17 October, 2016
It took me a long time to believe that living (mostly) free from depression and anxiety was possible, but it is.
Summarising these things into a list, as though depression had a 7 step program to recovery, is very foolish to imply. That’s not at all my goal. Instead, my hope was to inspire people with depression, that there are strategies out there to help them. I didn’t believe that any of this stuff would work, but if I didn’t experience it myself, I wouldn’t believe it now.
Last time I shared one of the first strategies I discovered that really helped me start to make big changes in my ongoing battle with depression and anxiety. Check out part 1 here, it’s really important to keep in mind before reading this part!
I really want to stress that I didn’t learn these things through my “genius intellect”. I learned them the VERY VERY HARD WAY, through tears, over years of counselling, and trial and error (and a few well-timed books).
Let’s get into it. Number 2 might be the most important first step to living free from depression and anxiety:
2. Make an agreement with yourself – “I will work at this. I will do whatever it takes to care for myself.”
The biggest problem with friends and family who struggle with depression is that often times they’re not willing to change. It is heartbreaking to watch someone suffer, knowing that we can’t do anything about it. This hurts, and all we can do is be available when they need us.
However, if we are ourselves in this position, we need to first accept that the buck stops with us. There is no golden bullet to overcome depression and anxiety, but there are helpful strategies out there to take a small step forward. However, it starts with a commitment – Yes, I am stuck in this poo hole, but I am going to try and climb out. It might take a few weeks, maybe a few years, but I will keep trying.
And at the end of the day, that decision can only come from yourself. No-one else can make it for you.
Write it down, tell a friend to hold you to it – every week, you will keep taking a step forward. Maybe that is meeting with a psychologist regularly, or making a lifestyle change to better care for yourself and your mental health. I talked in a different post about the importance of self-care here.
3. “I am angry, hurt, and sad – this is OK. I accept that I feel this way. They are valid emotions.”
Have you ever felt guilty for feeling angry when someone hurts you, or feel stupid when you take offence at someone’s behaviour? Or, when you have felt sad, have you told yourself to “Get over yourself, you’re overreacting”?
For a long time I would struggle to accept my own feelings as legitimate, as though they didn’t matter, or they weren’t valid.
One word really opened my eyes to why I struggle with this. That word is “de-validate”. What this means is that certain people have the ability or power to de-validate how we feel – through their words (or lack thereof), or actions, they communicate to us that we have NO RIGHT to feel the way we do, that these feelings are not valid.
This is especially true for men. A fantastic book on this that has really changed my perspective is No More Mr Nice Guy, by Dr Robert Glover. It is primarily about men, but it is useful for both men and women.
The best thing you can do in this situation is to remind yourself that the way you feel is valid and OK. Until you do that, you probably won’t be able to respond to the circumstances that have caused you to feel that way.
4. Being assertive – “I will recognise my needs and make sure they are met.”
Taking control of how you feel is a way of validating that your needs matter, and you are worth having them met. It is extremely self empowering and is the first step to changing circumstances that are depressing you, or making you anxious.
The best course of action in these circumstances is to accept how we feel, whether or not anybody else does. Then, once we have accepted it, we can process it, think about it, and then decide on a course of action.
5. “I will be willing to make some lifestyle changes”
Moving forward from a difficult situation requires making decisions, and there’s a strong chance that, to move beyond depression, your lifestyle will need to change. Being willing to change is where it starts, before you change anything.
There are a whole range of lifestyle factors in depression and anxiety – sleep, friends, etc, but I’ll just pick one that is a bit out of the ordinary.
I didn’t realise this for a long time, but what I eat actually plays a role in how I feel emotionally.
For example, sugar. I used to live on lots of sugar day to day, for energy, feeling good and enjoying myself, or simply enjoying food. But sugar is a dangerous substance. Like simple carbohydrates, they are high in Glycemic Index, or GI, meaning that, like a drug, it gives you a short energy high, followed by a crash, probably an hour or two later. These crashes would cause me to feel low, and prone to just getting sad, or irritable.
What’s more, it caused my teeth to ache, which would make me anxious, and it would also cause me to gain weight, which doesn’t help to reinforce positive body image.
A big factor I’ve found in sugar cravings is that it is your brain telling you that you need fuel, or energy.
The best thing you can do to beat sugar cravings is to stuff yourself full of healthy, low GI, nutrient rich, real food. If your body is full, you probably won’t notice as many cravings for short and intense forms of energy. I am also a little bit crazy about Bulletproof Coffee for this reason – check it out!
I have also removed foods that will most likely upset my gut, in an effort not to feel as sluggish and foggy throughout the day. I’ve removed gluten, wheat, and most process foods, as well as most dairy, except for butter. I don’t technically have an intolerance, but I want to play it safe. If it may help, I want it.
In my experience, it has helped tremendously.
I didn’t think that this would make me less anxious or depressed, but it has significantly improved my mood on a day to day basis. It is much easier to not sweat the small stuff. I feel in control of my feelings and emotions most of the time, and my mood is much more level and even.
6. “Regardless of anyone or anything, I am covered by grace.”
This might be the most important of all. It is truly life-changing when you really get it, for your outlook on the world, and self-confidence.
Grace isn’t a word we use too often. It’s simply the idea of favour, or acceptance, that is unmerited, or unearned.
There is a great quote from the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron that has played a role in inspiring this blog.
Towards the end of the movie, one of the characters, Vision, talks briefly to the villain, Ultron, about his view of humanity, and the world.
Vision says, “Humans are odd… but there is grace in their failures. I think you missed that.”
What he means is that, although he agrees with Ultron that humanity can be pathetic, foolish, and can fail at life, “there is grace.” This means that, despite their failure, Vision chooses to love humanity, to accept them, and to pursue their welfare, even when they fall.
This is the heart of God, and it’s the heart of living free from insecurity and low self-worth. It is not that we never fail, but it is the knowledge that when we fail, there is grace.
According to the Bible, God is not guilt, he is love, and because of Jesus, the way that I relate to God is out of acceptance, not out of “religious duty”. At my worst moments, when I know that I’ve stuffed it and I can feel the internal guilt, shame and low self-worth begin to sweep over me, I pray, “Thanks for grace, Lord. Thanks that you love me regardless.” This is what motivates me to be a better man, and keeps me from slipping back into depression.
Because of grace, I have worth, I have hope, and I will be OK.
It is absolutely life changing. Don’t miss it.
These are just some ideas, and I would love to hear from you too!
Grace for Failures is my blog to encourage and inspire people who have gotten life wrong for a long time, and want to try and do things a little differently. Click here for more info, and here for more posts.