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7 Surprising Ways Depression Builds A Better Me

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

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

In today’s world, true peace must come from within us and our own actions. Here are 30 small things you can do on a regular basis to increase your overall sense of harmony, peace, and well-being:

1. Don’t go to every fight you’re invited to

Particularly when you’re around those who thrive on chaos, be willing to decline the invitation to join in on the drama.

2. Focus on your breath

Throughout the day, stop to take a few deep breaths. Keep stress at bay with techniques such as “square breathing.” Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, then out for four counts, and hold again for four counts. Repeat this cycle four times.

3. Get organized and purge old items

A cluttered space often creates a cluttered spirit. Take the time to get rid of anything you haven’t used in a year and invest in organizational systems that help you sustain a level of neatness.

4. Stop yourself from being judgmental

Whenever you are tempted to have an opinion about someone else’s life, check your intentions. Judging others creates and promotes negative energy.

5. Say ‘thank you’ early and often

Start and end each day with an attitude of gratitude. Look for opportunities in your daily routine and interactions to express appreciation.

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6. Smile more

Even if you have to “fake it until you make it,” there are many scientific benefits of smiling and laughing. Also, pay attention to your facial expression when you are doing neutral activities such as driving and walking. Turn that frown upside down!

7. Don’t worry about the future

As difficult as this sounds, there is a direct connection between staying in the present and living a more peaceful life. You cannot control the future. As the old proverb goes, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” Practice gently bringing your thoughts back to the present.

8. Eat real food

The closer the food is to the state from which it came from the earth, the better you will feel in eating it. Choose foods that grew from a plant over food that was made in a plant.

9. Choose being happy over being right

Too often, we sacrifice inner peace in order to make a point. It’s rarely worth it.

10. Keep technology out of the bedroom

Many studies, such as one conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have connected blue light of electronic devices before bed to adverse sleep and overall health. To make matters worse, many people report that they cannot resist checking email and social media when their cell phone is in reach of their bed, regardless of the time.

11. Make use of filtering features on social media

You may not want to “unfriend” someone completely, however you can choose whether you want to follow their posts and/or the sources of information that they share.

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12. Get comfortable with silence

When you picture someone who is the ultimate state of peace, typically they aren’t talking.

13. Listen to understand, not to respond

So often in conversations, we use our ears to give us cues about when it is our turn to say what we want to say. Practice active listening, ask questions, process, then speak.

14. Put your troubles in a bubble

Whenever you start to feel anxious, visualize the situation being wrapped in a bubble and then picture that sphere floating away.

15. Speak more slowly

Often a lack of peace manifests itself in fast or clipped speech. Take a breath, slow down, and let your thoughtful consideration drive your words.

16. Don’t procrastinate

Nothing adds stress to our lives like waiting until the last minute.

17. Buy a coloring book

Mandala coloring books for adults are becoming more popular because of their connection to creating inner peace.

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18. Prioritize yourself

You are the only person who you are guaranteed to live with 24 hours a day for the rest of your life.

19. Forgive others

Holding a grudge is hurting you exponentially more than anyone else. Let it go.

20. Check your expectations

Presumption often leads to drama. Remember the old saying, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

21. Engage in active play

Let your inner child come out and have some fun. Jump, dance, play, and pretend!

22. Stop criticizing yourself

The world is a hard enough place with more than enough critics. Your life is not served well by being one of them.

23. Focus your energy and attention on what you want

Thoughts, words, and actions all create energy. Energy attracts like energy. Put out what you want to get back.

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24. Assign yourself “complaint free” days.

Make a conscious decision not to complain about anything for a whole day. It might be harder than you think and the awareness will stick with you.

25. Surround yourself with people you truly enjoy being in the company of

Personalities tend to be contagious, and not everyone’s is worth catching. Be judicious in your choices.

26. Manage your money

Financial concerns rank top on the list of what causes people stress. Take the time each month to do a budget, calculate what you actually spend and sanity check that against the money you have coming in.

27. Stop trying to control everything

Not only is your inner control freak sabotaging your sense of peace, it is also likely getting in the way of external relationships as well.

28. Practice affirmations

Repeat positive phrases that depict the life and qualities you want to attract. It may not come naturally to you, but it works.

29. Get up before sunrise

Personally witnessing the dawn brings a unique sense of awe and appreciation for life.

30. Be yourself

Nothing creates more inner discord than trying to be something other than who we really are. Authenticity breeds happiness.

Featured photo credit: man watching sunrise via stokpic.com

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