I've been there myself, and I know how debilitating depression can be. It sucks the life out of you. There's a zoned-out feeling in your head, a blank look on your face, and an all-pervading sense of hopeless like you've never felt before. The light has gone out of your eyes. It's a different feeling to sadness, which tends to pass when you've cried it out. Depression hangs around like a dense fog, clouding your judgement and colouring everything a nasty shade of grey.
Psychiatrists will tell you that depression is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. They're right, but this doesn't say much; your brain is a complex biochemical system and pretty much any problem in there comes down to a “chemical imbalance” of some sort. The questions to ask are: what caused it, and what to do about it.
There's no instant fix for depression, and everyone gets down sometimes. It's part of being human. But small steps in the right direction add up. The following tips have worked for me, and will gradually get yourself feeling more hopeful and optimistic as the fog of depression clears and you get back to enjoying life again:
Research shows that regular exercise has the same effect as antidepressant medication. Plus it offers other health benefits, which you'll really appreciate once you're feeling that life is worth living again. This is a physiological thing that works because of the way your brain and body are wired. We didn't evolve to sit in office cubicles all day doing analytical and/or boring jobs, and we're not well adapted biologically to our modern sedentary lifestyle. If you think you don't have time to exercise, your life balance is screwed and your priorities suck. No wonder you're depressed! You need to fix this.
The best way to get regular exercise is to find a team sport that you enjoy. That way it's not a chore, and you'll be accountable to the rest of your team on the days that you don't feel like doing it. Being accountable is a great way to motivate yourself when you're depressed, and the social aspect of playing in a team also helps overcome isolation. Once you start playing sport, you'll quickly find that you'll lose yourself in the activity and forget about being depressed.
Joining a gym works for some people, but most give up relatively quickly. Just paying a 12-month membership isn't enough; you actually have to turn up and do the work. If you do go with the gym, get a personal trainer or work-out buddy to keep you motivated and accountable to someone.
Learn to Express Your Anger Constructively
Psychologists sometimes describe depression as anger turned inwards. If you're a man who rarely finds himself getting angry, this could be the underlying cause of your depression. I had a father who was violent when he was angry, and I promised myself never to be like him; so I repressed my anger and refused to show it because I thought it was evil. It's not. Anger is a healthy emotion whose purpose is to motivate us to protect ourselves. If you repress it, not only do you risk turning it against yourself, you also lose the ability to stand up for yourself and end up disempowered. And that's depressing for a man.
Conversely, if you express your anger freely but destructively, it's going to trap you in a cycle of violence and guilt which leaves you equally disempowered. That's not going to get you anywhere either, and will have a destructive effect both on you, and on your relationships.
The solution to both these dilemmas is to learn to express your anger constructively. Start by saying “I resent you when ...” (fill in the blanks) to people when they piss you off. This is especially important to do with people you normally hold back from expressing anger towards out of fear, like your mother and/or father say. Grab a copy of Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton, pay particular attention to chapter 6, and start putting this into practise. If you need something more physical, get a punching bag or take up boxing or martial arts to release your aggression, which also have the added benefit of giving you some exercise.
Express Your Feelings
Repressing anger isn't the only emotion that leads to depression. Bottle up any emotion, and it will come out somewhere else. If you're the type of guy who holds his feelings in, and let's face it who isn't these days, it's time to learn to express rather than repress. There are a myriad of ways to do this: talking, art, music, writing, dance, or even sport.
Western society pays way too much attention to analytical careers that shut us down emotionally. If the creative/emotional side of your brain has been neglected, it will bring your life to a screaming halt until you start paying it some attention. At least, it did with me. Think outside the box and learn new ways of self-expression. Learning something new boosts your self-esteem. Doing it in a group setting like at a community college will broaden your social circle and hook you up with people developing similar interests. If you don't play music, I highly recommend you grab a guitar and get yourself along to a guitar class and start learning to play songs that express how you feel. When you feel down, play those songs and you'll soothe your own painful emotions. Be patient, because this will take some time; but it's well worth it.
Face Your Fears
Nothing gets your adrenaline pumping like facing your fears. If you're suffering from depression, you're probably copping a fair bit of anxiety too, so why not put it to good use and actually face a genuine fear in the real world outside of your troubled mind?
Facing one of your fears effectively will leave you feeling empowered, which is pretty much the opposite of feeling depressed and hopeless. It doesn't make too much difference which fear you start with, but the bigger the fear, the bigger the result. Your mother could be a good start, if there are things you haven't said to her that you'd really like to deep down.
Read Feel the Fear . . . and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, and get onto it.
Work Out Your Mission In Life
It's hard to feel depressed when you know what your mission in life is, and you're out there working towards it. The excellent book The Way Of The Superior Man by David Deida points out that your mission is your highest priority in life. Yet most of us men don't even know what our mission or purpose in life really is.
Fulfilling your mission in life should involve you being “in your element” for the majority of your time, an experience psychologists refer to as "flow". If you're not convinced, read The Element by Ken Robinson. A whole heap of problems and worries fade into insignificance when we're in our element, following our mission. Humans are basically wired to worry, and if you don't have some significant and important mission in your life to worry about, your brain will up the ante and get you worrying about pointless little things. Anxiety and worry are the flip side of depression.
If you don't know what your mission in life is, it's time to work that out. Check out Steve Pavlina's articles on discovering your life purpose. Get a life coach if you need to. Work it out. It's damn hard to be depressed when you've decided what your purpose is here on the planet, and are working towards it. Sure there'll be setbacks, but since it's your life's mission you're following, you'll find a way around them.
Talk to a Friend
Don't suffer in silence. Isolation is part of what makes depression so unpleasant. Talking to a friend about it helps you get whatever is going on for you off your chest, and gives them the opportunity to offer you some emotional support. Us guys typically aren't good at expressing how we feel, but expressing your emotions authentically is what ultimately leads to healing. Stop bottling your problems up, and start letting the healing flow.
Plus it's a two-way street: remember to ask your friend what's happening for them. Asking someone else how they're doing takes your attention off you, and can remind us that our situation often isn't as bad as we keep telling ourself it is.
Do Something For Someone Else
We tend to get very self-focused when we're depressed because we're searching desperately for a solution to our problems, yet we become bogged down in hopelessness. Our attention gets turned inwards as we focus on how bad we feel, and what's wrong with our lives; which just compounds our isolation.
One way to break out of this is to put your attention on someone else, and do something kind for them. Give a spontaneous gift to someone you value, or do something kind for a random stranger. Do some charity work that gives you a sense of purpose. Most people reciprocate with gratitude, and you'll feel good for having brightened someone else's day. This helps take the attention off you, and gets you more connected with other people.
Study The Art of Communication and Seduction
If you feel less than powerful when it comes to your relationships with from women, chances are you feel less that powerful in your life generally. You're biologically wired to be interested in women, and if they seem disinterested or outright dismissive of you, that's going to effect your self-esteem and leave you feeling disempowered. Powerlessness and male depression go hand in hand. Conversely, it's hard to feel depressed when you're a hot ticket item with the ladies.
A woman's mind is deeply wired to respond to male seduction, but many of us lack the power to activate it because we were never taught how to communicate with women. Women love being seduced; this is why they read romance novels by the truckload. They love the fantasy of it. If you don't know how to do it, or don't feel comfortable seducing a woman, there's an essential and powerful part of your masculinity that you're out of touch with. It's time to start learning, and Double Your Dating by David DeAngelo is a good place to start.
Growing up with feminism has taught a generation of men to be powerless, submissive “Nice Guys” when it comes to the way we interact with women. Unfortunately this doesn't work for men or women, because it's contrary to the biology of both sexes; but feminists haven't realised this yet. Stop listening to them, and start learning everything you can about being a powerful man who is naturally attractive to women. If you're always trying hard to please women and don't understand why you just seem to get rejected every time, check out No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr Robert Glover.
Build Your Confidence
Confidence is the sense that no matter what happens to you in life, you can handle it. You can't control what life throws at you, and sometimes it can really throw you a curve ball. Tell me about it; I've just spent the last 3 years recovering from Chronic Fatigue where I was literally bed-ridden most days of the week. I'm still not fully better. It's been depressing all right, but it taught me how important it is to be able to deal with setbacks and to have the confidence to be able to say “I'll be OK” no matter what. That's hard when your own body or brain starts attacking you as it does in chronic fatigue or depression. But they're a warning sign that it's time to make some changes in your life. Building confidence during hardship helps you to cope with setbacks so you don't end up depressed again next time around.
Social situations are where the importance of confidence is most obvious. All men are genetically wired to really want to be the alpha-male of the group. Researchers have found that in our closest primate relatives the apes, every male but the alpha of the group show signs of stress and depression. To be an alpha-male human, you need to have confidence and a mission. Being good with the ladies will help too. There's no magic quick-fix to building confidence, but there is a comprehensive program that will get you there by covering all this and more in the The Confident Man Program and bonus package.
For Brian's Sake, Get Some Help!
If you're suffering from depression but haven't sought help, then you're suffering needlessly. There's nothing noble about suffering; that's just another whacked-out religious notion. You're not Superman for goodness sake, you're human. So find a therapist, doctor, psychiatrist, shrink, counsellor, life coach or support group to talk to about how you really feel. There are also emotional healing workshops like Path of Love and Passionately Alive, and therapy groups which could shave several years off your therapy bills and get you where you want to be faster because they harness the power of groups over individual therapy. I work with clients via Skype, so if you're interested in getting professional help, contact me about therapy and coaching.
Don't Change Your Medication
Hopefully these ideas have prompted you into some action which will begin to dig yourself out of the depression hole. If you're on any kind of anti-depressant medication though, it's really important that you don't just stop taking them cold-turkey. Your brain chemistry needs time to adjust back to normal gradually, and your doctor or psychiatrist needs to supervise any withdrawal by gradually reducing your dosage over time, if and when you both decide that the medication is no longer necessary. I'm no doctor, and the chemicals in those pills can really mess with your brain, so once again I want to reiterate: don't change your medication without consulting your doctor.
So those are my ideas... what about you? Leave a comment letting me know ways you've found helpful to defeat (or avoid) depression.