Just about every time I’ve been interviewed, I’ve been asked this:
“What words of wisdom do you have for people who are struggling with depression and just don’t know where to start to pull themselves out?”
Every time, I pause for a second, stumped, as if I’ve never been asked this question before. You’d think after all this time that I’d have a by rote answer just waiting on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t.
I figured I should explore this a little bit, not just for interviewing purposes, but also for the countless emails I get back from new subscribers, saying that they don’t know where to start either.
The answer comes down to one word, though there are many realms within it.
When I was at my most depressed, I was constantly worrying about never accomplishing anything with my life. I dwelled on the past, which I could do nothing about, and sat in my room, fearing the future. I knew what I wanted, but I was too scared to take action.
Too scared because I might waste my time.
Too scared because I might not get what I’m after.
Too scared because I’d never really tried before.
If there was one habit I could attribute my recovery to, I’d have to say that it was taking action. It didn’t matter what the action was, it was more about the actual doing of it. I’d set a goal, then go after it.
There’s nothing like staying still to worsen fear, and depression is largely about fear.
If you’re deep in depression right now, taking action may sound like the last thing you want to do. That first step toward doing, however, is the most important one you’ll take.
Once you realize you can accomplish things–that you have some control and it’s not as scary as your depression-head makes it out to be–the world becomes that much lighter, that much more open. Each subsequent action will be that much easier!
That said, the answer still isn’t as simple as “take action,” because one person’s action won’t necessarily work for another. Some people will find one action useful while someone else thinks it’s new age hogwash. It’s a very personal undertaking.
Since it’s not a one-size-fits-all prescription, I wanted to offer you a few personalized options so that you can pick and choose what speaks to you. The first three actions below can either be adopted altogether, or separately depending on your personality type. If you’re having a hard time choosing one, take a look at the personality traits that are listed under each action for a hint. Match yours up and try it out!
Action by personality/situation
Join a group
Best for people who:
- don’t get the support they need from friends or family
- adhere to goals when held accountable by a group
- would benefit from talking to someone who’s going through similar hardships
- aren’t extremely shy.
Some people do really well when they get to talk to a group of people who are struggling with similar problems. A camaraderie may form that could help the group members climb out of depression together. It’s the whole “do it for the team!” mentality.
Here’s how they usually work: you can find out about groups in your area either by looking at the “health” section of your local newspaper, researching online, or by looking at the boards at your local community center or hospital. You might need to call ahead to attend, but many groups are cool with walk-ins. A counselor will run the group, letting individuals talk about what’s bothering them. The counselor offers feedback and sometimes will open the floor for constructive feedback (read: no beat downs allowed!) from the group.
Start a gratitude journal
Best for people who:
- enjoy writing
- prefer going solo in their recovery
- can stick to a habit religiously
- are shy or introverted.
If you’re an introvert or are majorly shy, a gratitude journal may be the first step toward healing for you. Done completely on your own, this habit works best when performed religiously. That means every day you write in this journal, no excuses.
I recommend writing at least 3 new things every day in your gratitude journal that you are thankful for, as well as why you are thankful for them. Elaborate as much as you can and if you want to go over the 3, by all means do!
Adopt a mantra and get to the gym
Best for people who:
- are big feelers and need an outlet for the intense emotions
- can effectively channel negative energy out through physical exercise
- aren’t afraid of being too “woo-woo.”
If you’ve ever laid eyes on a fitness magazine, you know that exercise creates a major endorphin boost which makes you feel motivated and positive. When you combine that boost with a targeted mantra, there’s no stopping you!
Using a short phrase that personally motivates you (one that’s targeted to exactly what you’re working on is best) when you’re pushing through the toughest part of your workout can strengthen you well beyond your final reps. I’ve found that mantra repetition with a challenging exercise program builds mental fortitude as well as physical. It’s the whole reason I started this site!
Try it with one mantra per week at most, really concentrating on it when the going gets tough. Think of it as building muscle memory for your brain!
The universal actions that speed up recovery
There are a few actions that seem to work well for most everyone. I highly recommend you consider these options regardless of your personality or situation.
Talk to a counselor
Talking to someone who is unbiased and in the industry solely for the purpose of helping you through recovery is incredibly helpful for every person I’ve talked to.
The people who get the most out of therapy open up fully in these sessions and do the homework given to them. If you don’t plan to do either of these things, starting with a group might be the best for you (hearing other people open up might help you to do the same).
If you’ve never gone to see a therapist, it might be a bit frightening. Just keep in mind that you’re never locked down to one person; you’re always free to try out someone else. In fact, I recommend scheduling an initial meeting with 3 or so therapists, and stick with the one you vibe with best.
Choose your friends wisely
Just like I say in Fire Your Friends, it makes all the difference while you’re recovering to surround yourself with people who make you feel fully supported. If you have friends that beat you down or otherwise make you feel badly about yourself, think twice about hanging out with them again. If you can’t cut the cord entirely, at least limit the time you spend with them.
If you’re depressed, stewing and dwelling are your ultimate enemies. They’ll make everything seem worse than it actually is, and they keep you from achieving anything.
If you want to feel better, just do something. Set a goal–however small–and go after it. Even the smallest goals like getting up and showering before 10 am (not kidding, that was my goal at one point) can help make you feel accomplished, which is a stepping stool to bigger goals.
When it comes down to it, you just can’t stand still anymore. Not if you want to climb out of this hole. Give yourself a chance and get doing.