If you’re struggling with depression, you feel desperate to figure out how you can break the cycle of low energy, exhaustion and despair. Feeling depressed may be your natural tendency, but that doesn’t make you powerless when sadness strikes.
The truth is, most of us operate on auto-pilot. We have mental habits we continuously fall into without even realizing. If you’re ready to get free, you need to stop functioning within the same old constructs. Train your brain to perceive your existing circumstances differently so you can start to feel better.
Honesty requires clarity. Most likely, you are obstructing your own happiness. It takes focused effort to figure out what to STOP so you can find it.
How and where you spend time, who you spend it with, what you eat, what you watch and what you listen to all color your experience. Take some quiet time to reflect on what your life looks like and what you consume…
This is the data collection phase: look inside to really see what is blocking you. Some helpful ways to reflect are free writing, blue sky thinking and mindful meditation. Go for a walk, relax, consciously consider what could be keeping you stuck.
Get super clear on what you choose to do and see if you can remove sources of toxicity. Cut through delusion and confusion with crystal clarity and begin to uncover opportunities for joy that are already available to you.
Next, take it a step further…
Depression often feels like a hole within. When I’m feeling low, my impulsive reaction is to eat a bunch of junk food or drink several cocktails, as if consuming something might refill what seems to be missing. I know alcohol and sugary snacks will make me feel worse, so noticing my mind continuously detouring to these “false fixes” is vital.
I already know the outcomes but my brain still needs the chance to think it through. It’s like grappling with the answer to the same trivia question Every. Single. Time.
Ask yourself what you need, truthfully, and examine your tendency to do something depletive or excessive. In most cases, we don’t need as much food, money, clothing, [insert abundant resource here] as we think we do. In fact, we usually have more than enough and can afford to give some away.
Depression is exacerbated when you think about yourself (and your problems) incessantly, so a good strategy is to consider how you could help someone else.
It’s weird that it works this way, but the more you give, the less you feel like you don’t have enough. Giving totally destructs the scarcity mindset.
To start, you could practice giving simply by setting a few bites of food aside at each meal and thinking of those who don’t have enough to eat. Then you may consider donating food or serving others a meal. Money is even easier to practice with. Give an extra dollar in the tip jar or hand some cash to someone in need.
Seeing yourself give records a new impression in your mind, one of abundance and a habit of generosity that is super effective for beating bad moods. Examine how much you take and create more opportunities to give – your time, your attention or your expertise are as helpful as food and money.
Now, go deeper…
The mind tends to attract ‘like’ thoughts. If you are already in a negative place, thinking about a personal failure or the stress of your job, it’s easy to continue in that vein and begin to consider how your relationship isn’t working. From there, you start contemplating problems with friends or family or your children. Soon you find yourself in a downward spiral, rapidly uncovering more evidence to strengthen this destructive cycle.
Have you felt this snowball effect of the mind? This type of thinking must be stopped, immediately, by cutting it at the root.
Defeating depression necessitates a ferocity of mind. Consider your mind like a garden. If your garden has been left to overgrow with weeds and invasive plants, you need to spend a good amount of time just cleaning it out, removing what’s unwanted. You can’t plant roses and expect them to thrive in that space.
Unkind inner dialogue, harsh self-criticism and thoughts of self-doubt are like the weeds in the garden of your mind. If you constantly speak to yourself in a mean-spirited way or reflect on all the things that aren’t right, it is infinitely more difficult, even impossible, to find peace and ease.
When you become aware of this, you can be a witness without fusing with it. While it’s difficult to just think differently, you can observe a pattern without getting caught up in it. If you train your mind, you will be able to stop thinking this way, but it is enormously helpful at first just to see it happening. Once you notice you can take steps to circumvent the habit of being unkind to yourself.
Once the garden of your mind has been well-tilled, negative thinking begins to emerge less and the habit of joy germinates more easily. Pulling up weeds of self-criticism and self-loathing is a great place to start.
It’s unrealistic to make happiness conditional. We have to go to work, we have to pay bills, we can’t control others… but we can choose how we relate to work, the commute, colleagues, friends, family, ourselves. When you consider your mind as a muscle that needs exercise and development, just like any other, you can transform even the most painful recurring thought patterns.
The most effective way to combat depression is to reach out for help. Especially when you find yourself in a toxic mental state, connect with someone – move away from the desire to isolate.
Finally, make honesty, giving and kindness your habits. The more consistently you practice, even when you aren’t feeling depressed, the easier it is to pull yourself away from the edge when you find yourself in the danger zone. With these practices you will become more resilient. Act with ferocity and advance with determination toward your ultimate happiness.
Allison Joy Phillips advises C-level executives, professional groups and productive people how to strategically achieve their highest goals. Allison Joy founded CO CONSCIOUS to connect more people with mindfulness, meditation and holistic wellness. She has a private practice in Manhattan and is Director of Yoga at Three Jewels NYC.