It doesn’t matter what your “bottom” is, it’s still the bottom.
Awful job. Job loss. Health problems. Financial stress. Medical issues. Marital difficulties. Relationship troubles. No relationships. Lost dreams. Lost loved ones.
No matter what your “bottom” is, it’s a terrible place to be. You find yourself asking those questions that keep you up at night and wake you in the morning, and they haunt your mind when you stare off.
I admire those people who say they’ve never struggled with depression or strong feelings of sorrow. Because I’m not one of them. I have very high highs, and very low lows.
I’ve lived long enough now that I’m beginning to recognize the signs of those downward spirals of sorrow, but I’m still not very good at stopping them. However, I’m getting better, and I’d thought I’d share some of my findings with you.
I’m no professional counselor, and I’m not talking about medically-diagnosed depression (you can legitimately have a hormonal imbalance, be lacking in vitamins or minerals, etc.); so please, if you’re in need of immediate help, go find it. But this is what I’ve learned, and I hope it helps you:
Phase One – Recognition
Step 1: Recognize and admit that you feel depressed.
Just come out and say it. It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong about it, nothing to be ashamed of, and the first step in dealing with any problems is to name it. Because until you call it what it is, you will pretend it doesn’t exist, and if unaddressed it will only get worse. Sure, sometimes you want to “tough it out,” but it’s also okay when it’s just time to say you’re there at the bottom.
Step 2: Recognize that once depressed, it’s easy to get into a downward spiral.
It’s a terrible cycle – you become sad, and then you feel bad about being sad, which makes you feel sadder, which makes you feel worse about it, which…see the problem?
Your goal when you are first feeling down is to note your feelings, and understand that the next thing that can and often happens is that you will continue to feel down more and more. Also, don’t feel like you should just be able to “stop” the spiral immediately. Sometimes I can, but more often than not I have to follow the pattern I’ve laid out here and reverse the spiral slowly.
Step 3: Recognize that neither food, nor alcohol, nor smoking, nor drugs, nor cutting, nor any other addiction will fix the feeling.
This is when you are most susceptible to giving in to harming yourself to try and numb the pain. It’s a compensation, and you have to recognize early and upfront that not only does it not fix anything, but it will create more problems for you. Even going the complete opposite direction and avoiding food is actually an addiction of its own.
Step 4: Recognize that God does not hate you for feeling depressed.
God loves you unceasingly, and He’s not angry with you for feeling depressed. Even if you’re mad at Him, His love remains steadfast.
Phase Two – Encourage Yourself
Step 5: Encourage yourself by reading Scripture and praying.
Tell God how you feel. Exactly how you feel. Tell Him why you’re upset. Tell Him what your worries are, what’s bothering you, and how awful you feel. He wants you to share your heart with Him.
Then read Scripture. I highly recommend the Psalms for when your emotions are all out of whack, as mine often get.
Step 6: Encourage yourself by working out.
My least favorite part, because when you feel awful the last thing you want to do is fitness (at least, that’s true for me). However, it’s been proven time and time again that this is highly helpful to you.
It doesn’t have to be much. When I feel really, really down, I make myself go for a short twenty to thirty minute walk. If even that is too much for you, take fifteen minutes to walk. Walk back and forth in your house if you have to (I actually have done this). Lift a small book multiple times with each hand if you can’t walk. Even just stretching is better than nothing.
Step 7: Encourage yourself by eating healthy.
What “healthy” looks like differs depending on which article you believe, but it has been proven that processed foods and lots of sugar are bad for you and can contribute to sour moods. Take care of yourself in small ways by snacking on fruits and vegetables, and so forth. Make sure that you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals, since that can be another contributor to feeling down. Don’t feel like this has to be a sudden and drastic undertaking, either. This isn’t the time to go on that fad diet. We’re talking small steps here.
Step 8: Encourage yourself by listening to good music.
I want you to be cautious at this point, because if you’re in a bad place it’s easy to get sucked into a depressive song. I’m also not saying that you must listen to sappy-happy music. I just mean find something that gets you going, that uplifts you, and that brings you up a little. For me, it’s actually hard rock because that’s what I like to listen to when I write or run. So when I hear hard rock, it gets me going mentally and physically.
Step 9: Encourage yourself and expend your feelings.
Even if you’re not artistic, I would encourage you to write, paint, sing or play an instrument, craft something, doodle, etc. I’m a particularly tactile person, so I find that doing something crafty helps my mind to calm while I listen to scissors cutting paper or do fine detail painting work. And don’t do it with the purpose of it being for anyone else – this is for yourself.
Phase Three – Reverse The Cycle
Step 10: Reverse the cycle by sharing your feelings with someone who can empathize.
I put this step in here with another caution that you must know that the person you are sharing with can empathize. You’re not looking to be fixed, and you’re not looking for them to tear you down even more – you just need someone who can say, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way. I’ll pray for you.”
I understand that not everyone will have someone that they can confide in like this. Simply skip the step then and continue on, because your goal at this point is to bring yourself to a better place.
Step 11: Reverse the cycle by reaching out to one person who is also struggling.
This is often the hardest step for me after fitness, because the last thing I want to do is expend more emotional energy (I’m an introvert). However, I always find that when I send a quick email or text to someone that is struggling, I feel better. It also helps to take my mind off of my own worries. My troubles are still there, but the world becomes a bigger place and it helps me to not narrow in so sharply on myself.
Step 12: Reverse the cycle by listening to or reading something positive or something that improves you.
This is where you try to turn your spiral into an upward cycle by reading and listening to positive material. What this looks like exactly might depend on what you’re interested in, but it can be anything: maybe watch a video on a hobby that interests you, read a blog from an inspiring thought leader, listen to a podcast on fitness, etc. It should be something that improves you and your mind, and brings you to a better place.
Step 13: Reverse the cycle by doing something productive.
This step was tough to write because I couldn’t think of a way to make it more specific than that. What I mean by this is now you want to try and output something productive. For me, it usually comes in the form of a blog. This blog is actually written from the very steps I took to get out of a cycle, and consequently wrote into something for others.
You may end up repeating an earlier step at this stage – for example, perhaps you decide to do something productive by actually setting a small fitness goal – but that’s okay. You should do it with more enthusiasm. If you walked earlier, maybe you decide to go for a run. If you watched a video about a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, maybe you give said hobby a try. Give yourself a little push to do something productive, and make sure it’s achievable.
Step 14: Reverse the cycle by continuing to read Scripture and pray.
Whether you feel sad or happy, make reading the Bible and prayer a daily habit, if not more. Build your relationship with God, put your faith in Christ, and you will find a peace that surpasses everything. That’s not to say you’ll never feel down again. But you can trust that you have a peace that by Christ’s blood, everything is right between you and God, who loves you dearly.
The Last Step: Knowing it will come again.
I always hope that “this time will be the last time” I feel like this. But I’ve yet to never feel down again. However, knowing that it does happen, knowing that I’m not alone, and knowing that I can turn this around in God helps it to be a little less terrifying each time.
I hope this helps. Again, I’m not a counselor, and this isn’t to address medical issues that may cause depression, but I just thought I’d share a little about what I do when I feel depressed.
I’m praying for you.