Depression is not something we overcome in a day, or even in a week or month. Nonetheless, depression is indeed something that can be beaten. While there are books (including mine) that talk about the different aspects connected with depression, the formula for becoming a happier person can be boiled down to five steps.
Here, I present these steps, along with concrete directions. Please feel free to contact me for more details.
One: Self-awareness: The first step to climbing out of a depression is recognizing that you are in a depression. Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you lost interest in improving yourself? Does self-improvement seem pointless?
- Do you view opportunities and challenges just as difficulties? Does life just seem like one difficulty after another?
- Do you have dark thoughts that you are useless, that you wish the world would end, that your life is meaningless?
If you’ve answered Yes to one or more of these questions, it means that you are experiencing a state of depression. It is now time to start climbing out of it.
Two: Accept that change will be part of your recovery process. People in a state of depression think that change is bad. However, how can your life get better if you don’t want it to change? Furthermore, some of the change in your life needs to come from you. These changes are discussed below. But the first step is allowing for change itself. Remember to say the classic prayer, “God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
When we are in a state of negativity, we assume that all forms of change will make our life worse. However, the change that starts in you will make your life better. A great book for learning how to accept change is the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, an emperor of Ancient Rome whose words are as meaningful today as they were 2,000 years ago. (Full text here!)
Three: Simplifying your life. This is the part that seems counterintuitive to many people. I call it the “Law of Subtraction”. It is time to shed the things that complicate your life but which are unnecessary. Some of us allow television to rule our non-working lives, and we get far too caught up in what we are watching, even to the point that it influences our mood. The same goes for taking our favorite sports team too seriously. Worst of all, is the news: many people start their day by listening to the news, with fear that they may not know “what is going on in the world”. How does knowing all of these bad things help you enjoy your day? Another example is having an overly busy social life, and pressuring yourself to “make it” to every event.
In short, eliminate the commitments in your life that are not necessary. Yes, you will have some more free time, and some of this newfound time will be spent on things we discuss below.
Four: Choosing a positive perspective. This begins with the “attitude of gratitude”. Anyone who can read has something to be thankful for, as does anyone who can walk, hear, and so forth. Add to this anyone who has food on the table, a roof over his head, and clothes to wear. And that’s just the beginning: each of us has many things to be thankful for, and we take this for granted. Start being thankful for all of the positive things in your life. This will shift your energy away from negativity. At the same time, make a conscious effort to look at situations optimistically. Has being negative ever helped you? Make sure you make an effort to see the “glass” half full.
Along with your internal perspective, be mindful of the way you talk. When we are in a state of depression, we don’t realize how negative we sound to others. As Joel Osteen says, “You can’t talk negatively and expect to live a positive life.” Next time you are about to blurt out something negative, stop yourself from saying it — and make this a habit.
Finally, keep yourself focused on the Present. To put it simply, ignore the past. We are tempted to look at the past to second-guess ourselves, but thinking about the past leads to feeling worse. The past is dead. Save reflection for the wisdom of old age. Meanwhile, don’t get obsessive about the future. While it is absurd to “live every day as if it were your last” – because you’d run out of money and have horrible health problems – make sure your mind stays in the Present. A good book for improving your ability to do this is Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.
Five: Self-discipline. We hear this term tossed around so much these days that its meaning has become complicated. We think it involves a complex gym schedule, rigid attention to the clock, vitamin supplements, foods involving ingredients we’ve never heard of like “turmeric” and “kale”.
In reality, self-discipline is based on a few very simple cornerstones
- Diet: Eating with a better diet helps you to feel and look better. Two-thirds of weight loss is related to what you eat. A large part of energy and overall protection against illness involves food. What we want to do first is get rid of the bad stuff. Sugar must go. Start by eliminating soft drinks like Coca-Cola from your diet, and then get rid of the chocolate and potato chips, except for once a week. You must eat breakfast. Reduce your intake of coffee. Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially raw green vegetables like cucumbers and celery.
- Sleep: No matter who you are, you should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night. The secret is to get into bed before you feel tired. Give yourself a time at which you should be in the sack, and keep a book next to you. If you are a rough sleeper, waking up often during the night, you should allow for 8 hours of sleep. Without proper sleep, you will find it harder to be positive — and healthy.
- Exercise: we are often intimidated to start an exercise program by seeing people around us who seem to make exercise a lifestyle. I don’t criticize them, but I do say that exercise does not have to be the ruling passion of your non-work life. Three sessions a week, of at least 45 minutes, will do the trick. Combine some weightlifting with some running on the treadmill. You should be breaking a sweat, not taking much time between sets, and be tired and straining. Exercise should never be too comfortable! For running, I recommend sprints of up to 400 meters. Long runs will force you into thinking too much, and one of the goals of exercise is NOT TO THINK. The benefits of exercise are 50% mental. It is a time for your mind to refresh itself.
- Learning: At one point in my 30s, as I was trying to climb out of my own depression, I realized that I had not learned anything new for several years. Fortunately, knowledge is always out there, and is easier and cheaper to learn than ever before. Learning re-stimulates your mind, and is a positive process. Companies such as www.udemy.com offer online courses for just a few dollars, on almost any topic you can imagine. Start with something related to your job, or simply on a topic you like — and make sure to finish it, no matter what.
Jim Rohn, one of my favorite self-help speakers, says that “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.” Now we all know that success involves more than just self-discipline: it involves having direction, perhaps some vision, and perhaps some luck. However, if you have self-discipline, you are in a position to choose a proper direction, and also, you are prepared for when luck comes to you. The person you have become, through more self-discipline, may very well attract it.
I talk more about these steps, and about minor aspects of depression and achieving peace of mind, in my book Winning the Fight to Be Happy. However, for the moment, these tips above will form the foundation for your ascent out of depression and into feeling better about yourself and about life.
–By Tom McKinley
Facebook: Tom McKinley Self-Help