I wrote a recent article about taking an approach to a problem with depression that completely ignored the problem at hand (here’s that article here if you missed it: How To Handle Depression Caused By Loss Of Control). Now, keep in mind that the only time I recommend dealing with depression in that manner is when you don’t feel like there’s any way you can take control over this area of your life, whether because it’s simply uncontrollable or because you just don’t have whatever it takes to do so. As you can imagine, that’s not always the healthiest approach to your problems, and in some cases it can make things even worse.
Sometimes, you want to apply a more straightforward approach and stop depression right at the main source, instead of just wondering “why am I so depressed?”. Today I want to talk a little bit about doing just that. But even more specifically, I want to talk about how to identify the root problem that is making a mess out of your life.
Note: Even if you do decide to take a more direct approach, you should still take the steps outlined in the other article as well.
Understanding “Root Problems”
Some people will tell you that depressed people just have something clinically wrong with them. And I’m not going to argue that there are people out there who have an imbalance throwing them off. But I believe the majority of people get depressed for a reason (this is not medical advice, so always do your own research and seek professional help if needed).
Sometimes that reason may be obvious. Maybe you lost a loved one or had a fight with someone close to you. Or a bad day at work threw you into a bad mood. This happens all the time, and for some it can even turn into a prolonged depression if they haven’t found a positive way to deal with those emotions.
But, more often than not, depressions are caused by an inability to cope with your life on some level. And if you’re truly depressed, it might feel like every last thing in your life is just off-kilter – maybe even from an outside perspective.
What’s often going on here is that some “root issue” is throwing all these other things off and all the dysfunction can be boiled down to that one main issue.
An Example: Lack of Money
An extremely common root cause of depression in the modern world is lack of money, and this very well may have your own wheels spinning.
What happens when you don’t have enough money?
Well, it often leads to health problems, just for starters. With little to no money, it’s hard to afford healthy, nutritious food, and you may not be able to pay a monthly gym membership – not to mention you may be too stressed out to even think about your health.
Because of these shortcuts on health, you start feeling lousy and can develop a health problem. Or if you get in a sudden accident, your lack of health insurance may make your money problems exponentially worse. Poor health, in turn, can cause other issues, like lack of sex drive and low confidence, just to start.
Another problem that may stem from money issues is social alienation. You may not have the money to go out and meet new friends. You might find yourself turning down invitations and not having fun when you do go because you feel pressured to spend. And you might find it next to impossible to meet members of the opposite sex because lack of money to keep up your appearance robs you of confidence – not to mention that you don’t have money to take someone on a date.
What about drinking problems? It’s very common for people without money to develop an issue with alcohol because they’re so stressed out. Then they get into the habit of sitting home and drinking cheap beer or liquor because it’s “cheaper than going to the bar,” when in reality they’re drinking more than people who go out and socialize, not to mention developing a dangerous habit to boot.
Goal problems may be another issue. By that I mean you may have a list of goals in your life that you really want to pursue but never have the time or money to do so because you’re too worried about paying the bills for all this “extracurricular activity.” And the result is a life without purpose.
And what’s the worst part of all this?
Well, if you look at any of these new issues created by the root problem, which is that your income is too low, they all have the potential to lead to other problems, which lead to yet others. And thus your life becomes this giant snowball of problems when it’s really just one single thing throwing everything else out of whack.
Is it any wonder someone facing a situation like this starts to feel like they’re drowning? They don’t even know where to start because everywhere they look they see something to feel unsatisfied and maybe even scared about.
Using This Knowledge for Change
In this case, what to focus on becomes a no-brainer. If this is you, it’s imperative you figure out how to bring more income into your life (or get control of your spending), whether that means starting a business, taking on a second job, shooting for a promotion, or putting in resumes with other companies.
Fix your income and then what happens?
Suddenly you can afford to start working out at the gym and get some proper health insurance; you can start attending events with friends that are important to you, going out to meet new people, and dating members of the opposite sex; you can start pursuing your other interests and goals that have been set on the back burner for so long; and so on and so on.
Of course, it may be possible to squeeze some of this other stuff in regardless (working out at home being an example). That’s fine and I encourage you to get creative about your problems in that way.
But if lack of money is THE BIGGEST PROBLEM in your life and the cause of all your other ills, doesn’t it make sense to just change that and then take it from there?
How to Identify Your Biggest Problems
Is this starting to make sense? Does it ring true for you? Its time to get proactive about sorting out the problems in your life.
One of the best tools at your disposal when working your mind is the simple pen and piece of paper. So take them out now. It’s time to get to the bottom of your depression or dissatisfaction with life.
This is a pretty easy exercise, actually. All I want you to do is make a list, however long it needs to be, of everything in your life that feels incomplete or that you’re not satisfied with. If you’re like me, the list you have when you’re done will be overwhelmingly large.
Next, after you’ve covered every small thing, go back through this list and consider each of these items. Are some related? Are some problems obviously caused by other problems on the list? If so, cross those off.
Now take another look. Would some of them be solved nearly instantly if you solved other items on the list? Cross those off as well. Are there problems you’d have the means to start working on if you only handled another thing? Scratch those out too.
If you really want to understand how to fight depression (at least, on a relatively mild level), the idea is to unearth the big issues that are causing all the smaller ones.
If your lack of confidence, low energy, and frequent back problems would be solved by the fact that you’re not in shape, the problem is that you’re not in shape. If your inability to meet a nice guy, your ongoing fight with your parents, and your inability to get promoted at work all stem from low social intelligence, it’s probably time to improve your social skills.
Keep simplifying the list and scratching obviously-related items off until you get down to the true roots of your depression. You may end up with a list of two, three, or even four major issues in your life (though if you have more than five you probably need to keep working at it); you’ve now got a realistically manageable list.
Warning: Don’t Make This Mistake
Sometimes the most obvious root causes that make you wonder “why am I so depressed?” are not what they seem.
For instance, perhaps as soon as you read the example I went into above, you thought, “Yeah, money is my biggest problem in life too.” But dig a little deeper. What causes your lack of money?
If it’s simply caused by not being ambitious enough to find a better job or having bills that are too high, then yeah, curbing your spending or creating a higher income might be all it takes to solve your problem.
But that’s not always the case.
One guy I know is a freelancer, for instance. When he sat down and had a hard look at his problems, it was apparent that money was causing a good deal of the turmoil in his life. But when he then looked at his money, he realized that he was making $50 – $100 per billable hour – and on top of that, he was living in a third world country where the US dollar packed a lot of punch.
In other words, there was no logical reason why money should have been holding him back.
So what was his real problem? Productivity. He was having trouble committing to his work every day because he didn’t have any boss barking over his shoulder to make it happen. Therefore, all of his problems with his health, his social life, his goals, and more did not stem from lack of money but stemmed from lack of good work habits.
His root cause of depression was simply that he wasn’t a productive person. Obvious solution: teach himself better work habits.
He did that and his income increased and all the other problems in his life either started working themselves out or he suddenly had the means to seek solutions.
Get Started on Change
The most important part after identifying the root problems in your life is to do something about them!
Just think about how liberating this moment can be for you. Just a moment ago, it seemed like your life was totally out of control. Like every single aspect of your existence was just another thing to stress out about.
But now you’ve narrowed it down to this one single thing (or a very small handful of them) that if you can find it within yourself to solve all that other stuff will largely go away. That’s immensely powerful…
How to deal with depression starts with how you approach the problem. Sit down and come up with a simple plan for changing this one part of your life and watch how things begin to snowball for you. It won’t come easy and it won’t come overnight, but I’ve found that taking control little by little has made a difference in my life in getting over depression. Maybe it’ll make a difference in yours.