Pre-P.S. — If you’ve been feeling chronically depressed for more than 2 weeks, then it’s highly recommended to see a professional therapist. Because if reading online articles would cure it all, we wouldn’t be living in a world with a mental health epidemic. So please take care of yourself. If you can’t afford a therapist in person, try Ginger.io (high-tech affordable mental healthcare in your smartphone).
At 17, after going through back-to-back chicken pox and hemorrhoid surgery while also being an emotional eater and 50 lbs overweight, I had my first encounter with depression.
Over the next 10 years, I got to experience a few more bouts of depression that would last anywhere from 2–3 weeks while once going through a major episode of bipolar disorder that lasted for 6 months.
All is awesome today.
Below are the lessons I learned by being my own 3rd person therapist that helped me to take certain actions and get out of the depressive state. I would teach these to my future kids and people I care most about.
1. Build Massive Awareness.
Prevention is better than cure. But how do you identify the early onset of depression?
Simple answer — build massive awareness of your daily behaviors.
Why build awareness?
Because it’s only when you’re aware of what’s exactly causing you to feel anxious or worry or moody and not perform at your best, you will be able to correct that.
Some areas to be conscious of –
What am I eating on a daily basis?
The foods should be nourishing (i.e. real whole foods) that makes you feel energetic instead of making you feel moody or lethargic which high-refined carbs and sugary junk often tend to do.
Eat your ice-cream or blueberry muffin once a week but if you’re doing it 5 days in a row, there might be a problem. Now identify what it is.
How do I feel in the morning, throughout the day, before going to bed?
If you feel inspired, empowered, energized, motivated, enthusiastic — that’s awesome. Keep it up. But if feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loneliness, worries and anxiety become a norm, we got a problem there. Let’s hack it.
Below are some more symptoms for you to be aware of.
So make awareness a habit.
I’m a health and well-being nut. But any time I catch myself finishing a whole 14 oz bread pudding, a whole loaf of banana bread, and a 16 oz bag of chips on one sitting, I start building awareness of what feelings I’m craving, what thoughts I’m thinking, and what could possibly be off.
Known as cognitive behavioral therapy, you can build this habit to kill the monster in your head in its infancy.
To become hyper aware of my thoughts and feelings, I also ask myself a heck lot of ‘What’ and ‘How’ questions.
→ What feelings am I craving at the moment that’s making me eat the sugary stuff?
→ How can I change my current emotional state that is not helping me with my goals?
→ What do I have to do to get to my next stop?
→ How can I begin to feel energetic and awesome in an instant?
Asking these questions not only leads to greater awareness but also leads to actions.
And as you already know — it is actions that ultimately yields results!
2. State > Story > Strategy
If systems and strategies is all what we needed, we’d all be billionaires and walking around with six-pack abs. — Derek Sivers
Strategies are good but it only works if the story you’re narrating in your head is supporting those strategies.
Talk to any person on the street and they’ll tell you what one needs to do to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle.
But then, obesity is a global obesity epidemic today.
So, it’s important that whatever you’re saying to yourself in your head regarding the changes you need to make in your life must also align with the systems and tools of self-improvement you’re getting exposed to.
The $10B self-help industry thrives on the people who are stuck in a constant rut for seeking self-improvement.
But these are the people whose psychology are at a total 180 degree South compared to the changes they seek.
How do I know this?
Because I used to be in the same band wagon and then reality slapped hard on my face.
But there’s an undisputed champion that overpowers all stories and strategies.
It’s your state.
A state can can be defined as the sum of the millions of neurological processes happening within us, in other words, the sum total of our experience at any moment in time.
There are enabling states — confidence, love, inner strength, joy, ecstasy, health— these make you feel powerful and energetic.
And then there are paralyzing states — confusion, depression, fear, anxiety, sadness, frustration — that leave us powerless.
When you’re not feeling in the zone, ask yourself — what neuro-physiological state am I at in the moment?
Even though I’m not a licensed therapist, I’ve had the opportunity to coach and help people with depression restore back to an empowering mental state.
Below are certain ways anyone can change their state without much effort or money –
Steps to Change Your State Instantly
→ Design your environment: Both physical (i.e. food in your pantry, people you hangout with) and mental (i.e. thoughts, belief systems).
I ask myself this simple question — does this environment I’m at right now, inspire me or expire me?
And BAM! I know what little tweaks to do in order to create an inspiring and empowering environment.
Find that music track that energizes you while helping you create laser — like focus. Identify the food groups that help you maintain peak state.
Eliminate all triggers that leads to harmful actions and set insanely simple triggers for actions that yield positive results.
For example, how’s this one if you’re trying to lose weight?
You cannot eat an ice-cream that’s not in your freezer.
Environment design is also a proven strategy to maintain flow state (i.e. your optimal performance state).
→ Change your physiology: The way you breathe, your posture, facial expressions, the nature and quality of your movements — determines what state you’re in.
If you don’t care people calling you crazy — build habits of taking cold showers and beating your chest with a fist thump. It feels awesome and you can focus on things that you can do rather than ruminating on stupid thoughts.
Since physiology is also connected to your internal biochemistry, take Vitamin D3 and Magnesium supplements as it helps in energy production and maintaining a positive state.
Exercise, for sure, helps too. So make that a habit. In fact, make sure you’re laughing every day.
Understanding your state is the key to understanding change and achieving peak performance which helps to prevent the onset of depression.
Our behavior is directly the result of the state we’re in.
3. Use Positive Thinking Only for Things You Can’t Control.
Here’s what research says –
Reframing how we think about a situation is a common strategy for managing our emotions, but using this reappraisal strategy in situations we actually have control over may be associated with lower well-being.
In other words, for things that you have full control of — like your health, your finances, your contributions in a relationship, etc — wishful positive thinking will actually make you feel more depressed and miserable.
Hope is a failed strategy when it comes to things you can control.
So if you want to get fit or get that dream job or find your life partner, stop praying; start taking actions.
As I write this, I’m literally here in Silicon Valley in the middle of my job hunt process. What I’ve realized is that I cannot control the outcomes of my job applications, whether I get the interview call or not.
But what’s in my control is to attend events, create meaningful relationships, do informational interviews, provide value for people I meet, and then lower or eliminate all my expectations but only focus on taking massive actions every day to get one step closer to that interview call.
4. Master Your Inner Psychology.
“Don’t believe everything you think.”
What you belief to be true about health, relationships, happiness, finances, etc is what leads to the tape-recorder that keeps playing in your head on repeat.
Now if your belief-systems are empowering and yielding positive ROI, that’s great! But if your beliefs are keeping you in a state that is making you feel depressed or one that you absolutely hate, it’s time to change those beliefs.
The lens through which you see the world is based on your internal representations of events you’ve gone through in your life.
Since we don’t know how things really are, but only how we represent them to ourselves, why not represent them in a way that empowers ourselves and others, rather than creating limitations?
In one of my businesses, my partner ended up being a psychopath who conned me leaving behind $30,000 of debt. That experience had take a hit on my trust upon others which was evident from my micromanaging behavior while working with people on entrepreneurial projects or being controlling in a romantic relationship.
It took me 19 months to realize my old interpretation of that event which went something like — “People will take advantage of you if you give them full control over things you care about.”
Here’s my new narrative — “When there is trust, there is confidence. That confidence leads to honest and authentic conversations which ultimately leads to stronger relationships and getting things done in the most effective way.”
To master your inner psychology, take some time to reassess how you’ve processed those experiences and connect the dots looking backwards.
The goal is to make sure that your beliefs are helping you to become a better person holistically and get the results you want in your life.
When it comes to mastering you inner psychology, a lot has to also do with your behavioral patterns.
Research in cognitive science shows that in order to change your behaviors for the good, you must focus on what you want versus what you don’t want.
So instead of saying — “I don’t want to be fat and broke anymore”, change your script to — “I am committed to eating healthy, exercising regularly and working to better myself at personal and professional levels.”
Align your strategies with your new constructive beliefs and you’ll get their quicker and have fun along the way.
Bonus: Some quick personal narrative to look into is to see how you interpret events like — failure, loss, betrayal, broken relationships, etc. Ensure that your representation of these events are helping you be more resourceful and that supports your future actions.
5. Choose Sustainability Over Quick Fix Solutions.
Marketers know your brain better than you do. Here’s how.
Your rational brain (i.e. the pre-frontal cortex) is just a few hundred thousand years old and it is still evolving.
The 2 million year old part of your brain aka monkey brain cares only about 2 things —
- How can I avoid pain?
- How can I gain (instant) pleasure?
The trillion dollar pharmaceutical industry is solely relying on how it can help you avoid pain.
Marketers use this evolutionary biological fact to give you instant pleasure all the time — think food coming to your doorstep, swiping people you want to meet without having to leave your cozy apartment, the infinite media available for free on FB, IG, etc.
Understand that your brain operates on a ‘Avoid pain’ and ‘Seek pleasure’ mechanism and that you and I both make irrational decisions all the time.
So when it comes to exercising your mental fitness, build habits that you can sustain based on your lifestyle instead of falling for that targeted FB ad campaign whose primary goal is to get access to your credit card details.
Once I had self-diagnosed myself having suicidal thoughts. I was scared because I didn’t have the money for psychotherapy. Plus I didn’t want it to show in my medical records either.
So I went and told 5 of my closest friends that I was manically depressed and had been battling with the demons in my head. One of my friends made me visit her every day for an hour for 14 days and BAM! [email protected]#$ you depression.
Some sustainable solutions that will work for 98% of individuals –
- Daily physical activity at least for 20–30 minutes.
- Eating nourishing whole foods consistently.
- Having 3–5 true friends with whom you can share your wildest dreams and your darkest secrets, yet they’ll still care about and support you.
- Some form of growth every day which could be as simple as learning something new or doing a new thing or taking one step forward on your goals and projects.
- Some form of contribution on a daily basis where you give without expecting anything in return — whether your time, money, laughter, companionship, etc
6. Positive Actions > Gratitude Journaling
Nothing wrong with gratitude. Journaling on the Five-Minute Journal has positively impacted my mental and emotional fitness.
But there’s a lot of gratitude porn out there right now.
Yes, it’s a scientifically proven meditation that yields positive ROI: spend five minutes thinking of 3 things you are grateful for each morning.
But even better, how about you think of three positive things you can do today that will make your life move forward? And then you do those things.
Even though you and I have good intentions of making a difference in the world, it’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of me, me, me.
What is my purpose in life?
What do I want to get out of life?
Who am I?
Today, I am grateful for…
Watch out for the number of I’s and Me’s in your self-talks that are question oriented. Because it makes you self-centered and more selfish while the solution to your challenge might be just a matter of stepping out of your apartment and smiling at a stranger or helping others with your skills.
Anytime I feel down or anxious or worried about the future, I know I’ve been focusing too much on my personal well-being.
Gratitude does help to band-aid those feelings.
But taking positive actions, however small, actually gives me greater confidence that the future will be better than the figments of my imagination.
At the height of my depressive days, the simple act of coaching my friends to lose weight got me out of that dark depressive state. During that experience, I had already been journaling for years; but positive actions did the trick in a matter of 4 weeks.
7. Make It A Part of Your Life’s Purpose.
Nobody likes to be depressed. But here in America, people left and right, are going through a mild depressive state.
One cannot simply blame the State of the Union for the emotional state of the citizens of the country.
Here’s what I’m doing since Nov 2016.
→First, I made a personal commitment that I’m going to focus on the above points I shared with you like my life depended on it.
→Most importantly, maintain peak state rather than dwelling on emotions that leads to depression.
Basically, I’ve made a vow to feel empowered and eliminated depression from my personal dictionary.
It may sound hokey but it was only after making health and well-being a part of my life’s purpose, that I was able to overcome emotional eating disorder, heal a chronic low back pain of 2 years, and maintain 8–12% body fat without stepping into the gym for over 4 years now.
Making physical health a part of my life’s purpose seems to be working for me. So, I’m now applying the same strategy for my mental and emotional health.
Unless you make an action part of your life’s purpose, you’ll find yourself going on and off throughout the journey of life. Think of the global obsession with weight-loss programs right from mid-Dec to mid-Jan.
But if you make a powerful commitment, it becomes a part of who you are and a part of your life’s purpose.
This ultimately makes your smarter, faster, and better and helps you to prevent the onset of depression.
P.S. If you’re reading this, you probably liked the post. Please, will you click that ‘heart’ button as more people may also find it valuable? In fact, go ahead and share it with your friends whom you think could benefit or learn something new from reading this.
P.P.S. Are you into biohacking? I’d love to learn about your strategies to maintain peak mental state. If you have any unique strategies of your own, please share with us below.
Originally published at medium.com