Stop these 6 things to beat depression (lessons from a 50-year old who tried everything)
When we’re struggling with any kind of depression (major depression, mild chronic depression, seasonal depression, or some other form), all we want is to find something – anything – to help us feel better. I used to wonder, are there really things that you can easily do on your own to beat depression, even if you’ve tried everything else? Then, I got closer to age 50…and some realizations presented themselves!
Over a period of about 20 years, I tried lots of things to help with my depression. Some of them did help, for brief periods (like medication and therapy). But, what I attribute to beating depression are things that I stopped doing. In particular, I stopped six things, which led to me being where I am today. And, where I am today is like a thousand times happier than I used to be. Once I stopped doing these things, I realized that I had, in fact, beat depression, even though I thought I had tried everything.
What does it mean to beat depression?
To me, beating depression means having way more days of FEELING GOOD and not as many days of feeling sad, despondent, tearful, discouraged, lethargic, paralyzed, gloomy, overwhelmed, etc. It means that you can actually enjoy life, including the day to day routines. It means you can have hope.
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” —Christopher Reeve
Depression is nothing to take lightly. It’s a serious condition that can have horrible consequences. (I need to state here that I am not a mental health practitioner, counselor, or therapist, and the information written here is based on my own personal experiences and opinions.)
The Six Things I Stopped That Helped Me Beat Depression (when I thought I’d tried everything)
1. I stopped comparing myself with others.
Constantly comparing my life with the lives of others kept me stuck in negative thinking. I compared everything – my personality, my body, my energy, my productivity, my creativity, my home, my children, my relationships…you name it.
It’s funny, because I never really thought I was someone who constantly beat myself up for not measuring up, but I actually was.
I always second guessed my choices and decisions, and believed that other people were obviously doing things so much better that I was. So, even though I wasn’t specifically saying to myself, “I am a failure,” the fact that I just assumed others were better was a form of beating myself up.
In the book, Feeling Good, David D. Burns explains that, “the negative thoughts that flood your mind are the actual cause of your self-defeating emotions. These thoughts are what keep you lethargic and make you feel inadequate. Your negative thoughts, or cognitions, are the most frequently overlooked symptoms of your depression. These cognitions contain the key to relief and are therefore your most important symptoms.”
When I learned about cognitive behavioral therapy and how our thoughts can literally create our reality, it helped me to see what was possible.
And, by practicing mindfulness meditation, I have learned to notice negative thoughts and thoughts that used to be my “go to” – like thinking I should be better or more like someone else. Then, after noticing, I can intentionally change those thoughts to something positive, which automatically affects my mood.
Here are some FREE journaling worksheets to stop the comparison thing!
FEEL BETTER about YOU. If you’re serious about wanting to STOP comparing yourself to others, use these prompts to get you started – and you’ll be well on your way!
2. I stopped all-or-nothing thinking.
I used to think that in order to succeed at something, it was necessary to be all in – and that 100% (perfection) was required. If I couldn’t give what I believed was the necessary 100%, then I would give zero.
Why exercise for 10 minutes per day when 30 minutes of aerobics was the requirement? Why declutter one drawer if I wasn’t going to do all drawers? Why keep up with healthy eating if one day I binged and had a large hot fudge sundae?
I now realize that baby steps DO get you to where you want to be. Baby steps ADD UP and lead to progress!
AND, guess what? If you mess up or miss a day or ten, you can jump back in. It’s NOT a big deal. It’s not all or nothing.
You can get from A to Z by taking huge leaps or baby steps. But you won’t get past A, if you take no steps at all.
3. I stopped giving up.
This goes along with the all or nothing idea. I thought if something didn’t work immediately, it obviously wasn’t going to work for me. I didn’t give things enough of a chance to help or to work for me. I needed immediate gratification. I needed immediate results.
I gave up because I didn’t see those results and assumed that whatever it took to get the results was too hard, took too much effort, or required too much time. (Sounds like excuses, huh?)
Things that I do now, I do consistently, knowing that I don’t have to get it perfect in order to see results. Once I started meditating, I never gave up.
I may not practice it every day or for the recommended number of minutes each time, but I have reaped the rewards of being consistent and not giving up.
4. I stopped NOT believing.
I never wanted to listen to motivational speakers, thought leaders, or gurus – not because I didn’t believe they were knowledgeable or helpful, but because I didn’t think I could ever achieve what they were “selling.”
Success, happiness, internal peace – you’d have to be special to achieve those things.
I didn’t believe in ME. I didn’t believe that I had what it would take to achieve success, happiness, or internal peace.
I also didn’t believe I had much to offer to this world. I just assumed that I wouldn’t really get ahead in my life, because I was just an average person with nothing special that would lead to anything great.
I’ve since learned that the things you focus on are what manifest in your life. I truly believe this. When I began to focus on what was possible (rather than what wasn’t possible), I gravitated towards learning and growing, which led to taking actions. And that led to competence, which led to confidence! And, let me tell ya, confidence – believing in yourself – leads to all kinds of good stuff!
5. I stopped codependent behavior.
I’m not sure when it started, but I was seriously codependent. If the people around me weren’t happy, I thought I needed to fix that. Believing that I was responsible for fixing other’s situations created a feeling of pressure and overwhelm.
Well, of course, I couldn’t fix other people’s unhappiness, so I that overwhelm would lead to me feeling anxious, angry, incompetent, etc. I didn’t know that this kind of behavior was codependency. I learned a lot about codependency from an amazing podcast: The Adult Chair with Michelle Chalfant.
Through the examples that Michelle shared, I recognized that I felt responsible for making sure my family never experienced anything difficult, never felt pain, never had a bad day, etc. And, if they were having a difficult time, it was my job to make it better.
I know – that sounds crazy, because of course, one person is not responsible for everyone else’s happiness, but codependency is definitely a thing. Many people fall into codependency, for various reasons. And, I’m guessing a lot of you can relate.
Learning about codependency and (again) noticing these behaviors in myself were key to stopping this behavior. I am not perfect and still get a tightness in my chest and overall tension when someone I care about is struggling, but I can calm myself because I know that it is not my responsibility to save the day, every damn time. Whew!
6. I stopped trying to be someone I’m not.
Similar to comparing myself with others, I would look at others and think I needed to be more social, thoughtful, motivated, athletic, articulate, health conscious, earth conscious, …I could go on and on.
So, as I spent more time looking inward, I found out that I am all of these things – in my own way. I am friendly and social, but I’m an introvert so it looks different. I am conscientious and thoughtful in ways that are distinctive to me. Everyone does their own thing in their own way.
And most importantly, everyone is unique and those special quirks that make us unique are EXACTLY what we have to offer this world.
Keeping Depression at Bay
So, I guess it turns out I hadn’t really “tried everything” to beat depression. When I intentionally began changing my mindset and outlook on things, the transformation started! I didn’t stop these behaviors or thought processes overnight. It did take time to stop these 6 things:
- comparing myself with others
- all or nothing thinking
- giving up
- not believing in myself
- codependent behavior
- trying to be someone I’m not
But, I have to say that when I started practicing mindfulness, it became SO MUCH SIMPLER to let go of these things and actually change my thinking.
A daily mindfulness meditation practice helps me become aware of my thought patterns, to bring myself back to the present, and to change negative thoughts to positive ones. I’ve also learned to be gentle with myself (no judgement) when I notice that I’m comparing myself with others, giving up, not believing in myself, feeling pressure to fix a situation, or not being authentic.
I know there is no such thing as perfect, but there is peace in the present moment.
A couple other things I want to stop:
I really want to be more mindful of what, when, and how I’m eating. I have some less-than-healthy eating habits and I know I could really benefit from stopping mindless eating. Since gut health is directly related to mental health, stopping mindless eating can also help me keep depression at bay.
My top goal right not is to become better able to respond, rather than react, when something is upsetting to me. I have gotten SO MUCH better than I used to be, but it’s something that needs more attention. Reacting causes physical stress in the body. I know that mindfulness will help me pause and breathe, allowing me to respond as necessary – stopping a reaction before it can take hold and lead to stress or anxiety.
If you have any tips for stopping these things or any other ideas for beating depression (for people who think they have tried everything), let me know! Let’s share with one another. Depression is no match for love and support!
Post a comment or shoot me an email if you’d rather connect that way. I’d be so honored to connect and hear about your midlife challenges, struggles, or WINS!
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