Depression leaves you feeling helpless and out of control. You often feel like you are floating aimlessly out in the middle of an ocean of despair. It doesn’t matter what direction you float; it’s just more water.
It’s true, there are a lot of things depression dishes out that are well beyond our control. The darkness, the thoughts – I don’t choose those.
But, one of the many lies your mental illness will tell you is that you have NO control. That’s not true. You have a lot of control. You may not be able to control the chemicals your brain was born with, and you may not be able to control the weight of the pain that’s pushing down on your chest right at this moment. But you do have control. You can control what you do in your downtime. That’s the time between your attacks. The time when you finally have a breath, you can take.
I’ve learned that what I do when I’m not having an episode of depression or anxiety impacts how frequent they occur and how long they last. So, though I may not be able to decide when I will lose it and succumb to my depression for the day, on the good days, I can do the positive things that impact my mood in the future.
That’s why I believe Depression Hacking can be so powerful. If we use the tricks and strategies that positively affect our moods when we have the strength to do so then we just might actually, I don’t know, have a positive effect.
Even if these things are small, they can add up. If a special movie always makes you feel better about the day, then you need to make sure you watch this film on a regular basis. As a vitamin supplement would, you have to allow these things to strengthen your happiness.
By identifying them, you can bring a bit more control to your chaos and by doing them, you can elevate your mood. These become the tools in your toolbox, the things you turn to when you need a boost. Again, these may be small. They may not be big enough to stop a panic attack or keep you from going down the rabbit hole of self-loathing that depression opens up. They don’t have to. In fact, if they are small you’re more likely to do them.
For example, I’ve written before about how spinach has a positive effect on my depression. Now when I’m bad, when my depression has me under the covers and wishing I was gone, a spinach salad with a side of spinach is not what saves me. But eating a good amount of spinach all the other days, when I’m okay, means that I have fewer bad days overall. So, to me, that overall relief is worth eating some spinach regularly.
Making your lists
Making these lists isn’t complicated. Just grab a piece of paper or open a text document and you’re good to go. We always want to complicate things which only creates reasons why we put them off and procrastinate. Trust me, you need these lists so grab some paper and let’s get going.
Step 1: List the things that make your depression suck less
Take some time to write down what makes you happy. What can elevate your mood throughout the day? Just write down the first things that come to your mind. Don’t worry, you can organize it later.
My Dad and I call this a “brain dump.” Just dump out everything in your head that pops up when you think about the things that make your depression a little easier.
Step 2: List the things that make your depression worse
Okay, this is pretty much like Step 1 except you’re writing down the opposite. So what triggers your depression? What makes things worse for you? If certain kinds of movies always bum you out, put that on the list. If certain people bring you down, put them on the list. Again, just dump the first things that come to mind on the page.
Step 3: Focus on doing the things on List 1
This part is important. We tend to gravitate toward the things we can’t do. When we’re trying to quit a bad habit, all we think about is how wonderful that habit is. That doesn’t help us.
To successfully get rid of a bad habit, you replace it with a good one. So that’s kind of what we’re doing here. We’re going to limit doing things from List 2 by spending more time doing the things from List 1.
At this point in my life, the items on my ‘don’t do’ list aren’t even in the forefront of my mind. I’m so focused on the positive habits that help my mood that the negative ones are no longer a big deal. It’s harder for me to keep doing the positive things on a regular basis. But every time I start to quit doing the things on my good list, then my depression gets worse. So I jump back on the horse and start doing those positive things again.
How to find items to add to your lists
If you can’t think of anything to add to your lists, don’t panic and quit. Here are a few things you can try that will get you unstuck.
If you can’t think of something, try meditating or praying over it
Prayer and meditation both work well for me. If I’m stuck and trying to find the answer, I’ll take some time and quietly meditate on it for five minutes, or I’ll talk to God about it. Usually, some things will come to mind.
If you can’t think of something, ask someone you trust
If you have someone close to you that you can trust, ask them. I’ve often gone to my wife or my therapist to ask them what they’ve noticed in me. Usually, they will help me find a few items to add to the list.
If you can’t think of something, here are my lists
I’ve put a good chunk of my lists online so you can see what works for me. If any items from my lists stick out to you, add them to yours. Click here to view mine.
Test theories you see online
The web is packed with tips and tricks to alter your mood. From daily blogs to medical websites, you can find a variety of ideas large and small. Grab a handful and toss them on your list for further testing.
Remember, there is no item too small for your lists. Anything that elevates your mood, if done consistently and combined with other things, will add up to success.
Bottom line, you need to look continually to add new things to the lists and be open to the fact that they may always change. About three years ago, everything on my lists went out the window, and I had to start over, but more on that later.
Rule 1: Always be searching
Always be on the lookout for new items to add to your lists. From websites to doctors, you’re going to get plenty of ideas you can try. Toss them on the list and test them out.
You will need a good amount of self-awareness, but you can make it work. Try journaling the results. That may help if you’re having trouble noticing changes in your mood.
You need to be on an endless search for new things that make you feel better. If you get an idea, add it to the list and try it out.
Rule 2: Always be pruning
Don’t assume this list is going to stay set in stone. Your circumstances will change, your chemicals will change, YOU will change. That means these lists will need to adapt. Some things will stop working. They won’t have the impact they once did. That’s fine, just remove them from the list. If you’re following Rule 1, then you’ll have no shortage of items and can stand to toss one out if it isn’t getting the job done.
Nothing is sacred. Everything on the ‘makes me better’ list must earn a spot on there. If it doesn’t make you feel better, then it goes off the list.
Rule 3: Always be patient
You don’t have to do everything on the list. When I fall back down the hill and have to climb again, I can’t do all of the things on my list. My depression anxiety cuts too deep. So I start by doing just a handful of things and go from there. Your list represents the ideal. That’s the goal that you are working toward.
There may be ten items on your list that make you feel better; you may only be able to do a couple right now. That’s, okay. Be patient, this is a process. So start working on those two things you can do and start making them a habit in your life. You can add another item from the list once the previous two become habits. Then, keep repeating until you have all your items consistently working for you.
Remember to baby step it. You’re not going to be perfect on Day One. But this process works so give it some time.
Work the lists
Your lists are what you go back to whenever things seem out of control. One day you’re going to get to a point, and you’re going to feel depressed and hopeless and wonder what happened. When you go back to your lists, I’ll bet, you will see that you stopped doing the good habits. You may have even started to take on the bad ones again. That’s when you go back to baby stepping through your Good List and back up the hill.
I had one of those months awhile back. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Kristen pulled me aside one night and told me I wasn’t doing the things on my list. I wasn’t doing the habits that made me feel better.
I started to get overwhelmed by how far down the hill I fell and the fact that I couldn’t do the whole list. I began to freak out. She then reminded me of Rule 3 and the fact that I only need to do a few at a time.
So we looked at the list and picked a few that I could start doing right away, and that’s what I did. I didn’t waste any time. I jumped back into my list and started working my way back up the hill and out of my depression. Even I was surprised at how fast working the list elevated my mood. Just focusing on it gave me a sense of control that I lost in my despair.
My Good List is my secret weapon against my depression. It’s the tool box I use when I go to work trying to get past the darkness. I hope you try this in your life. I hope you start to take action and find the things you can control despite your sorrow. When you do that, I’m hoping you’ll work your way back up the hill with me.