partnership document. After all, they are good friends and are going to remain so. At the same time, there are no clear job descriptions, methods of remuneration and profit sharing are not defined.
Let's rewind the picture several years ahead. Business relations are barely glimmering, since one of the partners has taken a controlling position and does not allow the second to make any decisions without his consent. The situation with money is bad, there are constant conflicts around what to spend profits on. One wants to invest in the development of the company, while the other cares primarily about their own well-being. Gradually, the rest of the employees are drawn into the conflict, and two opposing camps arise. The crisis is growing, one of the partners wants to leave the company. The war begins. Most of the money in such a situation usually goes to attorneys, the business goes bust, and both former friends exclaim: “Partnership is a disastrous business!” Thus, in the business world, the downward spiral can be just as devastating.
Here's a tip: if you're looking to do or are already doing business with one or more partners, plan your exit routes first before you get too caught up in it. Be sure to put them in writing. Do not overestimate emotional attachments. The undeniable fact that your partner is your best friend or just a good person is no reason to neglect a written agreement. Happiness and unpreparedness destroy a lot of enterprises.
So, now you know how the downward spiral can manifest itself, and you can learn something. Since we are all children of habit, you are more likely to repeat the same pattern of behavior in new relationships. Understanding this is very important for your future health and wealth.