I have always been prone to bouts of depression. My decision to become a counselor was solidified during the most severe depression I ever experienced. I felt like nothing was going right in any aspect of my life. Since I was never one to struggle getting out of bed, it appeared that I was coping reasonably well. The warning signal was that it didn’t take much for me to burst into tears. My crying episodes were so frequent that I’m sure everyone around me thought I should be medicated.
Throughout my life, the best coping mechanism for depression that I found was school. This was one thing that I had total control over and I was good at it. I was in my late 40s when I applied to graduate school, had a full-time job, was raising two teenagers while trying to keep peace with their father, my ex-husband, and dating a man whose plan for the future was different than mine. Most people thought I was crazy to add one more thing to my stressful life, but it turned out to be the best solution for me. The main reason was because this is where I learned about Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. Reading Dr. Glasser’s books and implementing his ideas into my life got me through this difficult time.
To implement Choice Theory, I had to make some tough decisions about me. I had to own up to the fact that I was my own worst enemy when it came to negative thoughts. I had to quit looking to others to change to make my life better and do some things differently to snap out of my pity party. The main thing was that I had to change my belief system about who was responsible for my happiness and to start doing things that positively affected my moods. This process took a few years, but it was well worth the effort.
Along my journey, I read books from many other mental health professionals and have developed my own formula for happiness. Since we are all unique individuals, no one formula will work for everyone. Here I will describe five components of my formula, which I believe will work for most people. These items have been researched and proven to be beneficial for good mental fitness and, as a sample of one, I have shown them to be true as well.
I have a regular exercise program that I follow almost daily. I do about 20 minutes of stretching and weight-bearing exercises and then go for a 3-mile walk. My walk is the most sacred part of my day for it calms me down and gets my creative juices flowing. This is when I get most of the ideas for blog posts. Since I walk outside, I get the added benefit of soaking up some sunshine. I even feel refreshed on those days I get caught in the rain.
I don’t meditate quite as often as I exercise for I believe my walks do for me what meditation does for others. For those people who suffer from anxiety and racing thoughts, meditation is extremely effective for bring down your energy state. It pulls you out of that fight-or-flight stage that is so damaging to our physical health. I only meditate for 15 minutes, and that is enough time to put me in a state of peace.
I was never one to be thankful for the things that I had because I was always focused on my shortcomings. I have found that taking a few minutes each day to think about what’s really important in my life and how many things are going well really does give me a feeling of happiness. I have so much to be grateful for and am personally responsible for much of it. Taking a few minutes out of my day to appreciate all that I have normally puts a smile on my face.
We’ve always heard that it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown, but it seems like it’s so much easier to frown. Making a conscious effort to smile and then watching myself smiling immediately puts me in a better mood. Whenever I pass someone on my walks, I give them a hearty “good morning!” I had never been one for small talk, but I have found that saying something positive to cashiers and other people I encounter is a great mood booster. When all else fails, having a Happy playlist of uplifting songs or watching funny videos can’t help but turn my frown upside down.
These don’t have to be big. I find that having a regular routine helps me to feel a sense of accomplishment. I do my morning exercises – check! I fix myself some breakfast – check! I write for 30 minutes – check! For bigger tasks, I break them down into smaller steps so I can gain a sense of accomplishment along the way. One of my goals is to create a presence on social media. So, once a week, I post a happiness tip. Each day I write a paragraph or two that I can use for a blog post or a section in my eBook. Then, I focus on what I accomplished and don’t worry about the things that I didn’t quite get to.
When these five things become part of your regular routine, you’re setting yourself up for a happier life. It may sound like a lot of work, and it is at first. Do NOT try to do it all at once!! Ease into it. Start walking for ten minutes every few days. Meditate for five minutes after you get up in the morning. Smile at one person. Little by little, this will become your routine and you will essentially be building up your emotional resiliency. In no time, you will be better able to handle the stresses that come your way.
I have been doing these things for several years now and my bouts of depression have reduced dramatically. Last week, however, that black cloud of depression came over me and I just felt like crawling into bed and huddling under my covers. I was having a bad day, but the events that occurred were really very minor; it didn’t make sense that I was reacting so strongly to them. So, I summed up my confidence because I know how to deal with this. I started looking through Facebook for some funny posts, downloaded some books I knew I would enjoy and replaced those negative thoughts with better ones. And you know what? It worked!! Within a couple hours, the cloud lifted. I was even surprised how quickly I was able to get out of my funk. Depression doesn’t have to consume you. You CAN do things to thwart those inevitable bouts of depression. You have the power!