How I got over depression to change my life – 6 practical ideas you can try too
I have been quite overwhelmed lately with how many people have contacted me to tell me the impact one DARETOGROW blog or one Facebook post or one video has had on their lives.
Often they quote one small idea that was buried deep in the blog or right near the end of the video and it reminds me how powerful a change in perspective can be. In fact, such a shift is described as a miracle in the hit text ‘A Course in Miracles‘: “A miracle is just a shift in perception from fear to love”.
So often in life, we focus on all the things we’re lacking, all the things that could go wrong and all the ways in which we could be hurt. We think out of fear and this thinking generates painful emotions, which in turn lead to pain driving actions. If, instead, we were to focus on all the things we have and all ways in which things could go right and all the ways in which we’re loved then we’d feel differently and act differently.
This is hard to do, I know. I suffered with depression for most of my twenties. I felt its grip tightening on the most random of days, seemingly without a trigger and it would make it hard to get up, get out and engage in the world. I just wanted to stay in bed and hide away. Give up.
About 18 months ago, I reached a point of exhaustion with it all: “No more” I declared and I began to look for ways to take back control of my life. I read a lot of books on depression and began following their exercises. Sensing my utter desperation, friends started presenting me with other books. I was given ‘The Alchemist‘ by Alice who had gone home from work one day saying “Something’s really wrong – I’ve never seen Lisa like that before”. Natalie, a friend I hadn’t seen in years, told me about ‘The Power of Now’. I engulfed myself in new ideas, new lessons and new activities. I just couldn’t tolerate it any longer.
Sitting here today, typing this blog I am a new woman. I said to a client last week “I can’t remember what depression felt like” and I can’t. I know what it was like and I can articulate it but I can’t feel it any longer. I’m not saying I’m free from it – I think it’s a condition to be managed in all of us to varying degrees – but I am saying that I am a changed person. The techniques I started practicing in earnest all those months ago have changed my thought patterns and so, my emotions are changed and so therefore are my actions.
We all get down from time to time and a lot of experience depression in one way or another. Tony Robbins talks about this as a ‘state of mind’ we can change. I didn’t fully believe him at first but he’s Tony fricken Robbins so I listened and I trusted and I tried new things to alter my state and do you know what? I figured out how to overcome depression. I conquered it.
Here are some of the key techniques I remember and continue to practice every week.
Please note, I am not a doctor and this content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Stopped watching the news and soaps
This is fundamental. The news is full of stories of woe and terror and the worst thing is that it plays first thing in the morning, right over lunch and last thing at night. Your sub-conscious brain is a powerful thing and whatever you give it to ingest first thing in the morning colours your entire day. Likewise, what you think about last thing at night is like the homework you give your subconscious to work on.
I got the idea of ‘detoxing from the news’ from Tim Ferris’s ‘The Four Hour Work Week‘. At first I felt really uncomfortable abstaining from the news. I liked knowing what was going on in the world. It felt almost like a responsibility to just know what was happening, never mind the social credit you get from discussing it with other news readers. My big worry was being asked “Did you see such and such in the news?” and me not having a clue. I thought it would make me look unworldly or uneducated. What a load of rubbish. As Tim Ferris rightly noted in his book: no-one really asks you about the news and if something is newsworthy, people are quite happy bringing you up to speed – his concern was being caught out at a dinner party.
I later read in a more spiritual book by Doreen Virtue ‘Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle‘ that we’re all addicted to things with high drama – relationships, the news, lifestyles – because they release feel good chemicals in our brains and we want more and more. In her book, she explains the physiological reasons behind this and how to break free. I loved it.
It took a while to wean off the news. I was absolutely addicted, especially to that BBC app you can on your phone! But over time, I did it. I no longer watch or listen or read the news. Within two to three weeks of my early endeavours my anxiety was halved, I felt calmer and I was sleeping better.
Motivated by the results, I then gave up coffee and started to reduce my intake of sugar to try and avoid further peaks and troughs in my mood. What a difference it all made.
Give it a try.
Started thinking positively
Okay, okay, I know this sounds so simple but the implications are profound. If you expect the worst, you get the worst. The way you think and the filters you put on life distort the way you see things.
Last month, my Grandad gave me a book by Norman Vincent Peele, first published in 1948: ‘The Power of Positive Thinking‘. In the book he gives example after example of how people merely changed their thought patterns and changed their lives. They felt a sense of peace at first and then went on to manifest a whole range of positive outcomes.
I’ve had a lot of bag things to dwell on this last year – £70k in debt (urgh!), overwhelming workload, the break down of a relationship, depression. I could have had a field day burying in my own self pity and in fact I did – that’s why I was constantly depressed. But I learnt in time that the thoughts I think lead to the emotions I feel and this affects your actions. For example, if you think about presenting in public and you get that knot in your stomach – butterflies – it can literally make you feel sick and affect your digestive track. But it just started as a thought and, I presume, the fear that it would all go horribly wrong? But what is there to fear, really? Do half the things we fear actually come to pass? Rarely.
And so, about a year ago I started to look for the good in every situation. I even ended up writing a blog called ‘Thank you depression‘ because of all the valuable life lessons it allowed me to learn. I have to say, though, that was not the original title. Ahem.
This, like any new skill takes time and practice. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and weird because it’s new and different but it’s worth it.
Try it – for the next week try to acknowledge negative thoughts when they arise and say to yourself “that’s a negative viewpoint, what’s the positive in this?” and watch what happens!
Controlled the voice
That leads me on nicely to ‘the voice’. We all have that voice in our heads don’t we? It can’t just be me…the voice that provides a running monologue of events, what’s going well, what’s going wrong, what he’s thinking, what she said. We talk to ourselves in our heads alllll day long.
But there is a voice on top of that. Have you ever had that moment where you’ve been lost in a trail of negative or destructive thoughts and then you stop yourself and say “right, that’s enough”. You literally have the power to intervene in your thoughts and control them, change them. You can control the voice in your head.
Of course, being in control of it doesn’t always stop the negative or fear driven thoughts from cropping up, they will. But as Wayne Dyer says we have the power to select the thought we focus on and develop.
Eckhart Tolle – the author of ‘The Power of Now‘ talks about this a lot in his books and talks. He says that we become sad, or anxious or fearful because we let our ego minds run wild with reflections on the past and terrible predictions of the future. If only we stayed in the moment and reminded ourselves that nothing else exists but this present moment we’d all be a lot happier.
So the next time you wake up from a thread of negative thoughts and realise you’re disappearing down the rabbit hole stop and ask yourself: ‘what evidence do I have for that negative thought?’ – it’s likely there is little-to-no evidence. Or next time you’re just being plain mean to yourself – “I’ll forget my words”, “I can’t do that”, “this won’t work” – just stop and tell that little voice to shut the fuck up! Speak to yourself how you’d speak to your best friend: “I’ve got this”, “I can do this”, “this will work”. And get it done.
Gave my subconscious a positive challenge each night
Have you ever woken up in the morning with a brilliant idea? Ever heard the phrase “sleep on it, you’ll know what to do?”. There’s a reason for that. Your subconscious brain is an incredibly powerful machine. It works all day and all night to help bring congruence between your internal and external world: your subconscious brain will find a way to bring about whatever you’re thinking, feeling or expecting in life and it won’t feel comfortable until it finds that congruence – the moment when the inside matches the outside.
I used to lay awake at night worrying and I’d wake up full of dread and gloom. But then, by chance, I happened on a Wanderlust talk of the incredible Wayne Dyer. He said we should never go to sleep without making a positive request to our subconscious. Literally, we should set our brains a challenge to work on whilst we sleep. I guess this is the equivalent in many ways to asking for help or saying a prayer – we’ve all done it haven’t we in those moments of desperation? I know I have. Lately however, I’ve taken to making such a request every night. When I wake up – most days, not always – I have the solution. I know exactly what to do.
This is so important because it draws on our own resourcefulness to find the answer. You have all the answers you’ll ever need inside of you. Stop fretting and start thinking…while you sleep!
Started reading positive content
I used to read so many business books: books on SEO, business growth, operations. I read the odd motivational book too but about a 18 months’ ago I got very serious about bringing motivation content into my life and it’s changed my life. Like Jeff Olson says in The Slight Edge, 10 pages of one motivational book won’t change your life but 10 pages every day for a year will change your life for ever. It’s the compound effect of positive content.
Every morning, Alice and I endeavour to read 10 pages of motivational content or listen to 30 minutes of a Ted talk or motivational speech. Oh my goodness, the effect is incredibly. What you hear, read or ingest first thing in the morning colours the entire day. It puts a whole new filter on it.
If you’re looking for recommendations, pick any of the books I’ve mentioned in this blog. I’ve linked them all to their Amazon links. If you’re feeling really down, I mean really down, try Sally Brampton’s ‘Shoot the Damn Dog‘. That book literally saved my life 8 years ago.
Perhaps one of the best ‘medicines’ I’ve ever taken for depression is running. In fact, I had one of my most important breakthroughs ever on a depression incited run! I was out one morning, tears streaming down my face but still running. I had on bright pink ‘happy socks’ given to me by my mum and I was listening to audio recording of motivational speaker Les Brown. In this recording he asked: “What would you do if you found out you only had three months left to live?”. I started making a mental note of everything I would do. The list was ridiculous – I was never going to do any of it, it was just a game….”Sell my recruitment agency”, I noted, “move to Manchester”, I thought, “downsize Digitia”, I ventured. These were all massive things that were impossible to do.
Or were they?
The next question that came caused me to turn on my heal, run home, write down the list and get to work: “How do you know you haven’t got three months left to live”, asked Les Brown.
And so it began. That was over a year ago now and I’ve done everything on that list apart from one thing…write my book. But this is very much in motion.
Taking control of my life like this, giving in to my purpose, removing the obstacles I’d put in the way of my own destiny and making positive steps towards my dream life gave me such a boost that it made me wonder whether the depression was caused by avoiding these things all along. Had I created my own prison which was so gloomy and so far from my dreams that I caused my own depression? I don’t know. What I do know is that we can all do something. No matter how down and desperate and lost we feel, we can all take one tiny step towards a new, brighter life.
It starts when you decide you don’t want to tolerate those feelings any longer. It starts when you begin to wonder, just for a moment, how life could be if you found your passion again. It starts when you get up, get showered, get on a walk and get moving.
So stand up and get moving and while you’re out there, write your own list.
Let’s do this!