Overcoming Lethargy and Meaninglessness

December 26, 2023

Overcoming Lethargy and Meaninglessness

Many experiencing depression go through significant life events, such as conflicts with parents, failure in significant efforts, or harsh break-ups, leading them into a swamp of negative emotions and self-criticism. But some fall into depression even without such events—sometimes even after major accomplishments like getting admitted to a desired university, a promotion, or business success. Why do people fall into depression after achieving their goals?

In the past, depression was solely viewed from the perspective of negative thoughts and maladaptive behaviors, and diagnostic criteria have evolved accordingly. However, this approach significantly underestimates the severity of modern mental health issues. Even if everyone could freely access mental health services, only about half of those seeking help are diagnosed with a specific condition. The rest suffer due to work, relationships, parenting challenges, a lack of life's purpose and meaning (what philosophers call 'existential dread'), or persistent severe anxiety.

Recent cognitive therapy focuses on the lack of 'life's purpose and meaning' referred to as 'values.' Values are essential as they act as a life force, empowering us to overcome the engulfing feelings of depression and anxiety and to move forward. Depression after reaching milestones can happen because those achievements are not aligned or are superficial, leading to emptiness and confusion about life's direction.

Have you thoroughly considered what is essential in your life? It could be anything—money, family, love, creation, service, religion. Are you willing to accept depression and anxiety and still move towards your desired values? Approaches like Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy (CT-R) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) systematically clarify and commit to these values, pulling life out of the depression and anxiety mire.

Life guided by values is often compared to driving a bus. You're driving the bus of life, which will have uninvited guests. These are the unavoidable pains of life—breakups, humiliation at work, self-doubt, failure. These guests won't easily disembark, and you have few choices. You could tirelessly fight them, succumb to their demands, or even stop driving. Or, despite uninvited guests, you could choose to drive the bus towards your values. If you opt for the latter, pain is unavoidable, but you can choose not to suffer in response. Interestingly, many people escape the persistent swamp of depression and anxiety this way.

Do you feel everything is meaningless? Are you swimming in lethargy and meaninglessness? Then, reflect on your core values. If you can't define them, professional help can be beneficial. Once you're clear on what matters to you, you can practice distancing yourself from invasive thoughts and moving towards your values.

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