I’m a 28 year old guy that used to suffer from depression, anxiety, and addiction.
I want to tell you about a depression-killing trick I was introduced to 4 years ago that has reliably, and consistently worked to eradicate my depression every time it rears its ugly head.
It works without pharmaceutical drugs and anyone can do it (for free).
Before I get into the actual technique though, I’m going to tell you a little about my life with depression, to see if you can relate. If you do, GREAT. It works for me, and it can work for you too. If not, no worries (though I’d like to hear in the comments what your experience is like, and how it’s different than mine!).
WHAT DEPRESSION IS LIKE FOR ME
I started treatment for my mood disorders at around 10 years old, but couldn’t find a solution that actually worked. I tried pills, all varieties of therapy, lifestyle changes, and of course self-medication with drugs and alcohol.
I would get better for a period of time…only to fall back into the fog once again and watch my life fall apart around me as I lost the energy, motivation and positive outlook on life I’d held on to so briefly.
For me, when it starts to set in, I begin to feel trapped. Stuck in my life. Confused, and unsure of what to do. I might go a few days without cleaning my apartment, shaving, or buying groceries…
The negative self-talk kicks in, and I’m my own worst critic.
You’ll never amount to anything. No one likes you. You’re stupid.
Ever tell yourself any of these things?
I start wanting to stay inside, and avoid my friends. I can’t experience happiness the same way anymore. Even when I know I should be happy, I don’t get that happiness high you’d normally get with the feeling. It’s like the emotional volume is on 0.
EACH TYPE OF DEPRESSION IS DIFFERENT
The symptoms of my depression range in severity from mild (can’t concentrate or think straight, general sense of slowness and lack of motivation, negative thoughts popping up) to “oh fuck I’m drowning” (can’t get out of bed for days on end, can’t leave my apartment, don’t answer my phone, and constantly fantasizing about suicide).
There’s more symptoms, and a whole spectrum of levels of depression I’ve experienced, but those are some of the most common.
My most common depressed episode usually falls somewhere in the mild to medium range, where it isn’t necessarily crippling, but has a drastic effect on my ability to accomplish my goals and maintain relationships that are important to me.
MOST OF ALL, I’M JUST SICK OF THE CYCLE
The hardest thing about depression for me is that even when I’m happy, and feeling fine, I’m secretly wondering when the hammer will drop. It’s like living your life under the constant threat that everything you care about could be taken away in a moment.
I often felt that success is hard-won and short-lived.
But not anymore.
I now have the tools I need–one of which, I’ll teach you in a moment–that I can rely on to break out of depressive cycles faster, and more effortlessly every single time.
It’s not that I don’t get depressed anymore. Depression is both a physical problem due to **chemical imbalance in the brain** AND a mental problem due to **negative thought patterns** that cause the sufferer to spiral down further and further into a depressed state.
HERE’S WHAT WORKS FOR ME
Two years ago, I experienced one of the worst depressive episodes of my life.
There were external factors that contributed an extra level of pain–a really unhealthy relationship falling apart–that made it even more unbearable.
I couldn’t work. I couldn’t eat. I went days on end without changing my clothes or leaving the house. I tried using drugs and alcohol to make the pain go away–even that didn’t work.
I contemplated suicide often. I found myself with a rope around my neck more than a few times, wishing desperately for the willpower to make the move and go through with it. Slowly tightening it, hoping I’d just pass out and the burden of having to make that choice would be taken from me.
But I couldn’t go through with it, because I didn’t actually want to die. I just didn’t want to feel this way anymore.
I knew I needed to try something different, and I recalled that a while back I’d been introduced to a style of therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT.
WHAT’S DIALECTICAL BEHAVIORAL THERAPY?
DBT gives you mental tools for dealing with emotions that cause you to feel distressed. By changing the way you think, you can change the way you feel.
There are four modules that you learn, each building on the last:
1) Mindfulness – You learn to how to notice and identify the emotions that you’re feeling; you learn ways to quiet your mind so you can see which thoughts are contributing to you feeling that way. Without awareness of the problem, you can’t fix it!
2) Distress tolerance – You learn how to calm yourself when you’re feeling out of control or swept up in an emotion that is causing you to act in ways you’ll later regret. The goal here is to prevent yourself from doing any more harm, and calming the emotional waves.
3) Emotion regulation – You learn how to challenge or re-frame thoughts that are causing you pain; how to find a state of ‘wise mind’ where you accept that you are feeling emotional, while also introducing logic and reason to your thinking.
4) Interpersonal effectiveness – You learn scripts for getting what you want out of your relationships; how to ask for what you need; how to identify what kind of outcome you want most, based on what’s important to you, and achieve that outcome.
Depression used to feel like a death sentence
It felt like I was underwater, drowning, without any idea which way was up.
Now, when mental fog and fatigue start to set in and sadness begins to overtake me, I know exactly what I need to do to get better as fast as possible.
I look at it like catching a cold.
When you’re sick, you manage the symptoms with medicine, and carry on as best you can while it runs its course.
The Trick that helps me beat depression
I’ve used this technique more times than I can count to pull myself up out of the depths of this illness, and now you can use it too.
It’s called the Pleasure and Mastery Exercise!
It’s incredibly simple, and highly effective.
Here’s how it works…
You know how when you’re depressed, all you want to do is stay at home and be alone?
…or how even the smallest task like taking a shower, and brushing your teeth twice a day can seem like a monstrous chore?
Your brain and body feel tired, beaten up, and heavy. You just want to sleep or lay around.
But did you know that your brain takes signals from your body to reinforce your mood?
When you lay around, and feel bad about yourself, your body is actually sending chemical signals to your brain saying “I’m depressed”. And your brain in turn makes more chemicals that reinforce that feeling.
The Pleasure and Mastery exercise disrupts that pattern by forcing your body to act as if you’re not depressed, which in turn sends chemical signals to your brain telling it you feel better–then, almost miraculously, you do!
Try this for 14 days and I guarantee you’ll feel better.
The exercise I do is a slight variation on the full Pleasure and Mastery exercise–I’ll go over that in more detail later, but here’s the part that actually works to rid you of depression quickly.
Step 1: Create a Google Drive Spreadsheet
One I created recently looks like this:
Step 2: In the first column, write healthy tasks or activities that give you pleasure.
Pleasure activities are anything that make you feel good and are non-harmful to you.
In my list for pleasure activities, I have:
Take a mindful walk
Take a bath listening to NPR & Essential Oils (I’m a big How I Built This fan–highly recommend it to any entrepreneurs!)
Mindfully eat something (focus all of my attention on eating; focus on taste, texture, sensations)
Step 3: In the first column, continue to write healthy tasks or activities that give you a sense of mastery.
Mastery activities are anything that make you feel a sense of accomplishment.
When I’m feeling especially shitty, sometimes it’s small tasks that mean the most. Taking a shower every day, cleaning a room in my apartment, or brushing my teeth twice per day can all give me a sense of mastery.
If I’m feeling a higher level of capability, taking a class, working on work projects, or planning and cooking a meal at home can be good activities.
I like doing mastery activities the most, because I get a lot of stress when I’m depressed when it feels like my ability to function falls apart. I get a big boost out of getting through things that are hard to do.
In my list for mastery activities, I have:
Take a C1 Class (Martial arts class at local studio)
Deep clean a room in my apt
Floss at night
Read a book
Study marketing, apply skills
Do DBT Homework
Go grocery shopping
Cook a meal at home
Plan a meal to cook
Work on anxiety (stay until it is halved) – an awesome anxiety busting technique I’ll teach you later!
Work on my book
Write a blog post on DBT
Learn about taxes
Take care of things I’m avoiding / don’t want to do
go to DBT group
go to therapy
Step 4: Rate each item 1-10 for the amount of pleasure or mastery it gives you.
In column B on my example (above) you can see that I rated each activity.
I do this so I can try to hit more high-rating tasks in a day–makes the game kind of fun, and you feel more accomplished for hitting those high value targets.
Step 5: Mark off a task every time you do one. Hit at LEAST 5 per day.
This is the important part! Set a goal for yourself to hit 5 tasks per day.
If you’re struggling particularly hard that day, hit all the “low hanging fruit” easy tasks that you can (like brushing your teeth & showering). When you are feeling ambitious, go for those high value targets.
BONUS: Repeat this method often for better results.
When you practice this method every time you get depressed, it will get easier, and depressive episodes go away faster.
Now, when you start to feel down, you know exactly what you need to do to get better quickly.
You’ll know that feeling happy isn’t far out of reach, which will motivate you to hit as many tasks on your list as possible. The more tasks you’re able to do, the faster you’ll get better.
Try this method, and let me know how it went in the private DBT skills group on Facebook!