When Orion Lyonesse is getting depressed, she turns into a hermit. She doesn't want to leave the house (not even to pick up the mail), and she cuts off contact with her friends and family.
"The more I'm alone, the deeper the depression gets," Lyonesse, an artist and writer in Lake Stevens, Wash., tells WebMD in an email. "I don't even want to cuddle my cats!"
Avoiding social contact is a common pattern you might notice when falling into depression. Some people skip activities they normally enjoy and isolate themselves from the world. Others turn to alcohol or junk food to mask their pain and unhappiness.
Depression traps vary from person to person, but what they have in common is that they can serve to worsen your mood, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Here are six behavioral pitfalls that often accompany depression -- and how you can steer clear of them as you and your doctor or therapist work on getting back on track.
Trap #1: Social Withdrawal
Social withdrawal is the most common telltale sign of depression.
"When we're clinically depressed, there's a very strong urge to pull away from others and to shut down," says Stephen Ilardi, PhD, author of books including The Depression Cure and associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. "It turns out to be the exact opposite of what we need."
"In depression, social isolation typically serves to worsen the illness and how we feel," Ilardi says. "Social withdrawal amplifies the brain's stress response. Social contact helps put the brakes on it."
The Fix: Gradually counteract social withdrawal by reaching out to your friends and family. Make a list of the people in your life you want to reconnect with and start by scheduling an activity.
Trap #2: Rumination
A major component of depression is rumination, which involves dwelling and brooding about themes like loss and failure that cause you to feel worse about yourself.
Rumination is a toxic process that leads to negative self-talk such as, "It's my own fault. Who would ever want me a friend?"
"There's a saying, 'When you're in your own mind, you're in enemy territory,'" says Mark Goulston, MD, psychiatrist and author of Get Out of Your Own Way. "You leave yourself open to those thoughts and the danger is believing them."
Rumination can also cause you to interpret neutral events in a negative fashion. For example, when you're buying groceries, you may notice that the checkout person smiles at the person in front of you but doesn't smile at you, so you perceive it as a slight.
"When people are clinically depressed, they will typically spend a lot of time and energy rehearsing negative thoughts, often for long stretches of time," Ilardi says.
The Fix: Redirect your attention to a more absorbing activity, like a social engagement or reading a book.