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Robin Williams’ Death Is A Wake-Up Call: 12 Natural Ways To Fight Depression

Robin Williams’ Death Is A Wake-Up Call: 12 Natural Ways To Fight Depression

The fallout from depression of loved ones and people we admire such as Robin Williams leaves us as stunned survivors, shaken in disbelief. We are struck with shock and left with questions such as, “How could someone who “had it all” want to take his own life? and “If someone with so much talent, intelligence, money, fame, prestige, along with such close friends and family could take his own life, where does that leave the rest of us with so much less?” 

The lesson we can learn from Robin Williams is that severe depression is an equal opportunity mental illness. It cuts through all levels of society, and wealth, intelligence, talent, power and fame cannot inoculate everyone from the effects of severe depression. Although fame and fortune are nice perks, it can not take away mental illness and distorted perceptions of self and the world. Neither can the reassurance of close family and friends, although they certainly can help. The key lies within the recesses of a person’s mind. Depression defies reason, and perception becomes more important than reality.

As in the case of Robin Williams. despite what he had accomplished, and despite millions of people thinking otherwise, his distorted self view of himself and his place in the world offered no hope for happiness. Depression robs people of the objectivity that there is hope at the end of the tunnel, leading to crippling depression, and in extreme cases, to suicide.

The death of Robin Williams has triggered a national conversation about depression and sends an important wake up call about the need for more public awareness and examination of the mental illness of depression.  In an article in the San Francisco Examiner, Dr. John Greden, executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center and founding chairman of the National Network of Depression Centers,wrote that 1 in 6 Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder at some time in their lives, and “an astounding 75 to 80 percent of deaths by suicide can be linked with these mood disorders.”  He urges that  more national focus is needed to fund and research how to understand and fight the disease of depression.

What can we learn from the tragedy of Robin Williams – A man who had so much but at the end had so little hope?  We are reminded that depression is serious and needs to be treated. There is much we need to learn from this tragic death, so that depression becomes less of a curse that affects so many individuals in all walks of life.

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The following are 12 natural ways to fight depression. These 12 tips offer hope to the rest of us that can honor Robin William’s memory by learning from his life and death. In the end, he lacked the mental clarity to keep himself alive, and hopefully we can use this wake up call to better our own lives and those around us who suffer from the disease of depression.

1. Develop Rational Thinking Skills

Although depression is a mood disorder, underlying troubled feelings are troubling thoughts that are often exaggerated and distorted. Developing skills to identify the irrational thoughts that precipitate irrational feelings is a crucial key to defeating depression. Challenging irrational thoughts is the cornerstone of the most popular and effective type of therapy for depression: Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).  Learning CBT skills from a variety of self-help books and resources widely available, such as David Burns, The Feeling Good Handbook, offers practical tips on how to change thoughts to change – and even save – your life. Of course, individual therapy with a CBT-oriented therapist can provide much needed support and structure to learn how to limit cognitive distortions. For example, thoughts such as “I’m a loser” are depression-producing, and can be replaced with less black and white self-statements that are more factual such as “I am disappointed with myself.” Turning hopeless and extreme self-statements into more mature and healthier self-talk is one of the best methods to avoid living in a depressive funk.  It takes practice, however, and for many it does not come easy to think in ways that are not self-defeating.

2. Avoid excessive use of alcohol or non- prescribed drugs.

Although prescribed medication can be essential for some people with biochemical related depression, self-medication with drugs and alcohol makes people worse. Substance abuse and depression is a deadly combination. Robin Williams had a life long battle with substance abuse, despite many years of sobriety and regular attendance at AA groups.

When people become addicted, the effects of depression are multiplied and irrational thoughts increase, leading to unhealthy behavior and bad judgement. When people use drugs and alcohol to relax or feel better about themselves, they are undermining healthy control of their lives and are sabotaging their hope for more than a temporary escape.  Rather than deal with their feelings, they try to escape from them. Williams himself admits that he relapsed in 2003 while filming in Alaska, to ward off feelings of loneliness and fear, admitting it only led to more isolation.  “I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. It was that thing of working so much, and going fuck, maybe that will help. And it was the worst thing in the world….And then the next thing you know, it’s a problem, and you’re isolated.”

Williams was right to view alcoholism as a prelude for isolation. Alcoholism also leads to more depression. After all, alcohol is a depressant, and after the temporary numbing of emotions and self-medication, it makes depression worse. It is a very serious combination. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country, and alcoholism is one of the strongest predictors of suicidal attempts. In fact, it has been estimated that those with depression with a substance abuse disorder are six times more likely to commit suicide.  The strong link between substance abuse and suicidal behavior is a red flag for suicide.

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3. Talk about it!

Those who keep quiet about their depression and keep it in due to fear of the stigma and embarrassment. However, by keeping isolated, idiosyncratic distorted thinking interferes with gaining a healthier, more objective, perspective.  Using a supportive network to share one’s darkest thoughts and feelings can help decrease a sense of hopelessness and isolation. As Williams described in the quote above, isolation and depression are a risky combination, and those who find supportive relationships with friends and family in which they are not judged or ridiculed are important in defeating depression.

Making efforts to connect and share thoughts and feelings can help enormously. Connection with others is the antidote to depression. Remember the old Bell Telephone mantra – “Reach out and touch someone!”  Furthermore, seeking out positive people is crucial, not those who support your negativity or are overly critical. Keeping up with social activities also helps defeat depression.

4. Do not be too proud to get professional help.

As a Psychotherapist myself, I have been struck by how much just sharing and talking in a non-judgmental, supportive atmosphere has helped my clients overcome depression. Admitting you need help is the first step to helping yourself. Although many depressed individuals feel weak if they ask for help, I urge my clients to view the decision to seek help as a sign of courage and strength, not weakness. Besides, therapists can not only lend support, they can provide clients with the tools they need to develop important life skills to help combat depression. Life skills to help manage stress and anger, improve unhealthy thinking and improve communication are some examples of skills that can be learned. Counseling offers more than a sympathetic ear and common sense – it offers tips and tools from a trained professional to help clients learn the steps to live positively.

5. Stay active.

Even if you need to push yourself, develop some game plan for action throughout the day, breaking large tasks into manageable pieces. Discipline and proactivity is good to help lift moods, and can help depressed individuals gain a sense of mastery and competence. When people are depressed, they often feel overwhelmed and lack the energy to even start. However, this increases depression and guilt, leading to more negative self-talk. Pushing yourself to pick something to do, and schedule time in small chucks, can do wonders for mood. The NIKE slogan, “Just Do it” is a great way to naturally fight depression. Proactivity is related to self-esteem and stress resilience.

6. Develop healthy life style habits.

Good self-care habits such as eating well and regular exercise are incompatible with depression. Exercise itself is a great way to help fight depression, releasing not only endorphins and keeping metabolism active, but also in helping us gain a sense of mastery over our bodies and our lives.We feel better, look better, keep weight controlled, and improve self-esteem when we take care of ourselves.  Likewise, many studies have shown a strong link between eating well and feeling well. There are no shortage of studies identifying some common culprits of increasing low mood. Diets that are moderate and balanced with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, rich in nutrients and low on sugar and excess fat, help boost our mood.

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Too many refined foods and excess sugars have been linked to depression, and it has been suggested that food rich in Omega-3 can be beneficial for mood, which can be found in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna among many others. Depression has also been linked to cigarette smoking, as well as too much caffeine which can also lead to increased anxiety which triggers depression. Furthermore, the low mood-more food connection further can exacerbate depression and cause people to feel worse about themselves for their lack of discipline in overeating. In essence, appreciating the importance of the mind/body connection can help individuals ward off depression.

7. Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know what you now know in hindsight.

Depressed individuals are often plagued with guilt.  Guilt over past mistakes, guilt over failure or not being “good enough” are all examples of the endless array of thoughts that depressed people beat themselves up about. Williams himself stated in an interview that he had issues with guilt over his past behavior and failed marriages.  “You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ and all that stuff, but it’s not the same as recovering from it. It’s not coming back.”  

It had been suggested by a family friend that also he had survivors guilt over not being able to help prevent losing his good friends, Christopher Reeves, John Belushi and Andy Kaufman. Being stuck in past regret is a direct path to depression.  Rather, it is crucial to learn from regrets and build on unproductive and crippling regret, making them into stepping stones for future successes and wisdom over lessons learned.

8. Lower expectations that are unrealistically high.

Robin Williams was larger than life – he was a true legend, but that came with a lot of pressure to handle. Even his manic tendencies couldn’t keep up with his legendary larger-than-life status. In the media, it had been suggested that facing a setback like a cancelled TV show, on top of having two failed marriages, might have led Williams to not focus on all the good he had done, but rather focus on how he fell short of his high expectations that he had for himself.

Depressed people often focus not on their successes but their failures, and these expectations are impossible to uphold over time. The tragedy of Williams shows that no matter how much success one has reached, people who are depressed still feel like they failed. They feel responsible for bad things that happen and often truly believe that people will be better off without them. So tragic that Robin Williams could not heed advice of his own character in Good Will Hunting when he kept repeating to his guilt-plagued and self-blaming therapy client, played by Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault.”

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9. Keep hope alive.

The act of suicide is an act of hopelessness. Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems, and people who are in depths of despair feel like there is no way out and things will ALWAYS be this way. Helping people to see that there is hope for things to get better is one of the best gifts you can give to a depressed person or to yourself if you struggle with depression.  Sometimes it takes the act of actually writing down what is positive or hopeful to get out of the tunnel vision mindset of depression.

10.  Remember that even if things don’t turn out – you still can.

Faced with Parkinson’s disease, a failed TV show and a lifelong struggle with depression, life might have seemed to have spun out of control for Robin Williams. However, it is important to keep in mind – it is not what happens to us – it is our taken what happens to us – which becomes most important. It is true – some things might be unavoidable in life – such as illness and adversity. However, we have the power to make the best of it – our illness or adversities do not need to define us. Some things do really go horribly wrong in life, but that does no need to define us – rather it can motivate us to rise with the challenge and develop strength and purpose instead of letting it make us lose our purpose. And indeed, there are some things so difficult that we really never really get over, but that does not mean we can not get through it. Usually, the support of loved ones can help considerably in getting through life challenges.

11. Deal with past trauma and insecurities.

It is curious that one of the world’s funniest men was by many media reports actually a painfully shy, insecure and quiet child who greatly lacked self confidence and self esteem. The question is – had he dealt with his early childhood insecurity or was he still defined by it?

All too often, no matter how successful someone becomes, they still define themselves as they did in their early school years, and no matter how successful they are, self-doubt and insecurity still define them. It is like a thin person still feeling like the chubby kid in grade school. When individuals find that old self-doubts remain despite mastery in the world, addressing those early childhood pains is essential.  Sure, we can not change what happened to us, but we can change how we deal with what’s happened to us. Otherwise, what you resist, will persist, and old messages will keep recycling that brings distortion and confusion into our present day.  Whether Robins Williams had some closure on pain from his past is unknown, but it might be that a youth spent in painful shyness and insecurity might have never really stopped defining him at his core.

12. Keep Laughing

Robin William’s gave us the gift of laughter. Perhaps it is not so curious that many comedians struggle with depression – Laughter and a sense of humor is one of the best ways to ward off depression. As William’s himself has said when interviewed by Parade magazine, “Comedy can be a cathartic way to deal with personal trauma.”  For him to say this, it appears that personal trauma was not unknown to him. The great irony is that Williams, who gave this gift of laughter to so many, who helped us learn to laugh at ourselves and the life’s imperfections, could no longer use this gift on himself.

The quote below from Robin William’s in The Fisher King offers us a sobering reminder that attitude, not reality, determines our mental health. Depression is a disease of distorted reality. Although we all admired Robin Williams as a masterful human being who had so much to offer the world with his comedic genius and compassion and goodness as a human being, his view of himself was not what we all saw. He apparently could not see past being a man alone, in pain, with no hope in sight of relief.

 “And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain.” – Robin Williams, The Fisher King

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Judy Belmont

Mental health author, motivational speaker and psychotherapist

11 WARNING Signs Of Unhealthy Relationships You Need to Be Aware Of The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People Robin Williams’ Death Is A Wake-Up Call: 12 Natural Ways To Fight Depression Quick Test: What Is Your Forgiveness IQ? 7 Essential Ways That Inspirational Quotes Can Literally Change Your Day … and Your Life!

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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