Most people who suffer from depression don’t want to be depressed. They don’t choose to be depressed. But they have no idea how to avoid it. I’m not a mental health professional, but I know what it feels like to be depressed. More importantly, I learned how to actively fight depression AND WIN.
I’ve had many legitimate reasons for feeling depressed, and you may have yours as well. That’s not the point. Regardless of the external circumstances of our lives, sad as they may be, we do not have to give in to the feelings of sadness, depression, and even despair. Our response to our circumstances is what determines whether or not we’ll suffer. Suffering is optional.
It was an eye-opening revelation for me when I realized that even though I have feelings of depression, I don’t have to be depressed, and I don’t have to act depressed. People who are struggling with depression may have a hard time hearing and accepting what I’m saying here, but try to stay with me and keep an open mind. If you try the things I suggest, you can experience dramatic improvement. Everything changes when the blanket of depression lifts. So please suspend any doubt about the following ideas, and give them a shot. The worst thing that can happen is that you still feel depressed. But imagine the opposite happening!
First, recognize the negative thoughts that pop into your head, such as “I’m so depressed. Everything is going against me. There’s no way I can possibly get out of this situation. I don’t have the energy to even try. Why try anyway?” When you begin to think about what you’re thinking about, you’ll recognize these negative thoughts. These thoughts DO NOT have to determine your reality!
If someone handed you a ticking bomb, you wouldn’t stand there and hold it. You wouldn’t take it home and rearrange your life to accommodate it. You would get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Think of depression like a ticking bomb. Rather than accept these thoughts and feelings as reality, you can intentionally counter every depressing thought with a positive thought.
Training yourself to replace the negative thoughts that you notice with intentionally positive, happy, or funny thoughts is the second step. At first this feels disingenuous. Remembering a time when you were really happy, a time when you laughed so hard you cried, or a time when you were having fun and then truly remembering how that felt, and then pretending that you feel that way now sounds ridiculous. It may sound impossible. But it’s not. It’s amazing what your mind can do. You have the power to virtually put yourself back into the feelings of a moment when you were happy by closing your eyes and deliberately taking yourself back to that moment. If you’ve never experienced a moment like that, you can use your imagination to create that feeling. Ours is the only species with the gift of imagination. Use it.
When you open your eyes, tell yourself that you are happy. Even if you don’t “feel” what you are saying to yourself or if it sounds absurd to you, say it and keep saying. You may have to whisper it to yourself a hundred times throughout the day, but it’s worth it. This is called positive self talk. It’s not hocus pocus nonsense. Professional athletes do this. Successful business people do this. And accomplished people in all walks of life have done this.
The truth is that many of us are communicating with ourselves already. Unfortunately, most of that communication is negative. We say things like, “you idiot,” when we make a mistake, “I’m so fat” when we look in the mirror, and “I’m never going to understand how to do this,” “I’m never going to be healthy again,” or “I’m never going to get that promotion,” etc.
Please understand that saying one positive thing is not going to instantly change your life. It may take a while for these positive statements to influence your thinking. You might compare this to taking an antibiotic to fight an infection. We don’t expect to take one pill and feel completely healed within ten minutes. Give this prescription of positivity a fair shot of at least 30 days.
If you’re not sure what positive thoughts to say to yourself, consider simply telling yourself, “I am happy, and nothing can steal my happiness.” There are some good books on this subject, including Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power Of Positive Thinking. W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill wrote Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude. Barbara Fredrickson wrote Positivity. Shawn Achor wrote Happiness. Simply reading these books can help to launch your journey from depression to authentic happiness.
Third, after you’ve found the statements that feel comfortable for you, repeat them again and again until you memorize them. After you’ve repeated them often enough, they will become a part of you. If you’re like me, you will eventually find that you rarely even need to say these things because those positive thoughts are woven into the fabric of your being.
I began to change my thinking by saying things like, “I wonder what good thing is going to happen today.” There were many days when nothing particularly good happened. But I said the words anyway. Eventually, I began to believe that something good could actually happen; and when my mind began to catch up with my words, good things really did happen!
What was really happening was that the circumstances of my life didn’t change. There were always challenges, but my response to the challenges changed. No longer was my mood dependent on what happened or failed to happen. My choice of a positive attitude made all the difference in my happiness.
Many people have been depressed for so long that they’re not even aware that they can feel differently. They’ve forgotten what it feels like to be happy. They see the feelings of depression as an old, comfortable friend who understands them and their pain and the injustices against them. I understand. I felt that way for years—until I learned that I had the power to change everything.
The beginning of exercising that power is knowing that you have it. It starts with NOT giving into the negative thoughts in your head and not repeatedly thinking about them. And for heaven’s sake don’t “lean into” them! In other words, when you begin to think those thoughts and have those feelings, DO NOT put on the saddest music you can find; don’t pull out the box of pictures that are guaranteed to reduce you to tears; and don’t end up the evening by eating a pint of ice cream. The only thing all that will get you is a headache from crying and an extra five pounds on your backside.
You must not give into the depressing thoughts that pop into your head. Do not repeat out loud every thought you think. Choose what to keep and what to dismiss. When you dismiss a thought, replace it with an opposite, positive thought. This advice I’m giving you for actively fighting depression will result in the heavy blanket of depression being lifted off of you.
For those of you who say, “My depression is chemical, so there’s nothing I can do but take meds,” there is more that you can do. Don’t abdicate your responsibility to a doctor. If medication helps, take it. If a healthy diet and lots of water helps, eat and drink those things. If more movement and less sitting or laying around helps, get up and move.
Regardless of the source of the depression and whatever else you do about it, you can improve your level of happiness by choosing what you think.
Finally, begin to see depression for what it is—an enemy that will destroy not only your present, but your future. You have a set of skills, talents, and abilities that are uniquely yours. You were created to be able to do specific things in this life, and you were perfectly matched to your world. But you will not be able to fully accomplish your good destiny if you are bound by the chains of depression. Only you can break those chains. Seeing depression as your enemy will help you remember to counter depressing thoughts with hopeful, positive thoughts. The more you resist the enemy of depression, the quicker the feelings will leave.