Everyday Depression Help - Mirroring

August 7, 2012 Natasha Tracy

People mirror our own emotions and so when depressed, people mirror back depression cues that make us feel worse. Turn this around to your advantage.

Have you ever noticed that when you spend time around someone who’s in a great mood it often lifts your mood up too? Similarly, if you spend time with someone who is really down, you feel less happy? Part of the reason for this is mirroring. It’s the concept that we image back what people show to us. Human see, human do.

So how can we use this idea to our advantage when we’re depressed?

Signals of Depression

Whether you know it or not, and whether the people around you know it or not, you are giving off signals when you’re depressed. Depressed people commonly do all sorts of things to communicate their mood whether they talk about it or not.

Depressed people often:

  • Talk about depressing subjects in general
  • Move more slowly than normal
  • Talk less
  • Speak more slowly and more monotone
  • Have a lack of interest in others
  • Don’t make eye contact and look down
  • Frown
  • Slouch
  • Are grouchy
  • Have a weak handshake

And so many other things. In short, you’re giving off constant cues as to your emotional state.

Mirroring of Depression Cues

So when you run into someone, they are, probably unknowingly, going to mirror these depression cues back at you. Suddenly the other person is less excited about an event they wanted to tell you about. The other person doesn’t want to share his good news because he thinks you won’t be happy for him. The other person might start to speak more slowly or more monotonously to match your own cadence. The other person stops looking at you in the eyes because you keep looking at the ground anyway.

In short, the person almost starts acting like they, too, are a little depressed.

And, of course, when these cues are mirrored back at you they don’t make you feel one iota better about yourself. They tend to “prove” that the world is a “depressing place” and that there is “nothing” worth being happy about.

Using Mirroring to Your Advantage

So if we know that others will tend to mirror our own mood back to us then it’s simply a matter of giving off good mood cues. Make an effort to stand up straight, walk and shake hands with confidence. Smile when you don’t want to. Engage in conversation and take an interest in others. Look people in the eye and try to match their cadence. This might not be easy when you’re depressed, but it can have an overall positive effect.

Because doing these things can affect how your whole day goes and how the rest of the world treats you. You aren’t acting less depressed for others, you’re changing your own cues for you; because then what others mirror back will be something you want to see and something that might actually lift your mood.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, August 7). Everyday Depression Help - Mirroring, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, March 3 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

June, 10 2013 at 8:15 am

Yes, this is a fine line. Generally, I try not to show my depression at work because 1) it isn't appropriate, 2) you really have to try to get along with your coworkers, 3) it does lower morale, 4) i suppose it is the mature thing to do. I am okay with this. I am not paid to be "honest and authentic". I am paid to do my job and to try not to be a pain in the process. Of course this depends on what kind of job you have. In the corporate world,, authentic is not cool. If you work independently, own your own company, etc., you can afford to do this.
It is just a matter of having respect for your position, and doing the responsible thing. I don't understand some people's expectations of being authentic. Just because I am not screaming and singing from the rooftops "who I am" does not mean that I am not being authentic and true to myself. If I go to the bathroom to privately cry, i feel i am still honoring my true feelings without laying that trip on the people around me. And again, the workplace is not the right place to do it, if you can help it.

September, 20 2012 at 11:19 am

I, too, understand the two roles, me and happy me. My coworkers think that I am always cheerful, but my wife has moved out because she feels like I cannot live without her emotional support and she is tired of me I guess. I'm still in shock and pretty lost at the moment. We live in a remote area and our only therapists are Christian based and do not get me.

Natasha Tracy
August, 10 2012 at 6:07 am

Hi Turk,
I think there are ways of having a balance of people in your life so that you're not lonely. It's hard and some people you will never be close enough to for them to understand, but there will be some who will. I think it's best to learn to have a variety of kinds of relationships with a variety of people so that we're not lonely.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
August, 10 2012 at 6:01 am

Hi Emily,
I agree with you on both points. When the depression is severe enough few coping techniques will help - this one included.
And you're right, there is a line between "fake it 'til you make it" and living a lie. It's a hard line to dance around. I like to think that a lot of the faking it has to do with people we don't know very well (like coworkers) while revealing ourselves happens around people we love and who love us. If we can get those types of relationships straight, I think it can work.
- Natasha

August, 8 2012 at 6:40 pm

I recently had a long conversation about this with my therapist. Over the last few years, I have done a tremendous job of eliminating toxic people from my life. However, there becomes a void of people that have my condition (severity) that understand what I am talking about when mentioning an episode. I was in the uneasy position of discussing with my boss that I was in the middle of a period of time where I was manic - which usually leads to a severe depressive episode. He, a person that is always positive and a "normy," did not understand. In fact, he said he couldn't tell there had been anything wrong with me, had a confused look, and the feeling of uneasiness was present. Emily identified it accurately stating "the act becomes second nature." The end result of not being able to hang around "cheerful" people and avoiding depressed people leave us with the option of just being lonely. Fortunately, I have a cat.

August, 8 2012 at 4:20 pm

I really think that this depends upon the level of depression. When I am sufficiently depressed, I cannot stand the sound of laughter, or to see someone smile- being around cheerful people makes me feel almost homicidal. There is also a fine line between trying to act like the cheerful person you want to be, and living a lie. I remember one of my first therapists used to say to me, "fake it 'till you make it." And he also critisized me for not showing my true emotions. It becomes hard to turn on and off, the ability to show who you really are around other people- and the act becomes second nature. But is also feels like a small death, to never be true to one's self. That is the dilemna, I guess, of being a "high functioning" person with a severe mental illness. If you want to have a job, and something of a normal life, there is a whole lot that you can't show much of the time.

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