Depression is amongst the leading causes of disability worldwide (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2020). A recent report by the World Health Organization (2017) ranked it as the largest contributor to global disability, affecting around 322 million people and being responsible for 7.5% of all years lived with disability. Depression can affect anyone, and it is one of the most widespread illnesses, often co-existing with other serious illnesses.
We all have this inherent need to be seen, feel valued, and heard. But then over time, we had people that entered in our life, be that in form of a parent, a bully at school, a broken heart from our first boyfriend or the demotion from our boss. This is when we start to doubt ourselves, hang out with the wrong friends, drink, and party a little more than usual and procrastinate at school, college or in life. No matter how rich you are, successful or poor, we all go through this. Its how our brain works. We had to adjust our life to deal with situations like this and stored this event as a memory in our brain to protection us from future harm. But we don’t understand because it all runs on autopilot. We never take a step back at different stages in our life and take a hard look at ourselves to evaluate how we are doing. Are we hurting ourselves more with the behaviour we adopted? We might not have any role models around us to show us what healthy behaviour is. So how can we learn or know? Only when we hit a massive roadblock and no previous mechanism or strategy is working out, do we finally start to look deeper. Only when we are boxed into a corner with nowhere to go, do start to ask ourselves what we can do differently instead of blaming others or using alcohol as an addiction to numb our pain. We are so afraid to look at our pain that we rather stay in addition or the unhealthy relationship. But it means, we have been sleepwalking our entire life, we have allowed our pain dictate who we are friends with, what we accept in relationships, and what job we chose. You are not worthy, so you never ask for a rise. You think you can’t do better than the cashier at the supermarket? You will never spend any extra time in educating yourself. But we need to think as pain entirely differently. Imagine real pain when someone is in a car accident and is now rushed into hospital. That’s pain. What we experience is emotional pain that is never ever too much to bear. It can be healed. Trauma and pain doesn’t have to stay with you for the rest of your life unless you want to keep it with you because that’s what you are doing by not looking at it: you are holding it tight as if it was your life because it has become your life. Believe me, what is on the other side is so much better than you could ever imagine. When all your life is broken, this is when something new can emerge. This is when you re-arrange the pieces differently, some you might even throw out the window. All what you need is the first step, and then another one, and another one. Every day. But it all starts with doing the opposite. Let your pain and trauma tell you their story. They want to be heard, seen, and understood. The emotions you attached to that event or person want to be felt fully to be able to let go. Sometimes your mind might have created a story that is not true. When someone bullies us in school, its more about them then us. My dad told me recently that one day, they had a new teacher from the city who came to teach at his local school in a small village back in the 1960’s. The teacher made him feel stupid as he taught so many things that my dad didn’t know. But as a child you don’t realize how that is more to do with the quality of the education and the teachers employed at that school than him. But now, the narrative is formed. Do not keep that narrative unquestioned into your adult life and let it determine your life. You keep lying to yourself that all is well when every part of your body tells you its not true. That’s why we numb ourselves with addictions such as working hard, diet after diet, looking pretty or alcohol.
We need to learn to connect our mind and body again. While we might be successful or poor on the outside but feel empty and unfulfilled inside. So, when you take stock, look at these areas and be honest with yourself – that’s the only way to get back on track:
- Your tribe
How much time do you spend with family and friends that make you feel good, that uplift you? Are they rather draining your energy? Do you feel seen and heard? Would they be there for you when you are down?
- Your health
We are nothing without our health and Covid-19 has demonstrated this. Be healthy and to get there, take small steps. No need to wake up the next morning and become vegetarian. What will happen over time, your body gets used to eating no sugar and no longer craves for it. Exercise more and more even if its just walking the stairs as a starter. Only when you are fully healthy can you enjoy life and the responsibility is entire yours. We should not be surprised to develop back issues – like I have – when I always move things around that are way too heavy and not asking for help.
- Time for yourself
Your life is about filling your cup. That should be always your first priority. If you never lived your life like that – it can feel awkward and your thoughts will be right, there with you to say you are selfish. But think about it for a moment, if you don’t do something that makes you feel good, no one benefits because you will be grumpy. Discover yourself again. What new hobbies or activities give you energy? Is it reading, a walk or meeting your friends?
- Standing still
One of the most powerful things you can do is to put the break on the gas and stand still. We are in a hamster wheel of doing. All the time and never take time out to stand still and listen, enjoy the moment, reflect. This is when you anchor yourself. I adopted meditation to help me do that because the day can get hectic and things will sweep you off the floor if you don’t have a way to stand grounded. Breath work is also very powerful because if you can control your breath, you control how you feel. It’s the only constant in your life and the breath changes with how we feel. Check in with yourself. Your breath is quicker and shortened when you are stressed. If you take time out, go to the bathroom and sit there to take a few minutes and deeply inhale and breath, you will already feel differently. Whatever way or practice you adopt, think about as a new way of living. A way to feel more grounded and balanced.
We easily get sucked back into the hamster wheel or into our old way of living. This is normal. You will have days, where you will want to have chocolate cake, a burger and not work out. This is not a failure; this is okay but remember to go back the next day to your new practice. Remember that change of habits and thought patterns doesn’t come over night. It takes months and years like a seed that will slowly grow into a tree. Look at your priorities in your life and how you spend your time and on what. Make a list of things and look at it. Anything you need to scrap, change, or completely drop. What comes instead. Plan your day. When are you doing the 5-minute meditation exercise? How are you starting your day? How should your ideal day look like and how do you get there? Even Oprah Winfrey, the famous US talk show host has time to meditate so you don’t have any excuse. Its all about self-discipline. Check how much time you waste on things that are not your priority, helping you on your way to become fulfilled and healthy. Be relentless and just drop what doesn’t work for you.
You will look back in a few years’ time and ask yourself how you could have been so blind and wasted so much time. How you feared something that you should never have feared. But of course, you only know that because you are on the other side now. Imagine yourself in 5 years now, and how you would look back at this time and what advise you give yourself. Be compassionate with yourself and proud for making all these changes. Whenever we look back at something, we always wondered how we could have waited for so long. Think that moment now and do the changes. Small things but they all add up. Schedule a meeting every week with the most important person: you and see how your week was. Are you on track with your own priorities or not? Are you wasting time and energy on things that are not important? This is what you should be asking yourself every day. Life is too short to waste it on things that do not even matter to us.