“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them — every day begin the task anew.” ~ Saint Francis de Sales
Depression is often a reaction to a real problem. It signals the need to change something about your relationships, or your thinking, your circumstances, responsibilities, environment, perspective, your beliefs, or behavior.
While the need to change may be real and the call for action urgent, the overriding challenge is that depression often inspires inertia.
Other times, depression is the emotional response to physical pain or other medical conditions that are ongoing. In such cases, the pain or difficulty can be minimized or coped with in a way that adds deep and lasting value to living.
How you feel about your life, in most cases, can be changed, no matter how chronic the root of your depression is or seems. My prayer is that something here will inspire you to take the next step on your journey to a better life.
10 Ways You Can Change How You Feel
“If you want to change who you are physically, mentally, and spiritually, you will have to change what you think.” ~ Dr. Patrick Gentempo
1. Feelings are Birthed from the Womb of Thought
How we interpret the things we experience determines how we experience them. Our realities are reflections of what we think and believe much more than what truly is.
The quality of your marriage, for example, is determined more from what you believe and think about the kind of person your spouse is than the kind of person he/she actually is. And whether accurate or not is really beside the point. It is still what you think and believe that matters.
When life feels purposeless and arbitrary, we tend to focus on our pain more than when we focus on other things. The difficulty is that pain can cause us to turn inward for self-protection. The problem is that whatever we focus on gets bigger.
And since we choose what fills our thoughts, we can change what we feel by changing what we habitually think. Of course, you may not feel like you have any control over your thoughts or feelings right now.
But like any skill or talent, with practice, you can start to gain some. Changing your beliefs (click here for another article on beliefs) will change your life just as fundamentally as changing your job will change your employment.
2. The Temptation of Isolation
When depression crashes down on top of us, we usually want to shrink into the shadows of our own despair. We want to shut doors, hide under blankets and try to numb ourselves to the pain.
But if feeling better is the desire of your heart, then isolation to your happiness is like running west to go north. It simply won’t get you there.
Instead, open the doors and get out with people. I know getting around others can be the last thing you want to do. But think of yourself as your own parent. There is a child-you inside who desperately needs the parent-you.
Protect that scared, angry and lonely child by getting him or her out among people. Let her smile. Change her surroundings.
Get out of the shadowed darkness into the day. It matters less about the size of the group – large groups, one-on-ones or anything in between – as much as the fact that you yank yourself from the inside to the outside, into sunlight, around others.
Resist the temptation to isolate yourself. Be around people even if you don’t say a word in the beginning. Just take that first step.
3. Take Baby Steps
“I will smile at 2 people today.”
“I will get out of bed and dressed by 9am tomorrow morning.”
“I will call a friend or family member to meet for lunch this week.”
Taking small incremental baby steps toward the light, toward movement, toward those things that will lift the burden, even if only temporarily and even if it doesn’t seem to work at first, are critical. The movement toward little goals itself will help over time. From wherever you are right now, take a baby step forward.
4. Move Your Body
Get outside in the sunlight and fresh air. Walk. Jog. Swim. Move.
We are biochemical beings. We function biochemically. Happiness can even be measured biochemically, even neuroscientifically. We know what it does and how it does it. The sun and cardiovascular movement helps create the chemicals needed to feel happy and alive. So get out and move.
5. If your Heart has a Hole in it, see a Heart Doctor
If your body is broken, you see a doctor. If your soul is broken, a trip to church may be just what the doctor ordered. If your car is broken, you’ll need a mechanic. It only makes sense.
And yet we often resist taking our broken hearts and emotional lives to the mechanics of our mental health. Why is that? Is a bone or a car more important or more complicated than our ability to live happy peaceful lives of deep fulfillment?
If you’re living with depression (or any other mental health issue, such as anxiety or compulsive disorders, for that matter), get to therapy. But be sure to find a comfortable fit. If the first therapist doesn’t fit right, find a different one, even if it takes switching therapists several times. It may be helpful to look for someone who specializes in your area of need. Don’t be afraid to ask; they’ll expect you to.
There is no shame in seeking someone trained to help us heal our emotional wounds any more than needing a surgeon to help stitch our physical lives back together when they come apart.
6. Talk and Keep Talking
Back a few years ago, I took a group of boys to the beach for a beach party. As the sun dimmed, we started a fire to cook our hotdogs. One boy decided he would sneak an unopened can of root beer into the fire pit. Well, you can guess what happened next. The can exploded, sending hot root beer everywhere.
The point is likely obvious: You and I are just like that. Bottled up emotions under the heat of pressure behaves predictably in the long run. Just like cans of soda, we explode when we keep the lid screwed down too tightly for too long. But when we pop the lid, the pressure is released safely.
Whether with a family member, friend, or therapist, crack the seal and open up. Keeping everything bottled up inside can be one of the worst things you can do.
So join a support group. Share your thoughts with someone else. Open your heart to them.
Remember, not everyone is emotionally prepared to deal with such intense issues, so if they fall short of your needs, love them, forgive them and find someone else. One person’s inability to cope with the intensity of the emotion you’re burdened with doesn’t mean talking about it is the wrong thing to do. Find supportive people. Connect. Communicate.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. They will listen and help you know what step to take next to get help. Or click here to visit The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
7. Write and Keep Writing
Sometimes there are no supportive people immediately to be found. Other times, you may feel sensitive about overdoing the talk thing with someone you fear will start to pull away if all they ever hear is sadness. In such cases, and for its own sake as well, writing out your thoughts and feelings down can be very therapeutic.
Keep a journal. Spill your guts onto the page. Get it all out. Let your guilt and sadness, your despair and hurt, your anger and frustration, your loneliness and hatred drain onto the pages.
Write letters to yourself. Or to the child-you. Or to your parents (but don’t send them) . Start a blog. But write it down, all of it, in all its gory detail. Fill the pages with the depths of your emotion. Over time, you may find the depth of your anguish a little shallower than it was.
Getting the dark knot of emotion that feels stuck in the pit of your gut out into the open – even if only on paper – can be itself immensely helpful.
For some people, starting the writing process is easier than talking with a therapist, friend or family member. But both are critical.
8. Read and Keep Reading
There is so much information out there about depression and related issues. Go read it. The more you know the more normal you will feel. You will stop feeling like you’re crazy. You will more likely be able to manage your feelings. You will start to feel stronger and more and more in control.
Knowledge really is power. So go get some! “Know your disease” is much more than an empty slogan. It’s arming yourself against an aggressive assailant.
9. To be Blessed, Bless
Depression is understandably an inward-looking state of mind. But that’s one of its most effective weapons as well.
Instead of paying so much attention to the underbelly of your life, look for a cause or a person you can help. When you lift others, you are lifted, sometimes to ground much higher than the person lifted by you.
Join a volunteer group. The scheduled commitment can help you stick to it with it regularly. Get involved with your church, temple or synagogue. Visit those in need. It may seem counter-intuitive on some level. You’re the one is desperate need, after all.
But serving others helps build a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. It can make you feel valued, important and worthy, usually feelings in short supply when depressed.
10. Live Fully
The temptation, as mentioned above, is to isolate and turn off the lights, sleep all day and wallow in misery. That’s normal. But it also happens to be unhealthy and self-defeating, reinforcing all the darker parts of your depression.
Instead, go out, read, play, serve, learn, grow, pray, hike, dance, sing, climb, ride, run, skip, splash, jump, throw, catch, act, go, do. It will make a profound difference in your life.
You are not crazy. You are suffering from depression much like people suffer from other illnesses. Some need chemicals to counteract the effects of chemical imbalances. There is nothing to feel shame or guilt for in this.
If my car is out of oil, I have to add some to get it to run. If my brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin, I have to supplement that if I’m to feel good. That’s just the short and tall of the matter.
Others need other forms of treatment to help them overcome their challenge. There are different causes and types and degrees of depression.
Each needs to be diagnosed correctly to know how best to proceed. While nothing here can hurt those who suffer from clinical depression, most of what I’ve written will fall short of the needed help for those with more major types or whose depression stems from chemical imbalances without psychiatric treatment from a competent professional.
Please seek that help.
No-Brainer Disclaimer: I feel the need to emphasize here that I am not a professional. These are my thoughts and opinions and mine alone. They are to be read for what they are, a friend’s perspective and heartfelt thoughts on the topic and nothing more. I am not making a diagnosis or issuing a prescription or making a prediction. As with all serious psychological/emotional/mental illnesses, seek a professional for guidance in determining the right steps for you.
If you know of someone who is depressed or shows signs of or makes comments about death or suicide, please call this number now: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Call 9-1-1 in the US if you think you or someone will act on those feelings soon. It may save a life. To know what signs to look for, click here.
PS: I’ve added a ton of links in this post to arm you with more knowledge than one post can offer. Please follow the links and learn and call and do what’s needed to pick up the broken pieces and start putting the Humpty of your life back together again. Happiness is out there. But really, it’s in there. I hope you find the inner determination (even if that determination is fragile, uncertain and week) to take the next step.
Homework (sorry, I’m a teacher; I can’t help it!)
Write three steps you’ll start taking today or this week on a 3×5 card. Carry it with you always. Refer to it frequently as a reminder. Take action on them as often as you can. Any action is enough to celebrate, so be liberal with your self-praise. When you’re done with those, come back and choose three more. Add them to the list and repeat. If three is too overwhelming (and that’s ok if it is), cross out two and follow the instructions for that one.
You can do this. Many others have done it before you. Accept that as proof that you can too.
For the first post in this series as my response to an email I received from a reader, click here: Suicide and Depression: 6 Ways to Hold onto Life
- What is your experience with depression or with someone who was depressed?
- How did you (or they) win that battle?
- What are you doing right now to deal with depression?
- Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Photo credit: m.srikanth