There are a lot of theories about the cause of depression in existence today, the primary one being biochemical imbalances in the brain, at least according to mainstream medicine. However, mainstream medicine hasn’t proven whether these imbalances are the true cause or simply an effect of being depressed. What we do know is that depression appears to result in changes in the brain structure and chemistry; however, these changes are also known to be related to lifestyle, emotions, trauma, activities you do (or don’t do), and in general, how fulfilled you are in your life.
What science shows us is that your brain is constantly rewiring itself in response to how you perceive your environment. It’s an adaptive function to ensure the brain is effective at performing the task it’s most asked to perform. A tennis player’s brain will look completely different from the brain of a musician. The depressed person’s brain will look much different from that of someone who isn’t depressed. So is depression just a malfunction of evolution, or is it possible it’s an adaptation to a series of persistent thought processes and actions? And if that is true, isn’t it possible that if we change those thought processes and actions, we could then rewire the brain, restore chemical balance, and change the effect of depression?
In my experience, both personally and professionally, depression isn’t a random ‘biochemical imbalance’ as so many people believe. I expect people who want to fight for that belief, to fight me in the comments. You’re free to do so and I embrace your criticism. I will, however, say to you that the same person who told you that depression is a biochemical imbalance in the brain is the same person who doesn’t really know what causes the biochemical imbalance, nor do they know how to cure it. So I ask for your consideration if you’re going to read this.
With that explained, let’s move on to the 10 things you MUST DO to overcome depression:
Determine your values and what is truly most important to you.
The biggest challenge with everyone, not just people who have depression, is that they have no idea what their true values are, and as a result they often attempt to live according to values that are not their own. This is actually the ‘root psychological cause’ of depression, as whenever you attempt to live according to values that are not your own, you subordinate and minimize your true wants and desires, repressing who you really are in a futile attempt to try to be someone you’re not. This attempt cannot go on forever and quite often the ‘depression’ effect is a biological attempt to get you to stop doing what isn’t for your authentic person.
Whenever you suppress your natural values in an attempt to live someone else’s, you’ll breed the internal ABCD’s of negativity towards yourself: Anger and aggression towards yourself. Feelings of betrayal and blame towards yourself. Self-criticism and unsolvable challenges. Inner despair, despondency, and depression. These ‘symptoms’ are not afflictions that need medication for life. They are feedback to let you know when and where you are ignoring your true values and attempting to do something that you think is important to you, but truly isn’t.
People who live according to their values, both in thought and in action, are less capable of experiencing depression or negativity, as they are solely focused on fulfilling their wants and desires for life. They don’t suffer from ‘compare and despair’ syndrome, as they compare themselves and their accomplishments to no one but themselves. By focusing on your own life and what’s truly most important to you, you increase your chances for achievement, fulfillment, and mental stability, as you are the only one who has to live with you 100% of the time. Why spend your time thinking about the lives of others when you have yours to live, right now?
Write down all your fantasies and crush them.
We will define a fantasy as an expectation or imagination that is only positive, not negative. Whenever you have this fantasy of more positives than negatives, you run the risk of experiencing depression as a feedback to help you create a more realistic expectation and imagination, or at least break your imagination down into small enough tasks that it becomes achievable.
Fantasies can emerge in a number of ways. Some examples could be: I could have a fantasy that my ex-girlfriend shouldn’t have broken up with me. I could have a fantasy that I should have more money than I do right now. I could have a fantasy that my parents should have stayed together. I could have a fantasy that my mom shouldn’t have died. I could have a fantasy that my girlfriend should be nicer and kinder to me. I could have a fantasy that says my boss shouldn’t be so critical of me. These are all examples of fantasies.
Fantasies are also not attached to time. You can have a fantasy about your past, perhaps about something you think should or shouldn’t have happened. You can have a fantasy about your future, perhaps about something you desire to happen or not happen. And you can have a fantasy about your present in the same way. Technically, you can have a number of primary fantasies or expectations:
- An unrealistic expectation that the world should be more peaceful / positive / happy than warful, negative, sad.
- An unrealistic expectation that people should be nice without mean, kind without cruel, happy without sad, healthy without disease, more positive than negative.
- An unrealistic expectation that You or I should be positive without negative, happy without sad, kind without cruel.
- An unrealistic expectation upon You or I to live outside our core values. (Ie: I should have a relationship even though I place no value on having one.)
- An unrealistic expectation that other people should live within my or your values. (Ie: Everyone should think like me because the world would be a better place.)
These are some of the primary expectations that lead to depressed thinking, feeling, and depressed ‘brain structure’ and chemistry over time, as the brain is adapting to your thinking process. You’ll notice that these expectations are primarily an expectation for positivity. This is why most people never solve their depression. They spent the healing processes attempting to get out of the depression, never understanding that depression is a by-product of elated fantasies. In fact, the most depressed people are the people seeking happiness all the time. The more you search for what isn’t possible, the more impossibility you will see.
Depression exists to balance manic elations.
The way to heal these fantasies is to ask, “If my expectation, imagination, or fantasy were true, what would be the drawbacks?” And write down as many as it takes for you to break the fantasy and realize that if it happened, it would have just as many downsides as upsides. Likewise, it’s important to write down a list of benefits to the fantasy not coming true (and things continuing as they are). By balancing the fantasy back into a more realistic goal that includes pleasure and pain, challenge and support, difficulty and ease, you will be able to tell if the goal is actually possible. You’ll also be able to tell if it’s something you truly want, and if it is, you’ll be able to embrace the challenge that comes with it. Also, by learning how to appreciate the way things are, you ease your physiology out of a stress response to your life, into a relaxation response, allowing you to operate with greater ease throughout your day.
The general rule is: a fantasy with no downsides equals a reality with no benefits. Whenever you find yourself in a reality with no benefits to you, you’ll feel unfulfilled with your life, you run the risk of creating fantasies and disassociating from your self-awareness, you’ll experience low-dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain as a result, and will imbalance your brain chemistry. As I said before, these ‘chemical imbalances’ may be resulting from a trauma that you imagine ‘shouldn’t have happened,’ thirty years ago, that you haven’t cleared. This is 30 years of stress response in the background of your thinking process. This is why many people who get depression say ‘it just happened one day.’ The reality is, no it didn’t. It’s been a longterm buildup of emotional repression that finally exploded.
If you argue with reality as it happened, you’ll lose.
Now, some people like to argue that their fantasy would have no drawbacks. People ‘should be healthy without sick’ or ‘happy without sad’ or ‘nice with mean’ or whatever delusion they’re stuck on. The truth is, people should be sad when they feel their values are being challenged. People should be mean when their values are being challenged and people should be sick according to the lifestyle choices they make, their genetic makeup, and a variety of other factors. To assume otherwise is delusional and leads us into depression faster than anything else. This is just default human behavior. If I write something that directly challenges your values, you’ll have a different response to me than if I wrote something that supports your values.
As an example, I had a new client call me on the phone a few years ago. She was in the middle of a suicide attempt and found my phone number on a newspaper, upon which she was placing her drugs. I asked her why she called. She was crying, upset, and obviously emotionally traumatized. I asked her why she wanted to kill herself. As with many cases of this type, for years, she has been overwhelmed with grief and other emotions that were running her with stress and anxiety. I asked her when it all started. She spoke of her ‘soulmate’ who cheated on her with her best friend, married her, and took custody of the two children they had.
This person had a high level of fantasy she was placing upon her husband or ‘soulmate’ at the time. As a result, she couldn’t embrace the reality of what happened, thus creating a perfect scenario for longterm emotional stress and depression, resulting from the gap between her reality and her fantasy. Her fantasy about him was so strong that it was more powerful than the pain of what he did, in her perception.
I asked her to describe how her ‘soulmate’ in fact wasn’t a soul mate. This line of questioning isn’t something she had thought about before, but after just 15 minutes, I had her soulmate turned into a normal human being with emotional challenges just like her. Once she got to that point, she was able to start appreciating that there were major benefits to being away from him. Within 15 minutes this person went from suicidal to loving her life as it is, simply by clearing the illusion that she ‘lost’ a ‘soulmate’ and he should still be with her. And as a result of our short session, she decided to go back to school and start empowering herself instead of living under the depression of fantasies.
Start planning and acting on goals that inspire you (and say no to those that don’t)
Unless we intentionally do things with our life that inspire us, our time, money, energy, and focus will be taken up by things that don’t. Besides dealing with traumatic experiences, the second most depressing experience is living a life in which you’re not being fulfilled by what you’re doing every day. If you’re not waking up thinking ‘I can’t wait to get started on today,’ you’re not really waking up.
Start paying attention to what is actually important to you. This isn’t what you think should be important to you, or what others think should be important to you, it’s what is actually important to you. To determine this (and also to help determine your values), ask yourself how you truly love to spend your time? What do you truly love to talk about? What are the things you plan for, that are truly meaningful to you? Ask yourself, “What are the things that are still important to me, when I’m away from all my friends, families, and responsibilities?” Use these answers to guide your life. Say yes to opportunities that inspire you and align with your unique values. Say no to those that you feel would be a sacrifice to what’s important to you. This isn’t to say you should never engage in new activities, but the most successful people I’ve ever met only really do what inspires them. If you can see a new activity as helping you achieve what’s already inspiring to you, you’ll have a greater level of engagement in anything new instead of reluctantly doing things you don’t love.
Meditate (or do something that gets you present)
If you’re not present in your life, you’re less capable of being self-aware and making decisions that are good for you. Meditation is one way of getting you there, but it can also get in the way. Meditation is not an escape from your problems, but rather a reminder of what you really feel like — what you really think like, beyond all the illusions and judgments, infatuations and resentments.
For some people, meditation comes in the form of yoga. For others, it comes in the form of making a model airplane. Whatever form of meditation you do, it’s important to keep doing it. It can help solidify a place in your life where you can practice being you. It’s easy to get caught up in everything going on, but getting caught up isn’t equal to empowering your life. Use your meditative time to help you solve the lingering challenges that are piling up. The more challenges you solve during your day, the less carried over challenges you’ll have tomorrow, which can help you be more inspired to keep going.
I recommend during your meditations to ask yourself what is getting in the way of you being fully alive and present in your life. Write down what comes up and start brainstorming how to solve these challenges. Ask your friends for advice. Use your resources to discover the solutions. The more ‘in time’ you are with your present reality, the more you are capable of doing in it. When you are constantly dreaming about how your reality was or should be, you’re less capable of taking action in your life and the more you’ll withdraw from it, leading you to emotional depression over time.
Stabilize your wins and your downs
The majority of adult depressions, in my experience, don’t make sense to the person experiencing it. They often say, “I was out the night before. It was the best night ever. I went to bed and woke up with depression.” This is a very much misunderstood function of intention. If you say you just had the best day ever, you have set up a belief system that makes every day from now on, terrible. Many people aren’t willing to admit that the beliefs they make up are so tuned in this way, but they are.
For example, I was finished my clinic work day, driving home with my friend, and we had just completed a series of incredible transformations with clients. We were riding so high in our elations that we literally said, at the same time, today was the best day ever. In that exact moment of supreme elation, our phones rang with an automatic voice saying that the clinic security alarm was going off. We were literally being robbed at that same instant we celebrated our gain.
The law of balance doesn’t discriminate.
If you don’t balance yourself, the world will, or your body and mind will, to ensure you aren’t looking back on wins but instead focusing on continuing to serve the world for now and the future. I often take clients, who have recently had this ‘elating’ and next morning ‘depressed for two weeks’ phenomenon, through a series of questions that helps them identify the downsides in the ‘up’ experience, which, when done, the client can no longer identify with the depressed feelings. It’s gone, simply, because the elation has been balanced.
Of course, not everyone is wired to experience this form of depression, but with pre-existing memories, especially childhood traumas that haven’t been emotionally balanced, a person becomes highly susceptible to experiencing elations and depressions because their nervous system is still wounded by the earlier traumas. When this occurs, the person is often stuck in a fight or flight mode, with their defenses up, literally, in a state of anxiety in the background for years. The nervous system was never designed to hold on to an emotional pain for so long and eventually, when that pain is escaped by an elating experience, withdrawing from that elation can slam a person back into their pre-existing trauma, psychologically and physiologically.
Imagine running a nervousness in your body for 30 years, behind the scenes, covering it up with eating ice cream or some other addiction. When you get slammed back into those traumatic feelings, you’ll really experience them, to the extent that you are stuck in bed for two weeks. This is what depression really is and it’s why it’s very important to balance our emotions in our traumatic past. By doing this, you shut off your fight or flight response and become more able to function normally, without triggers, and without the super-highs and inevitable lows.
With these 5 tips, you’ll be better equipped to handle depression than 99% of people in the world who have it. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be. However, the rewards are worth a lifetime. If you’d love to learn more about these tools and specifically how to heal past traumas, visit this link and connect with me: https://coaching.stephangardner.com/optin.
Stephan Gardner is a Self-Management Consultant known as a Mental Architect. A master facilitator of personal evolution, he helps professionals create the shifts in their lives necessary for fulfillment, achievement and excellence. Stephan is the Creator of The Visionary Method, a self-awareness and purpose-planning tool designed to help solve the questions of life, business and creativity through a deep clarification of values and destiny. Stephan serves business professionals, creative artists and entrepreneurs from around the globe, helping them live inspired and masterful lives.
Stephan has attracted work with Katrina Campins, Dr John Demartini, Dr Nima Rahmany, Gregory Gallagher & Kinobody, Nikki Jumper, Emily Gowor, Melissa Ramos, Kevin O’Leary, Sanjay Burman, Kai, Sovereign Wealth Management, Mercantile Exchange, The University of Toronto, Collective Evolution, Business News Network and many more.
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