Post by Cliff Harvey
Many of my readers know that I have suffered with severe depression since my teen years.Which may seem a little disingenuous given that I write about health and happiness and how to achieve it...
How can the 'Happiness Coach' be depressed?
The answer of course is obvious. It is the struggles and learning how to live with it that allows me to then illustrate this message to others through my talks and books. But I'm certainly not perfect (as anyone that knows me will attest!) and I fall down like anyone else.
And as anyone who has experienced depression knows, there can be periods of days, weeks, months, years (or even decades) in which you feel as if you have 'beaten' your demons and finally, fully, completely stepped out of the 'shadow'. But it can be at these very times that we need to keep doing the things that have helped us to move out of the dark times, not stop because we are 'cured'.
Let's face it - life is a process, and one of continued growth and evolution, and if we stop doing the things that nourish and honour ourselves we may find that we slip back into the shadow again.
I've been guilty of this complacency... They say pride comes before a fall and depression has cost me friendships, loves and opportunities, and no more so than in recent months.
And so I've gone back to the drawing board, to refocus on the things that I know will help to provide the best 'base' for me to be happy.
If you are feeling down I hope these little tips help, and if not they may just help to keep you out of the shadow.
1. Create Routine
When you're down, you're usually one of two things: exhausted, or stressed-out and anxious. Neither of which is conducive to actually doing anything. Having a plan allows you to simply 'stick to the process' and tick off the things that need to be done. Even if this feels automaton at times, you know that you are doing the things you need to do to heal.
[Thanks to my good friend Richie Hardcore for reminding me of this! Follow Richie on Instagram @richiehardcore ]
2. Encourage Mindfulness
I have written extensively about mindfulness and how critical it is to being aware of when life is not working for us the way it should, and how we can begin to change it for the better (see Choosing You! and Time Rich Cash Optional for more info). And in spite of having practiced mindfulness meditation since a very young age, this is the one critical thing that has slipped out of my routine.
Meditation is often a challenging thing for people, especially when depressed to think about incorporating into their routine. It feels like just one more thing that you have to do...and the thought alone can be panic inducing! But the key is to simply start, start slow, but keep on doing it consistently. Clients often say to me: "I don't have time for that" to which I reply "Do you have just one minute?"
And of course everyone has one minute in their day. So I recommend starting with one minute, first thing upon rising doing a seated, mindfulness of breath meditation. Add one minute per day until you are doing ten minutes and then reassess. Remember the key is not to do it perfectly, but to simply do your best, to focus on the breath (which IS the present moment) and to be consistent. 10 minutes per day is better than an hour once in a while. (Find more about how to meditate in Time Rich Cash Optional: An unconventional guide to happiness)
Exercise is critical to helping us feel better in the presence of depression. I can say wholeheartedly that if I am not being physical (in other words not 'moving' daily) that I will become depressed!
Don't be too hard on yourself though. Do things that you enjoy, and do what you can, as you're able. But just like the meditation advice above make sure that you are doing just a little more, or something a little bit more challenging day-by-day. You need to not smash your body into the ground, simply focus on moving, breathing and becoming stronger in mind and body.
Check out a yoga class, download an app (like Daily Yoga) or get a good training book/manual that has an intelligent approach to strength such as Easy Strength by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline.
4. 'Shift the Energy'
When you're feeling down, or in a really negative space you need to 'shift the energy'. This could be by changing environment, getting some fresh air, going to your local coffee shop, and could also involve changing your mind-set in the moment with belief statements and empowering affirmations.
[Thanks to my buddy Fraser for this!]
5. Reach Out and Talk
I don't talk to people enough...Like many people with depression I tend to bottle things up and try to deal with them on my own. Part of that is I'm sure a protection mechanism (you don't want the stigma of being labeled as 'depressed' right?!) But it is not healthy, nor helpful to wallow in your sorrow. Talking about problems and challenges helps to immediately cast light on them, making them seem less dire, and allowing you to see more rational solutions to challenges. It can even be dangerous to not talk...without the 'release' that talking provides there can be a greater temptation to think of self-harming and worse.
6. Help Others
It's a strange phenomenon that whenever I am down others pop out of the woodwork asking for help with their own struggles. Sometimes it can seem such a massive challenge to help someone when we barely have energy for ourselves, but if you can put your own battles aside just for a moment it can be so gratifying and help also to put your situation into perspective. I always try to remember the words of Philo 'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle...'
7. Give and Receive Hugs
Physical contact is so soothing and calming. When we're down we can draw back from physical contact, but even if it makes you break down and sob, it's worth it to have the connection and closeness that only touch provides.
8. Find Your Lynchpin Behaviours
There are little things that remind us to take care of ourselves. They are usually just a simple, daily action that serves as a signal to nourish, honour and value the self. For some this can be brushing their teeth, for others making their bed in the morning [Thank you Carli Dillen!] and for me making smoothies... (find out why smoothies make me a better man!)
9. Stand Tall
When we are feeling threatened and under stress, we inevitably take on a poor posture. Conversely taking on a good, strong, empowered posture (think standing up tall, chest out, shoulders back, chin tucked) helps to encourage patterns of mental health and wellbeing.
10. Above All Know that This Too Shall Pass
This is a concept that I need to remind myself of. Especially in those darkest of times it can be nearly impossible to see that the hurt, pain (or simple life-draining numbness) could ever end, and yet we know from experience that it has before and that things will improve. It is sometimes a shallow solace but little reminders that things will change can help to just make us pause for a moment, which can be enough to keep us quite literally here.
The more we break stereotypes around depression and mental health the more we will all be able to thrive, instead of merely surviving in this crazy ol' world.
If you have any other tips for 'stepping out of the shadow' please drop them into the comments below