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7 Surprising Ways Depression Builds A Better Me

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7 Surprising Ways Depression Builds A Better Me

I was first diagnosed with depression in 2002. The reality is I’ve probably lived with depression my entire life.  Yet, as a child of the 70s and 80s, depression diagnoses in children was relatively unheard of. Over the last 13 years since my ‘official’ diagnosis, I’ve struggled on and off with bouts of depression of various intensities.

Sometimes the depression was minor, like a sad memory passing through, while other times it was nearly debilitating, where it took everything I had in order to get out of bed in the morning.  I’ve also been on and off anti-depressants at least 4 times in the last decade, with my most recent course finishing just last year.

Living with depression leaves people with two choices. The first choice is to let it overwhelm you and control your entire life. The second is to learn to live with depression and use it to make you a better person.

I’ve chosen the second option. I’ve learned to use my living with depression to make me a better and stronger person.

Here are 7 things I have learned to build a better me through living with depression.

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1. I’m in control of my emotions

Growing up, I was always known as the “emotional one.” Shoot, even at my brother’s wedding, in my 30’s, upon hearing a family secret, my sister said, “we didn’t tell you because we thought you’d freak out!”

Being the emotional one was a badge of shame for many, many years. I would bury my emotions deep inside, never revealing how I truly felt. This only led to feelings of greater despair and loneliness.

Once I began learning how to live with depression, how to manage my emotions, how to recognize my emotional state, I began to fully embrace my emotions. I learned that men can cry, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I learned it’s okay to feel sad from time to time. I also learned how to embrace these emotions, feel them, and then let them go. Although I am not perfect at this, I no longer live in the depressive emotional states like I used to.

I now control my emotions. They no longer control me.

2. I take better care of myself

Self-care is something I never did prior to about 2010. Being a people-pleaser by nature, I would put myself and my feelings aside whenever someone needed my help. I learned how to “be the bigger man,” and just soldier on, despite my mental and emotional state. Then a mentor of mine taught me that I’m no good to anyone else if I don’t take care of myself first and foremost. This goes for friends, family, personal and working relationships, all are much improved if I’m taking care of me first.

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Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. If you’re not taking care of yourself, getting enough rest, enough sleep, enough ‘mental hygiene’ time, how can you effectively care for others?

3. I learned to enjoy exercise

Doctors and psychologists will say that there is a direct connection between your physical well being and your emotional well being. The challenge is that when I was feeling depressed, the level of my physical activity was non-existent. Depression saps all the motivation right out of you, leaving you wanting to do nothing but lie in bed and hide under the covers.

The same mentor who taught me about taking care of myself taught me the connection between your physical state and your mental state. In the beginning, when I would start feeling down, I would simply shift my physical state by sitting up straight or standing up or taking a quick walk around the room. I’m now a half marathon runner and I work out 3-4 times a week.

Even when I’m feeling down, I still push myself to go for a run or hit the gym. The endorphin release from exercising improves my emotional state, and focusing on my workout allows my subconscious to work through whatever challenge I’m facing. More often than not, I come up with at least the next step or two in overcoming a challenge. This allows me to keep moving forward and avoid the stagnation – depression – shame downward cycle.

4. I’m more confident

There’s a personal development saying that “your mess is your message.” I’ve realized that going through all I have gone through: divorce, being a single parent, loss, that my story isn’t all that unique. My story and my struggles have made me stronger. When I look back at everything I’ve overcome, I realize that whatever challenge I am facing isn’t as big as I initially believe it is. I know I can make it through any challenge, and I know I will come out stronger on the other side.

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This confidence has also allowed me to share my story, both through writing and pod-casting. My emotional scars tell a story, my story, and it’s a story I should be proud to tell.

5. My social circle is more awesome

I do not allow chronic negativity in my life. Negativity solves nothing, creates more drama, and saps your energy. Over the years I’ve cut the chronically negative out of my life and, in some cases, those that have been cut out have been family. It’s easy to surround yourself with people as miserable as you are simply because misery truly loves company.

Being around miserable people reinforces all those miserable things we believe about ourselves, and the one thing most people want most in life is to know they’re right.

They say you are a composite of the 5 people you spend the most time with. So why not surround yourself with positive people, people who believe in you, people who encourage and uplift you? You may not believe in yourself. . . but believe in others who believe in you and see how much your life improves.

6. I am more grateful

Having been in the lowest of the lows, wondering if life was worth it at all, I now appreciate every single day. I’m grateful for all the things in my life . . . the good, the bad, and the ugly. Each of these things lets me know that I’m alive, that I’ve woken up on the right side of the dirt, and that I have yet another day to live.

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7. I’m not alone

A few years ago, I attended a Rob Bell event and at one point during the evening, he had us all write down “I know how you feel” on an index card. He then went through a number of different life events, asking those who had experienced them to stand up and trade their card with another person who had gone through the same experience.

When we’re in our depressive modes, the loneliness is almost unbearable. We feel that we’re the only person out of over 7,000,000,000 in the entire world who knows what we’re going through. The one thing that the Bell exercise taught me is that we’re not alone. It also taught me that you could take two people that are complete opposites, yet have gone through the same challenge, and put them in the same room and they’d have a connection.

Featured photo credit: Darnok via morguefile.com

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Christian Salafia

Rocket-scientist, Nuclear Engineer, Theologian, and creator of the TransformRadio podcast

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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