One Reason You Feel Discouraged or Depressed

Originally published Thursday, 12 December 2013.

This blog post first appeared over at - you can read more about Allison there! 

For me, discouragement comes in seasons. I’ll be doing great for awhile, waking up every morning excited to do what I do, feeling energized and alive. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere (or so it seems) a cloud of discouragement seeps in.

Suddenly, I’m dragging myself out of bed. Everything feels harder than it needs to be. I try to talk myself out of it, or just “get over it,” but nothing seems to work.

The other day I had an epiphany about one reason this may happen.

I was on the treadmill at the time, which is somewhat normal for me. I’ve been a runner for a few years now, and for as long as I’ve been doing it I’ve loved the sense of freedom and energy running brings. I know it isn’t like this for everyone, but stick with me. You don’t have to be a runner for this to make sense.

Running on a treadmill is the worst kind of running.

Like I said, you don’t have to be a seasoned runner, or even have a vivid imagination to see how this could be the case. Just use basic common sense. When you’re running outside, you get to explore new locations, see new sights, and cover incredible ground. There’s a sense of wonder and accomplishment that comes along with that.

When you’re running on a treadmill, on the other hand, you stare at the same thing the entire time (usually the controls, wishing time would pass faster). Although you do run a certain distance, when you finish, you end up in the exact same place you started.

You literally feel like you went nowhere.

Of course, a treadmill fulfills a certain purpose (exercise) but the sense that you aren’t making any progress is a mental obstacle so huge it’s no wonder it’s difficult to overcome.

I wonder if this is why life get’s discouraging — we feel like we’re going nowhere.

Sometimes life feels a little like a treadmill, don’t you think? If we aren’t careful to consider where we’re going, and why we’re going there, it can just feel like we’re putting one foot in front of the other in this irritating, repetitive motion (make money, pay bills, make food, do dishes) just to end up the exact same place we started.

It can seem like we’re struggling just to keep up with this conveyor-belt called life. It can feel like the only reason we keep moving is because, if we stop, we’ll fall flat on our face.

No wonder we feel discouraged.

What if we just reminded ourselves of where we’re going?

This happened to me the other day in real life (not on a treadmill). I was feeling a little discouraged in my marriage, honestly. Nothing terrible had happened. But I was just feeling a little bit down. I was feeling like we were working hard, but going nowhere.

So I asked, “What are we doing with our marriage?”

It was a weird question to ask, truthfully, and at first, he looked at me a little funny. He asked me what I meant, and I so I clarified: “What is our marriage for? Besides being happy. What do you hope our marriage does?”

What followed was one of the best conversations we’ve ever had, and one of the richest, happiest, more fulfilling few weeks of our marriage.

It made me wonder if this is one way to cure discouragement and depression in other areas of our lives.

Obviously, discouragement and depression are complicated animals, and don’t only have one root cause. I’m not trying to oversimplify them. But I wonder what would happen if we started asking questions of purpose and direction about our marriages, our parenting, our careers, our spending habits, our faith, and our friendships.

What if we asked:

  • Why am I going to school? What do I hope comes from this?
  • Who am I investing in? Why? What do I hope comes from it?
  • Where are we headed with raising our kids? What do we hope we accomplish?
  • What is my job for? Why do I go everyday?
  • What is our marriage about? What do I hope it does?

I wonder how these simple questions could help refocus our energy, and even lift the fog of discouragement and depression.

Allison Vesterfelt is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook