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If you’ve ever dealt with chronic depression or found yourself in a prolonged depression because of something currently negative in your life, you already know it is one of the most debilitating things that can happen to you.
Even if your depression is mild, it can slowly (or even swiftly) eat away at every other aspect of your life. And even if you’ve been on the right track up to this point, bettering yourself by putting in additional energy at work and making solid gains in the gym, this low point can ruin all progress you’ve made and bring your personal development to a jarring standstill.
I’m not going to pretend I have the answers to depression. The lows of your mind are complicated and often have their roots in all sorts of different setbacks and emotional impulses that are connected in mysterious ways.
But I have dealt with depression enough to have a general idea of how to break out of it and how it affects my life if I don’t. And one thing I’ve observed is that depression stems from and can be solved by the amount of control you have in your life.
A Loss of Control
Where does depression come from? Why does it linger on for so long in some people while others can bounce back and regain their handle on life no matter what happens?
Well, I believe that the real powerlessness you feel when you are depressed often stems from a loss of control. Think about the darkest times in your life for a moment…times when you could barely drag yourself out of bed to go to work in the morning and almost just felt like folding in on yourself and withering away into nothing. Think about the events that instigate those types of feelings.
The Loss of a Loved One
A common one is the death of someone extremely close to you – or perhaps the first few deaths you experienced in your life. What is the most shocking and crippling aspect of those deaths?
Its the sense of permanence that comes with death – the knowledge that we will never be able to be with the person again. On a deeper level, there’s a complete, and utter powerlessness. None of us have power over death – you can’t take any action to bring that person back or ensure you’ll see them again (unless you believe in an afterlife, I suppose). You can’t take back mean things you might have said before they passed away or go back and relive your most cherished memories. As a result, even those good memories can become painful…
Death is final; once it’s done, it’s done. It’s the permanence of death that is so distressing, and its common for grief – and the hole in our lives loss creates – to be a cause of depression.
The Loss of a Relationship
Another common root of a depressed state is getting your heart broken in a relationship. Getting “dumped” will often leave a person, especially a young one, crying for days on end, barely able to take a shower the pain is so sharp. For some people it may drag on for months. Even years later you might feel pain every time you think of what happened.
Again, what is it that is so devastating about such a scene?
Beyond the flood of hormones that are triggered during a breakup, there is the presence of powerlessness again. In fact, the more you try to do something about it and change your ex’s mind, the more you push them away, which means you often have the opposite of control!
Maybe you’re not buying that – well, think about it this way. Have you ever entertained thoughts of breaking up with someone for months on end, and then suddenly they broke up with you? If you’re like most people, such a scenario left you suddenly desperate and pining for them…even though you weren’t a hundred percent sure you even loved them anymore.
It’s because your control was taken away.
The Loss of Control Over Your Life
There are other situational examples, but what about chronic-type depression, where you’re depressed because of the overall state of your life or maybe don’t know why you’re depressed? Well, when your life is depressing you or you don’t know what’s wrong, it’s often due to some type of powerlessness in your life.
For instance, maybe life hasn’t worked out the way you wanted or you can’t afford the things you want, you’re always rushing to pay the bills, you feel overworked, or you feel unhappy with your body.
The common theme of all these situations is that there’s this feeling inside of yourself that nothing (or so it seems) that you can do about your situation.
Why It’s So Hard to Cast Off Depression
Here’s the most frustrating thing about depression. You can’t change your state of depression once it starts because…wait for it… it’s based on something in your life you can’t control! That’s why it’s so hard to just walk out of this swamp of emotion.
And depression becomes a self-fulfilling cycle because once you feel like that you then start losing your grip on other areas of your life. You start hiding in your home, caving yourself in, and stop any and all healthy routines you’ve built up in your life. You stop growing. And because of stopping these things, you lose more and more control and sink deeper and deeper into the hole.
And before you know it those initial feelings of powerlessness have destroyed every area of your life.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let me introduce another way to juggle depression.
Choose to Control What You Can Control
I know I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record here, but since your main cause of depression is based on something that you feel powerless to change, you have two options.
The first option is to find the power to change that thing. Easier said than done, but it is sometimes possible if you try to think at it from another angle. But we’ll go into that in another article.
Today I’m talking about the second option for dealing with depression. And that is to completely relinquish control (you don’t have it anyways), accept and ignore it completely, and focus on other areas of your life where pulling the strings is still possible.
The idea is to make up for that lack of control by being proactive about the things that you CAN find leverage over. So no matter how bad things seem, keep going to the gym (or start if you don’t already), cut back on the drinking if it’s an issue, and put your heart into your work.
Understanding Why the “Non-Approach” to Depression Works
Why does this work so well? I’ll give you five reasons.
1. First-hand “Fringe” Benefits
First off, you will get some real first-hand benefits in your life from the energy you put into those other endeavors. For instance, if you focus on working harder and moving up in your job while ignoring the problem, you may get financial benefits and make some progress in your career, which obviously makes you feel good at least on that level.
If you decide to divert that negative energy into working out, you not only get those long-term results of doing so but you also get the short-term effects. In fact, physical exercise is one of the easiest ways to put yourself in a better emotional state, so it is particularly a good place to be proactive.
2. It Offers a Distraction
Second, getting proactive about non-related areas in your life distracts your mind. Instead of lying at home feeling sorry for yourself, you give your mind something to hone in on.
At first it’ll seem pointless and your mind will keep wandering back to whatever ails you. But if you keep at it, day after day, after a while you’ll find it has completely left the issues you were depressed about, if only just momentarily.
Don’t let the fact that “life must go on” be a downer; instead, make it your weapon against depression.
3. It Creates Momentum
By getting proactive about areas of your life that will offer improvement in non-related ways, you’re eventually going to see results. These results will create good feelings in your life and eventually you’ll create a type of momentum, and when it comes to self-improvement, this often occurs with a type of snowball effect.
In fact, you might even find that the good energy and feelings from your new endeavors not only thwart your depression but solve the original problem that got you depressed.
Focus on more than one positive endeavors at once and you can very well compound this momentum in your life and get better results faster.
4. Eliminates the Downward Spiral
One of the things I mentioned earlier is how depression often sets you on a downward spiral.
Perhaps you already were working out or had launched a new business or were in a good relationship. Something else can come along and knock you off your high-horse, and if you let it debilitate you, you might soon find these good things dropping back out of your life, one by one, until you’re back at square one again. Only worse.
So, this creates the opposite of the point above – it creates a negative momentum. Suddenly, due to your depression, everything in your life is bad and constantly getting worse.
When you make that decision to proactively improve your life in the face of a depression, thus ignoring that you’re even depressed, you prevent that from happening and eliminate the downward spiral from your “depression process.” Just keep telling yourself that eventually someday it will feel different if you focus on controlling what you can control and ignore the rest.
5. It Gives You Some Control
Finally, one of the main reasons this “non-approach” to a depression is so effective is because it gives you something in your life that you DO have power over. It makes you feel proactive, and as you see results of your actions, that feeling of accomplishment counters the negative feeling of loss, even if you gain nothing that has to do with your problem.
Does that make sense? It essentially deals with the loss of powerlessness on an emotional level, and I think we can all agree that when you step back from a depression and look at it from a completely logical level later, it does usually turn out that the emotions made it much worse than it should have been.
So if you can use this trick to somewhat “neutralize” those emotions and counteract your negative state, you can often step out of your depression and at least deal with your allegedly-impossible problem in a more logical manner and from a stronger position.
Just Give it a Shot
Look, I know this all sounds a bit preachy and “easier said than done” when you’re actually in the grip of a deep depression, so if that’s where you’re at, just know that I truly do sympathize with you. Trust me, I really have been there before.
But think about it this way – even if you don’t feel like this “non-approach” is going to work or is unrealistic, don’t you think it makes a lot more sense than just doing nothing and caving into the depression?
At the very least, give it a try. Designate a few areas of your life that could use improvement that aren’t directly related to the event or issue currently leaving you emotionally crippled, and choose to focus your attention on them instead. Maintain the healthy routines in your life if you already have them – working out especially.
Make them become your distraction. Don’t work out less because you never feel like it; work out more because it can only help you regain a sense of control in your life.
It doesn’t matter how bad your life has gotten either – you can always apply this concept. Even if you lose your legs, you can apply this concept. If your arms are still free, you can work on gaining strength and dexterity in those. You can start a business on your laptop. You can strengthen your brain.
Once again, that may seem very presumptuous of me. After all, I’m not disabled and never have been to that extent. Okay, fair enough. But riddle me this: what other choice do you have?
You have no other choice. You can only choose to control what you can and leave the rest to fate.
So do it. Now.