When I was in my 20s, I just wanted to stay in bed and cry. I had a journalism degree but worked as an administrative assistant and a waitress. A rough childhood with an alcoholic mother made me think I couldn’t do any better. I had an apartment that I shared with a friend, but depression left me feeling lost and hopeless. Desperately wanting to feel differently, I made an appointment with a psychologist.
My psychologist was funny and blunt. After a long psychological assessment, he described me back to me: “Chronic depression; fear of abandonment; angry but you have a difficult time expressing it; people pleaser.” That hurt, but it also hit home.
Talk therapy helped me because I finally felt heard and understood what was happening inside my head. I’d drive home from those appointments and write down everything I could remember. I wanted to study my way out of depression’s dark grip. Slowly, I started to feel strong. My solution wasn’t a quick fix, but I came away from therapy with an emotional toolkit that has stood the test of time. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
1. Practice self-compassion
Would you treat a friend the way you treat yourself? When I was depressed, I condemned myself for normal human flaws. Start treating yourself in the same compassionate way you would treat a child or close friend. Give yourself a soft place to land when things don’t go right or something doesn’t work out.
2. Make decisions that make you feel good about you
Every decision you make can impact how you feel about yourself. Sharing a kind word, acting with integrity or facing a fear can all make you feel good about yourself, even in small doses.
3. Decide what you want your life to look like
I learned in therapy that our relationships are often a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. When I was depressed in my 20s, my relationships were a mess. As I worked on me, I watched every aspect of my life improve: relationships, work, health, finances and personal goals. I made a list of what my life looked like in each of those areas, and what I wanted my life to look like. This simple step of jotting things down in a notebook was life-changing because it gave me a road map to follow. Inaction fuels depression. Action builds confidence and dissipates depression.
4. Spend time with your strengths and assets
If you are tough on yourself, spend some time doing the things you do well. Your strengths are your guideposts for who you are. My self-worth used to feel like an empty tank. Today, I keep it full by focusing on my strengths instead of dwelling on each flaw. Notice and be grateful for your positive traits, skills and abilities. Now I even laugh a little bit about the things I’m not so good at.
5. Sleep on it
If you have a down day, wait it out and see how you feel tomorrow. Sleep can magically change your outlook and give you a fresh perspective.
6. Write it out
I used journaling from the time I could write. It was my escape and my place of solace. Journaling is a cathartic and healing practice. As you write, your mind has a safe place to express thoughts. You connect with your authentic feelings. Writing can be incredibly illuminating and can help lead your mind out of its darkest place.
7. Take risks
When I started going to therapy, I had an intense fear of being alone and not having a boyfriend at all times. Boyfriends were mirrors for me and if I didn’t have one, I didn’t think I had value. Facing my fear of living alone gave me the courage to realize I determine my own value.
My choice to seek talk therapy put me on a path to fight depression and win. I still struggle from time-to-time with the ghosts of old issues, but I now see my battle with depression as a resilience builder that gave me the tools to be an incredibly happy adult.
Sandra Bienkowski is a regular contributor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.