Over the course of the past 5 years I have read a lot of books on emotions, depression, peak performance, anxiety and overall cognitive functioning. Through my aikido, meditation and several other practices have begun to understand these things on an experiential level. I have been to the lowest of lows (a deep depression) and the highest of highs. And after enough time spent in both places, I have come to some level of observation and self awareness with what goes on during each of those experiences. Today, I want to present to you a simple strategy for dealing with a down moment or a bout of depression that takes you under and engulfs you.
I am speaking from my own experience in a depressed state as well as several other people who report a similar experience. In an emotional state of depression, everything looks bleak. I feel lonely, disconnected from society, helpless and hopeless. I see absolutely zero potential for anything positive to happen in my future whether it be in terms of relationships, money, experiences, work- whatever. I literally feel like a “shit-magnet”. Bad shit seems to stick to me. Everyone I encounter is a selfish jerk. The best way I can describe depression is a complete and overwhelming tunnel vision for everything negative. And as Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania has affirmed, the bleak perception of our reality feels permanent (like it’s going to last forever), pervasive (like every aspect of our life is fucked) and highly personal (like we as a person are majorly defective).
I have noticed that when I have been depressed, I will freeze frame my current “shitty” reality and conceptualize it in my mind that it is going to be this way forever. It makes me not even want to live anymore. I feel like giving up. I then begin to ask myself questions like, “what is wrong with me?” and “what’s the point anyway?”. I try to go up in my head and think my way out of the problem. If there is one thing to take away from the lesson today it is this:
Intellectualizing and trying to rationally think your way out of a troubling emotional state is the worst thing you can possibly be doing to feel better. Your trying to solve a problem from a impaired level of thinking. It makes no sense, however we as humans love to see ourselves as smart creatures who can think our way out of shit.
Einstein nailed it right on the head when he said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. And this quote is quite applicable to depression. When we are in a low level of consciousness, it is impossible to get ourselves out of it by thinking more.
Instead what needs to be understood is that our feelings are a signal. And this powerful signal of “I feel like death” is telling us that our thinking is off! Way off. Therefore, the only thing you have to do when you start feeling like absolute crap is begin to not believe in the thoughts that are creeping into your mind. I just read Garrett Kramer’s peak performance books Stillpower and The Path of No Resistance and I really love his paradigm regarding this. He asserts that you should “feel what you feel, but don’t believe what you think”. Our terrible feelings are a powerful signal- to disregard and be disbelieving of our thoughts- not to cling to them and try to rationally joust with them.
The more you can begin to simply sit with your feelings and not try to create a story around them about why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling- this is when you will escape the grips of your depression. What keeps the depression in place is the constant thinking that ‘this event’ or ‘that person’ is to blame for my depression. This type of thinking is not going to get you out of your depression, it is only going to ensure that you stay in that state of mind longer. If you just sit still and begin to quietly retreat to the silent confines of your mind- you will start to notice that your depression will begin to subside and eventually drift away. Our brains and bodies have the natural tendency to self-correct. There is a built auto-pilot mechanism built into our nervous system if we simply let go of needing to control every process along the way.
When we try to think our way of our depression- we are trying to “will” it and control every step in the process. This absolutely shuts off our self-corrective mechanism in our brain that is the skeleton key to our emotional regulation. The less energy and power you give your depressing thoughts- the sooner you will start to see your emotional state rise. And then pretty soon thereafter your perception will begin to broaden. You will start to see things in brighter color, see the hopeful (and realistic) future and get out the blame-game you’ve been playing with yourself.
This process takes a keen level of self awareness. Most people get into a depressed state and they try to fight it- but that just gives it more energy. Think about depression like your little brother or that neighbor of yours who is a shit-grinning twerp. The more you engage with your little brother, the more he is going to try to annoy you and rattle you. However when you laugh at him and not let what he is doing bother you- he goes away because it is no fun for him anymore. Depression is the same way. Begin to watch your hopeless thoughts come into your awareness. Don’t let them hook you, just watch them and be accepting of them. Sit there through the painful experience and become an outstanding observer of your own mind. This is the secret to mastering your inner world- becoming a master observer of your own mind and it’s default patterns and tendencies.
Once you begin to observe and not absorb or attach to these negative thoughts- your consciousness will begin to rise and the heavy feelings will start to lighten drastically. It will feel like a exhilarating experience. The more you can practice this, the better you will get. As Garrett Kramer loves to say, it’s all about STAYING IN THE GAME. If you hang around long enough and don’t fight the negative thoughts and bleak perspective- it will all turn around. It always does. But the minute you begin to try to understand why you are feeling like crap and begin to create some narrative about your depression- you have lost the game.
We all have a unique inner life force. I believe it is God within us, others call it a whole lot of different things. However, this force is the very thing that guides us intuitively and if given the freedom to work for us- can produce miracles. I know relinquishing control and not engaging with the depressing thoughts is a major challenge that most will probably fail at their first few times. Yet, all it takes is one breakthrough and it will change your life forever. One experience of letting your inner guide take over and guide you out of your depression will allow you to never be a hostage to this crippling condition ever again. It’s amazing.
So you have 2 choices. You can either be a victim and continue to fight with your annoying shit-grinning little brother (depressive thoughts) and continue to feel agitated (depression). Or you can begin to observe and allow your annoying little brother to “try” to bother you, but never actually bite the hook (depressive thoughts)- therefore making him disinterested and leaving you alone so that you can be in peace (free of depression).
If you tend to fall down the “rabbit hole” of depression, I suggest hanging two signs around your place as a reminder. One is from Kramer’s book:
“STAY IN THE GAME”
And the other is from the Navy Seal movie Lone Survivor:
“No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets or no matter how far you fall, you are never out of the fight.”
The second quote is what gave me the hope to carry on in the darkest of my depression a couple years ago. Though I really had no where to turn and felt almost entirely hopeless- I kept looking at that quote and it kept me looking for another way- another answer. I’d read another book, I’d watch another youtube video, I just kept going. Until pretty soon, I was guided to meet my mentor. And that was the moment that changed everything. So I suggest you adopt this belief. If you believe there is always a way- you will find a way. People, when their either going to die or succeed- they tend to succeed. Hunger is your greatest asset. Plain and simple.