Overcoming Low Moods Due to Physical Disability

Medical Reviewer

Disabilities and illnesses, whether temporary or permanent, modest or severe, they can be so devastating that many people feel they may no longer enjoy the same things again. Over time, feelings of depression can set in and it can be hard to see a way through. Still, it doesn't mean an end to enjoyment or fulfilment.

Adapting to Disability In the book, How to Beat Depression One Step at a Time, (1) the authors describe how a professional artist used an interesting developmental technique called the** SOC model** to adapt to his osteoarthritis. Sometimes applied by people who have chronic illnesses, injuries and disabilities, the process has three parts:

  • S elect down = Find the parts of an activity you can do.

  • O ptimize = Get the best you can out of those parts.

  • C ompensate = Look for satisfying alternatives or ways to enable activities.

In the artist’s case, he began by selecting down the time he would spend painting as well as the amount of work he took on. Since his pain was worse in the morning, he would start his day later and took regular hourly breaks. Next, he further optimized his performance by switching to water colors and smaller oil paintings. Finally, he compensated further by using wrist splints and special foam rings that allowed a better grip for his brushes. All these modifications allowed him to continue doing thing he loved most and ultimately helped to lift his spirits.

When Disability Prevents Activities

There are, however, some situations in which people aren’t able to do the things they used to enjoy. Besides being physically and psychologically devastating, any life-limiting illness or physical disability throws up so many challenges that it can be hard to see beyond the immediate future.

If you find yourself in the situation where you're wondering how to move forward, you could perhaps start by recalling the things you valued about a particular activity. For example, many interests are made up of the core activities such as golf, dancing or gardening and things such friends, reading material and activities that accompany it. And the temptation may be to drop everything because you are unable to continue with the core activity.

For some years now, my sister has been confined to a wheelchair. Her change in circumstances was immediate due to a severe back injury and it was a difficult time. Suddenly unable to work and in chronic pain, someone who was once a busy healthcare professional gradually began adapting to her circumstances by developing new interests in writing, art, gardening and championing disability. While her strength and stamina diminished over time, she continued to utilize new resources, try out new hobbies while maintaining her group of friends. Ever optimistic, she is constantly considering new options and ways of using technology to maintain interests and learn new ones.

Many disabled people who have managed to stay active will point out that disability is a state of mind. It’s this sort of positive attitude that builds resilience and can guard against low moods and depression.

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(1)    Chellingsworth, M., Farrand, P. (2015) How to Beat Depression One Step at a Time: Using evidence-based low-intensity CBT. Robinson.

Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.