Labels are important. They help us navigate our world and understand what is happening in our lives. If you've taken my Money Mindset Course (or ever talked to me in person), you know where I stand when it comes to the thoughts we think and the words we use to describe our experiences.
Like, really, really important. Literally life changingly important. When you think a thought your brain is wired to support that thought - whether or not the thought is conducive to your success or not. It's super important to get get a handle on the thoughts we choose to think, and we choose them all, because if we don't our lives will run away from us. We'll just keep on choosing the same thoughts, which will lead to the same experiences day after day after day.
Slapping labels on things, thoughts, feelings, relationships, and rat poison can be really helpful. Labels let us know what to put into our bodies, they help us identify our feelings so that we can process them, and they can make us look clingy when we're in a new relationship.
Labels lead us to thoughts about those labels. "Are we dating? We don't have a label yet. Omg, he probably isn't into me because he won't call me his girlfriend. He won't label what this is. Hmm he didn't text back this morning. Jeeze, wow, what an ass. He hasn't texted me back in over 48 hours." Suddenly you've gone from fine to freak out in 30 seconds, when the truth is he dropped his phone in the toilet and his not responding has nothing to do with you. You're just freaking out because you had one thought that said your relationship was precarious, so your old buddy, your 2 million year old brain, ran with it.
Here's the thing, this process works for everything else in our lives. Let's say that you decide one day that life isn't really going your way, so you must be depressed. You're sure the reason for your being sluggish, unmotivated, and blah is straight up depression. You've decided that you're a depressed person. What do you think your brain is going to do now?
It will find every reason to support your label of depression.
Speaking from my own experience, there have been times where I decided it was easier to label myself as depressed than it was to buckle TF down and make big changes in my life. Depression, for me, was an excuse to not face the things that we're holding me back or dragging me down. Over the years, I've honed these 5 questions to ask myself before I label myself as actually depressed. Once I journal through the answers and implemented these strategies over a few days if I still felt stuck, then I'd seek help.
1. When was the last time I vigorously exercised or lifted something heavy?
Seriously. When was the last time you celebrated what your body is capable of? Although I absolutely love walks, I don't count walks as exercise. I count them as a baseline of activity - I make it a priority to walk to most of my weekly appointments and errands. With this question, I really mean, when was the last time you went for a hike that gained substantial (for you) elevation over at least 6 miles with a pack? When was the last time you deadlifted at least 50% of your body weight? Or, the last time you hit your maximum heart rate with a loaded sled sprint? I think running is boring torture, so I don't do it, but maybe it's your thing. When was your last run? Personally, I find that if I go more than 2 days without exercise of that caliber, I start to feel slow and mopey. Hitting the gym or the foothills for a hike usually has an immediate positive effect on my mood. I value fitness so much, in fact, that I require all of my coaching clients to workout at least twice a week (most do more once they see how it makes them feel).
2. How much sugar have I consumed recently?
I basically eat only meat and vegetables, but there are times when I slip up and binge on garbage. Happens. When I say sugar, I don't just mean candy. Sugar is any bread, rice, pasta, dessert, or booze. When these "foods" (I use that term very lightly about these items) find their way into my system the first place that takes a hit is my mood. Super simple explanation: sugar is inflammatory. Inflammation is one of the leading causes of depression. This blog post gives you a birds eye view about the interplay between sugar and depression. If I realized I've been riding the sugar train too hard, I immediately correct course by tossing out the offending products. Typically the next step involves a big plate of scrambled eggs with an extra yolk and as much pastured bacon as I can eat (a lot). This meal always helps get me back on track diet wise (please don't fear cholesterol, your body needs it), and I find that my mood will typically improve in about 48 hours. There's a science to why I rely on that meal. Interested in why? Email me.
3. How has my sleep been lately?
Sleep is a huge indicator of what your mood is doing. Obviously, food, diet, and sleep are all interrelated, and usually if I find that one is off at least one of the others is off too. If I notice that I'm having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up, or that the sleep I'm getting doesn't feel adequate, it's time to kick my nightly routine into overdrive. I've detailed how I optimize my nightly routine for restorative sleep in this blog post. When sleep begins to suffer, I make sure to hit all 7 of my steps to a perfect night of sleep. A solid night of sleep, like the kind where you could sleep through a fire alarm, usually has me feeling back to normal the next morning.
4. When was the last time I was out in nature?
This one is huuuge for me. I'm usually pretty on top of the fitness, diet, and sleep, but because I live in Los Angeles, it can sometimes be a struggle to get out of the city into deep nature consistently. Any casual observer of my Instagram can tell that l thrive in the wild. So when a few weeks go by where I haven't felt dirt under my feet, smelled a pine tree, or gotten as naked as possible in some sunshine - I'm going to feel pretty rough. Science backs me up here - vitamin D from the sun is a precursor to sooo many bodily functions, the dirt improves your gut bacteria, and nature is anti-inflammatory. I could write an entire post about it, but National Geographic has me covered. I'm fortunate that I can walk down to the Pacific Ocean for immediate natural relief, but science shows that literally just going out into your backyard and laying in the grass can have the same positive effect. If I notice I'm low on exercise in addition to time in nature, a hike is always in order.
5. When was the last time I had a real conversation with someone?
I work remotely, from home, by myself. It can get a little lonely. When I'm on a deadline for a project I'll neglect social interactions to get the job done. This even goes for having a real, non-work related conversation with my husband. So, if I'm feeling low, I always take stock of what's been going on socially. Have I seen friends recently? Did I stop working for ten minutes to talk to my partner when he walked through the door? If a lack of a social life is the culprit to my low mood, it's usually the slowest turn around time to bouncing back simply because of scheduling. Obviously, I can't force people to hang out with me, everyone has busy schedules, and I will feel a little shame and guilt for only reaching out once I need to for my own sake. That said, I think it's a great opportunity to put something on the calendar with another person -- especially if that's a hike, fitness class, or a healthy home cooked meal had together. One thing that is nice about working for myself and living on the West Coast is that I can often call my friends and family back home in Cleveland when they're getting out of work. That said, phone calls help, but don't provide the same positive and immediate effects of face to face social interaction.
When I feel something I'd like to label and dismiss as a wishy washy depression kick in, I hit my journal with these five questions. Taking honest stock of where you fall on these life changing activities will give you a clear picture into what might be causing your mood to falter, and will give you immediate action steps for remedying the situation. If you currently don't have any of these strategies implemented in your life, which one are you most interested in trying out? Do you have any surefire ways to make yourself feel better? Tell me in the comments!
Obviously, there are low points in our lives where depression finds us. It happens. It absolutely does. It is awful. I'm not a clinician. If you think you're legitimately depressed, you should find a good therapist to talk to and work with. Here is a helpful resource for finding help in your area. These strategies work for me, and I hope that my experience will help you!