Disclaimer: The content in this article is based on my own personal experience, opinions, and research I did on my own. I am not a doctor or therapist. If you suspect you have depression, please consult a doctor and/or licensed mental health practitioner.
Like many Americans, I fought depression on and off for a number of years.
It robbed me off my ability to perform well at my job, build relationships with others, and live a generally happy, creative lifestyle. I wouldn’t wish this stifling pain and agony on anyone.
Beating my depression was one of the hardest and most satisfying endeavors of my life. I slayed dragons and fiercely battled demons as I stood up to the dark nights of my soul.
I’ve debated for over a year about whether to write this article but decided that there were so many valuable stories worth sharing with you guys. Here’s to your happiness!
My Depression Turned Me Into A Lazy, Overeating Porn Aficionado Who Drank Too Much Whiskey
My depression wasn’t just about me being a sad guy who’d mope around the house all day in a cloud of self-loathing.
It turned me into the worst, most uninspiring version of myself.
It’s scary to even think about now.
I’d gorge myself on processed junk food, drink way too much whiskey, and watch tons of porn (to the point where I couldn’t get an erection anymore). I did whatever was easy to feed my brain the shots of serotonin and oxytocin that it was hungry for.
All the while, I’d be making excuses why I wasn’t showering, reading, lifting weights, or with a woman.
My loneliness was crippling my social life, starting a vicious cycle of pain. I’d be depressed, so I’d isolate myself to feel better, depressing me even further. The “black dog of depression” had sunk his teeth into me and drug me into the depths of a very nasty place.
I felt worthless and like I would never achieve anything close to greatness. Every self-defeating action only reinforced the last negative thought, piling more hopelessness and lethargy onto an already toppling pile of despair.
If this sounds familiar, please keep reading. There is another way.
The Hidden Truths About Anti-Depressants
I knew this had to change. I wasn’t going to let myself suffer like this anymore.
I didn’t want to bother with a prescription anti-depressant such as Prozac. I knew I could do this without medication. I beat anxiety without meds; I could do it with depression.
Anti-depressants have some serious side effects ranging from weight gain, loss of sex drive, erectile dysfunction, loss of motivation, and even increased risk of suicide.
In a meta-analysis of anti-depressant studies, Irving Kirsch, a clinical researcher from University of Connecticut, found that anti-depressants only performed slightly better than a sugar pill placebo.
I wasn’t going to bet on these pills to solve the problem. The side effects were worse than what I was already going through.
I am in no way anti-prescription for those depression sufferers with a legitimate chemical imbalance — those folks need a hand. There’s significant evidence to show that severely depressed patients experience meaningful improvement by taking their meds. I fully support that.
When I dug into Dr. Stephen Ilardi’s research, though, I learned something very startling about depression in America…
Over the last 20 years, there has been a 300 PERCENT INCREASE in anti-depressant use in the U.S.
I’m not a medical or mental health professional but that figure told me that this issue ran much deeper.
I know that medications are only one part of the solution for many diseases. Heart attack victims, for example, are given medications to regulate their blood pressure but they are also advised to make lifestyle changes such as improving their diet and to exercise more. To me, beating depression wasn’t any different.
The staggering number of Americans on anti-depressants was not even close to being normal. Something was fundamentally off with our habits, nutrition, and lifestyle. I was determined to find the solution.
I knew if I could change my habits I could change my life. So I did. (And, you can too!)
The Lifestyle Solution
In Fall 2014, I committed to myself that all of this was going to change.
I designed a 3-point lifestyle program intended to beat my crippling depression, with inspiration from “The Mood Cure” by Julia Ross, M.A. and “The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs” by Dr. Stephen Ilardi.
While a full transformation of my depression took some serious time and focus, I began seeing marked improvements in my mood within a week or so. No matter how severe your depression is, a lifestyle change will produce noticeable results.
Curious to know what are the 3 steps to kicking your depression’s ass?
- Mind: Priming your mind for happiness and confidence.
- Body: Your physical health is a powerful ally in the battle against depression.
- Soul: Learning to share your happiness with the world around you.
If you’re ready to beat the pants off of your depression, buckle up and let’s get started.
Prime Your Mind For Happiness
When I suffered from depression, I’d often place the blame and solution for my depression outside of myself. “It’s just the way I’m built”, I’d tell myself. The cure, I believed, was something like a new job, more money, a different woman.
The path first starts with you. The answer lies between your ears: you must create a healthy mental space to dissolve your depression. These three practices are the most necessary and effective steps in this entire program.
- Practice Mindfulness: I’ve long advocated mindfulness meditation as the single most impactful activity that a growth-minded person could engage in.
Mindfulness is a deceptively simple practice that teaches you to ‘watch’ your thoughts without judging them or yourself. This gives you the freedom to be aware of the present moment and choice over the emotions you engage.
After 5 years of practicing mindfulness, I’m now quicker to choose the emotions and reactions that I experience. This gives me more control over my anxiety, depression, and any generally shitty thought patterns I have.
When You Can Choose Your Emotions, You Can Experience True Freedom.
A recent study by the British medical journal Lancet found thatmindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT) was equally effective in treating depression as anti-depressants. If you decide to see a mental health professional (which I heartily recommend), see if there are MCBT specialists in your area.
Get a detailed treatment in the Naked Charisma guide to mindfulness meditation.
- Create More Useful Beliefs: Once you have a good handle on mindfulness and are able to ‘watch’ your thoughts, you’ll understand the chatter that goes on in your head during your depressive episodes.
Spoiler Alert: Most of those thoughts are ugly, hateful, and self-defeating!
If your internal dialogue is consistently pessimistic, it’s no small wonder why your depression is prolonged. Repetition of this garbage will lead to you believing it.
Lucky for you, there’s an easy way to re-program your shitty self-talk: interrupt it and re-phrase it.
Many pessimistic, depressed, and anxiety-ridden people phrase their self-talk in a more fundamentally negative way than others.
Shitty self-talk is typically: negative in intent; universal in scope; and personal in focus.
Let’s say you flirt with a cute girl at a bar but she doesn’t respond well. A negative person would walk away from the interaction and think something like this:
This always happens to me. Women never like me. I guess I’m just not attractive.
Let’s look at this: “This always happens to me (universal in scope). Women never like me (universal in scope, negative in intent). I guess I’m just not attractive (personal in focus).”
It’s like one of those fill-in-the-blanks Madlibs puzzles…but for bitching and complaining.
As you notice that you’re talking a lot of shit to yourself, just say “Stop!”. That teaches you that you have control over your thoughts. You’re no longer at the whim of your emotions.
Once you’ve done this, you can go back and re-word your self-talk to something more empowering (or neutral, at the very least).
Positive self-talk about setbacks is much different: positive in intent; situational in scope; and impersonal in focus.
Healthy self-talk for when a girl ices you out would look something more like this:
That’s unusual. I wasn’t a jerk or anything; I guess she’s having a bad day or has a boyfriend. There’s other girls here to connect with, though.
Let’s look under the hood at this one: “That’s unusual (situational in scope). I wasn’t a jerk or anything; I guess she’s having a bad day or has a boyfriend (impersonal in focus). There’s other girls here to connect with, though (positive in intent).”
That sounds and feels a lot more empowering, doesn’t it?
Learn more concrete examples of how to stop negative self-talk.
- Stay Connected With People: When I was in the throes of my depression, I would alienate myself from people. My favorite activity was to sit in my bedroom and drown in my overwhelming emotions for days. I’d shut myself off from most people and rarely socialize.
If you’ve suffered from depression, this is a pretty damn familiar feeling. You know exactly what it feels like to shut out the world to ruminate.
It’s the only way you can feel safe and free from the pain of depression.
However, there’s a big fucking problem with this way of coping…
Alienation Is A Short-Term Solution With Serious Long-Term Consequences.
A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that prolonged loneliness creates a biological reaction that increases inflammation and deep sixes your body’s immune responses.
Cellular inflammation and a weakened immune system put you on the fast lane for getting seriously sick. Think about that for a second…
Your Loneliness Is Literally Killing You!
A 75-year Harvard study of men’s social habits found that socially isolated people are “less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.”
Can I be any clearer about this?!
If you’re suffering from depression, you have to maintain positive social relationships. This is an absolute must! Alienation ends up creating a nasty cycle of avoidance and further plummeting depression.
Reach out to your friends and family. Tell them what you’re going through and that you need them. There’s no shame in getting the love that you need, my friend.
Strong Body, Strong Mind
Having a mind that’s primed for connection and positivity is the first step towards beating your depression. But, willpower alone will not do the trick.
There are very real biological components to your depression. The most effective way to prime your body for this is by changing your physical lifestyle. This means staying active, lifting weights, getting the right nutrition, and eating well.
- Lift Weights: It’s hard to pick my favorite, most effective part of this lifestyle change but, if I had to, lifting weights and staying active would be the one.
One of the first times I hit the gym and started lifting, I couldn’t come down from the buzz for a few days. Nothing fazed me. It was hard to even imagine what being depressed was even like.
The More I Lifted, The Happier I Became.
It wasn’t just a ‘day after’ high. It cut deeper than that.
I was calmer. I was more level-headed. My wild emotions were finally in check. And, it never went away.
Come to find out, the culprit behind this new-found happiness was inside me the whole time: testosterone.
Now, it was no secret to me that lifting weights caused an increase in testosterone, the male sex hormone. The jacked dudes at the gym were proof enough of that.
A 2012 study on testosterone opened my eyes to a very astonishing fact that influenced the entirety of my physical practice…
Testosterone Is A Natural Anti-Depressant.
As a man, I’m filled to the brim with a hormone that is the gateway to strong willpower and feeling like a champion. This was a fucking awesome realization.
Swing the kettlebell and push the iron. This is a solid way to kick your depression to the curb (and you end up looking really good if you stick with it). It’s science, baby.
Need help getting started with working out? Short of heading to your nearest weight room, check out these resources:
Read Victor Pride’s “Body of a Spartan” e-book for a very no-bullshit approach to getting in shape.
Need a simpler workout for the days you can’t make it to the gym? Get down with Tim Ferriss’s kettlebell routine. It’s a scorcher and will do wonders for your ass and abs.
Don’t Want To Lift Weights? Walking Will Do The Trick, Too!
Duke University professor Dr. Jim Blumenthal found that taking three 30-minute walks per week was at least as effective as taking Zoloft, a popular anti-depressant. Ten months into the study, Blumenthal found that the walking patients were more likely to remain depression-free than patients who took Zoloft.
From a totally personal perspective, I recommend a big focus on hitting the gym and lifting weights. You get all the mood improvements with the added side effect of a stronger, leaner, sexier body. Who doesn’t love a good mood and a tight ass?!
Check that out: Exercise gives you all the benefits of anti-depressants with none of the shitty side effects. All it takes is for you to get your ass in gear.
- Take The Right Vitamins & Supplements: Even if you follow a great diet, you’re still going to come up short on some vital anti-depressant nutrients. Don’t trip — they’re all hiding at your local GNC or Whole Foods.
The first and, I believe, most important supplement to take is fish oil — one of nature’s best sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
This shit is seriously liquid magic.
In his tremendous book “The Depression Cure”, depression expert Dr. Stephen Ilardi shows that omega-3 fatty acids have been found to have a powerful anti-depressant effect in loads of studies over the last 10 years or so. (Not to mention stellar effects on bone density, heart health, and cholesterol levels, too!)
In a very small nutshell, Dr. Ilardi and others have found our modern diets, severely lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, are contributing to a high level of bodily inflammation. And, this inflammation can have devastating effects on our body’s cortisol (stress) and serotonin (happiness) levels.
Fish oil, as you can imagine, can taste pretty funky. I recommend getting a bottle of Barlean’s Lemon-Flavored Fish Oil from Amazon or GNC — it’s kind of syrupy and actually tastes pretty good, like a lemon candy.
Dr. Ilardi recommends getting a daily dosage of 1000 mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA fish oils. Most commercial fish oils contain both. Depending on the brand, this is a few tablespoons per day.
I also take liquid Vitamin D3 in conjunction with the fish oil to great effect.
Vitamin D3 deficiencies have been linked to depressive symptoms in a number of studies. How, exactly, Vitamin D3 impacts depression isn’t totally understood yet. However, it’s assumed that it has an impact on serotonin levels, your brain’s “happy hormone”.
D3 is created in our bodies when we’re exposed to sunlight. If we don’t get much sunlight (in winter, for example), we’re likely to develop a vitamin D deficiency. Small wonder why so many people get seriously depressed in the winter time when there’s no sunlight, huh?
I hate taking pills, so I do a few sprays of Garden of Life Vitamin D3 spray each morning. Mine is vanilla-flavored and pretty easy to take.
As a pale Irish guy, I can’t stay in the sun long without burning my ass, so a steady Vitamin D3 regimen is necessary even if it’s the middle of a scorching summer.
Julia Ross, author of “The Mood Cure”, recommends taking 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) to battle the symptoms of depression. 5-HTP is an amino acid and a chemical your body needs to produce serotonin and melatonin.
Ross recommends taking 50–100 mg of 5-HTP daily. I followed her recommendations to the letter, taking a daily 100 mg time-release tablet, and saw some decent results. Because it helps with melatonin production, 5-HTP also helps regulate your sleep cycles.
Personally, I found 5-HTP to be most effective when I coupled it with a decent diet and some moderate exercise. Even if it was just cutting out liquor for the day and doing 15 minutes of sit-ups and push-ups, the 5-HTP worked really well.
Really, this is the case for any supplement that combats depressive symptoms: don’t expect them to work wonders on their own. But, when coupled with diet and lifestyle changes, these supplements will work some tremendous magic.
- Feed Your Body Well: It’s no secret that eating sugar, processed foods, and bad fats are fucking terrible for you. They’ll jack with your cholesterol levels, increase your risk for heart disease, and turn you into a fat ass. We all know that.
Your diet also impacts your behavior and mental health, too. Did you know that, cowboy?
Be honest with yourself: Do you eat like garbage? Are you regularly putting away chips, Coke’s, burritos, fried foods, and candy bars?
I was living on this shit when I was really depressed. I’d eat a few bags of Cheez-Its and have a few sodas every day at work. I’d have a burger or starchy Thai food four or five times a week. In addition to probably being a great candidate for adult onset diabetes, I later found out that my diet was likely making my depression worse.
Sugar has been implicated in a number of studies on increasing the risk for depression and worsening its existing effects.
A 2012 study of nearly 9,000 patients with no previous history of depression found that those who were given a diet heavy on sweets and processed snack foods were 51% more likely to develop depression than those who didn’t.
At a more fundamental level, simple sugars are a root cause of chronic inflammation which — as we learned earlier — is a major cause of hormonal imbalance that causes depression.
Are you sure you want to keep eating that hot dog, potato chips, and soda? It’s making you sad and fat.
In addition to laying off sugar, consider cooling off on the booze. Alcohol tends to lower testosterone (a natural anti-depressant) and that’s a great way to amplify your depressive symptoms. More obviously, though, ask yourself if you’re drinking to make yourself happy and quell the depressive feelings?
Alcohol abuse is a much bigger question that I can’t address in this blog post. If you suspect you have a depression-related drinking problem, please see a mental health practitioner immediately. This is serious stuff. I’ve lost more than one person I love to alcoholism and I’d hate to know that a reader is suffering from it, too.
Share Yourself With The World
I’m not a very liberal dude but I fucking love John F. Kennedy.
He was incredibly eloquent and a human quote machine. One quote, specifically, about having direction and purpose in your life has stuck with me for years:
Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
Having a strong sense of purpose and direction in your life is crucial when you’re in the midst of depression.
Consider this crazy-ass thought:
Your Depression Is Self-Centered.
You spend the majority of your depressive episodes ruminating, talking shit to yourself, and worrying about what others think about you. It’s vicious and hopeless and all about you.
Want to know the way out of this bullshit?
Give of yourself to the world.
I’m not necessarily talking about feeding homeless people and giving 10% of your money to the church. I mean spending your time and energy giving back to the world and creating something bigger than yourself — a legacy even.
It’s near-goddamn impossible to be sad in the moment when you’re creating and giving to others. Try it.
There’s an easy formula that I like for identifying what your gift to the world is:
What You Do Well + What You Love Doing + What The World Needs
This might change as you get older. Shit, you might try a few of these and find that they don’t stick. That’s cool. Keep at it.
Creating this blog was the final nail in the coffin of my depression.
I was in the pit of a pretty bad depressive episode and fresh out of a break-up, making things bleak. I was in the early days of working through this program when I realized I was missing one element:purpose.
Without purpose, I was selfishly keeping my gold to myself.
When I asked myself what I had to offer the world, the only thing that came up was to tell my story of struggling with shyness, social anxiety, and depression.
I successfully worked through these experiences. I’m a great teacher and writer. I’m passionate about telling this story. Everything just fit perfectly!
But, most importantly, I knew the world needed more fierce storytellers. The world needed more men who would “open a vein” for the sake of others who were fighting the same battle.
I remember that night vividly. That’s the night everything changed.
This was it. I’d talked about it before but now was the time.
A wide smile and a few happy tears were painted across my face as I placed my head in my hands. A deep laugh filled my huge loft apartment as I took my final breath of being depressed.
I was re-born right there. I had purpose.
My rigid, painful body felt relaxed and I breathed a little deeper.
“This is what freedom feels like”, I thought.
Your Depression Is Not A Life Sentence
Depression is viciously tricky. To be in the throes of it is to believe you can’t get out. It can sap you of your hope and motivation for any other way of life. It’s a dead end sign if you don’t have the right resources.
The most popular ‘solution’ to depression today is to take anti-depressants, such as Zoloft and Prozac. While anti-depressants have their uses for victims of heavy depression, they also have a nasty medley of side effects that can be just as bad as the depression itself.
A growing movement of psychological researchers have found that lifestyle changes can decimate your depression without taking anti-depressants. Diverse activities such as meditation, lifting weights, changes in diet, and certain supplements have even been found to be more effective than medications.
I decided to listen to this wisdom.
By creating a lifestyle focused on building my body, eating properly, having a peaceful mind, and giving back to the world, I conquered my depression and found peace and happiness after all.
I believe that you can too.
Peace & Charisma,
Dalton K. Finney