Self-regulation and depression are related psychological processes with bidirectional effects. Self-regulation is an intentional process of regulating one’s cognition, emotion and behavior to reach at a certain goal (Bandura, 1991; Vohs & Baumeister, 2011). The goals can range from the simple everyday life to the larger getting married and sending kids to a school. It is volitional in a sense the individual voluntarily regulates her/himself to attain an anticipated goal. The development of self-regulation starts with infantile challenges of physical regulations, toddlerhood compliance, preschool’s delay of gratification and it becomes complex and more independent when we grow (Demetriou, 2000).
With the contemporary trend and paradigm shift to give better control to our own life in psychological science, self-regulation is getting prominent in explaining various spectra of our own lives. This approach tends to give a better agency on how we determine our own lives. The will power that we have may give better control of our own life instead of pointing our figures to external factors. Despite the fact that the impacts of the external factors are inevitable, the level of the effect the external power on our life is largely determined on how we react to and regulate our own behavior, emotion and cognition.
Although we intentionally control our behavior depending on the type of the goal anticipated to achieve, much of our self-regulatory process are automatic and implicit. Therefore, our behavior and associated emotional and cognitive attributes are consistently evaluated by our own goals and standards, knowingly or unconsciously (Bandura, 1991; Zimmerman 2000; Carver & Scheier, 2012).
According to the self-discrepancy theory (SDT) (Duval & Wicklund, 1972), the main psychological process behind self-regulation is the self judgement and evaluation of our own behavior and its status in comparison to the salient goals and standards aspired. The larger the discrepancy between the perceived standard and the current status, the more we experience negative affect. This negative affect such as depression does not have entirely negative impact on our lives. To some extent, they are motivating factor for the individual to minimize the discrepancy observed between the current status and the standard we set for our behavior. From the evolutionary psychology perspective depressive symptoms can have adaptive functioning energizing goal engagement and reengagement for unattained goal (Wrosch & Miller, 2009)
Studies have shown substantial link between the discrepancy between the planned and achieved goal, and depressive symptoms (Ingram, 2003; Papadakis, Princes, Jones & Strauman, 2006). In addition to the discrepancy, rumination is related facilitative factor for the development of depressive symptoms. Rumination is an involuntary and passive response or coping style to failure which is characterized as repetitive focus on depressive symptoms, causes and consequences (Nolen-Hoekesma, 1998).
Therefore, rumination may be a mediator between self-regulatory mechanism and persistent depressive symptoms. We may often experience depressive symptoms because we frequently fail; we repeatedly fail because we have weak self-regulatory skills. This failure may promote rumination, overly obsessed with the depressive symptoms and associated attributes. This coping mechanism is less problem solving focused and it enhances the experience of the negative emotion. This shows the strong link between self-regulatory mechanisms and depressive symptoms. As a result, self-regulation can give a will power to individuals to prevent and cope with depressive symptoms.
Implications for coping with depressive symptoms:
1. Practical goals
Plan practical goals in your life because abstract goals are difficult to achieve and the psychological agony of repetitive failure may promote further problems. For instance, instead of aiming to be popular among your friends, aspire to develop social skills that can help you establish genuine relationship with your friends.
2. Find resource
Once you set practical goals, find personal and environmental resources to achieve your goals. Look in to your own skills and abilities to meet your aim. Enhance positive attributes and fill limitations.
If you have the resource, commit yourself to your own goals. The aftermath euphoria of doing something is the basis for the achievement of the second goal. Even though you may be tired or bored of doing it, think about the pleasure you experience when you attain your goal.
4. Failure in one goal is not an entire failure as a person
It is often to see people feeling devastated because they fail in certain goals. Life is not as such simple to be determined by the success or failure on few goals. It is irrational cognitive distortion to evaluate your life based on one or two personal goals. Failure to marry the girl whom you love most today is not a failure to your entire romantic life.
5. Depressive symptom as a feedback
Depressive symptoms are self-monitoring feedback loops for our own behavior in reference to our own goals. If we do not feel bad when we fail to be loyal to our significant others, we will not have a self-control not commit to the same mistake again. Therefore, it is recommended, to some extent, to perceive negative feelings as feedback loop for our own action. This can help us to be friends to the symptoms instead of being enemy. This in turn gives us a better connection to the symptoms. This may seem unlikely because depressive symptoms are not comfortable. However, having this kind of cognitive setup minimizes the negative effect. If we perceive the symptoms like enemy, we panic when we sense the signals for the depression episodes. This facilitates the negative feelings.
Instead of being totally obsessed with your depressive symptoms, distract yourself and break the vicious cycle. Hangout, meet friends, have fun…etc. Thinking about the causes and consequences of your depression symptom rather escalates the symptoms and distracts you from focusing on solving the problem.
7. Worry session
Working, loving, socializing … does not go with rumination. Instead of worrying in the whole day, set a worry session (may be for 30 minutes per day) when you think about and develop awareness about the depression because it makes you less focused in your activity. Limiting the worry time can also minimize the power of the depressive thoughts in your mind.
8. Self-regulation needs a training
The points mentioned in the beginning, setting practical goal, persistence, shaping the belief systems are self-regulatory abilities. Train these skills in everyday life, then, they become the integral part of your personality.
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Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2012). Cybernetic Control Processes and the Self-Regulation of Behavior. In R. M. Ryan (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation (pp. 28–42).
Demetriou, A. (2000). Organization and Development of Self-Understanding and Self-Regulation. In Handbook of Self-Regulation (pp. 209–251). Elsevier. Retrieved from http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/B9780121098902500366
Duval, S., & Wicklund, R. A. (1972). A theory of objective self awareness. Oxford: Academic Press.
Ingram, R. E. (2003). Origins of cognitive vulnerability to depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 27, 77–88.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1998). Ruminative coping with depression. In J. Heckhausen & C. S. Dweck (Eds.) , Motivation and self-regulation across the life span (pp. 237–256). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Papadakis, A. A., Prince, R. P., Jones, N. P., & Strauman, T. J. (2006). Self- regulation, rumination, and vulnerability to depression in adolescent girls. Development and Psychopathology, 18, 815 829. doi:10.1017/S0954579406060408
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