Throughout my twenties, I was lost. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t believe in myself. My head was a jumbled mess of negativity and insecurity from a painful childhood. I lost myself in any relationship I found.
Despite my journalism degree, I worked as a waitress and an administrative assistant because I was scared to take a risk. I used food to fill my emptiness. My depression eventually led me to talk therapy.
While weekly therapy wasn’t a quick fix, it gave me lasting tools and coping skills that helped me fight my way out of depression and anxiety. I hope they're of use to you, too.
1. Seek professional help.
I found someone who validated my painful past, who helped me understand why my parents were the way they were, and who called me out on how my current behavior was fueling my depression. We identified issues I had from growing up with an alcoholic parent — fear of abandonment, unexpressed anger, people pleasing — and how I could work through each of these issues. I tell anyone who will listen to find a good psychologist, because talk therapy can have an incredibly positive impact on your life. It could even save it.
2. Practice self-compassion.
Learning self-compassion means learning and choosing to be your best friend more often than your worst critic. Catch yourself. Interrupt negative thoughts. Stop them in their tracks. Forgive yourself quickly for mistakes. Set out to tell yourself kind things and coach yourself with positive pep talks when you need 'em. Ask yourself, at random intervals, whenever you think of it: Am I being a best friend to myself right now? Self-compassion builds resilience because eventually you realize you have your own back.
3. Take responsibility for your choices and your circumstances.
When I was in my twenties, I thought I had bad luck. A possessive boyfriend with lots of drama, credit card debt, a job below my skill level, toxic friends, etc. Then I realized I was the common denominator between all my problems. As I began to make healthier decisions — about relationships, finances and my career — each area started to improve. Take responsibility for your decisions and their consequences. If you don’t like the outcomes, choose differently.
4. Believe in your own strength.
We are all stronger than we think. If you overcame a painful past, you are strong. If you made it through an abusive childhood, you are strong. If you are working to turn adversity into wisdom, you are strong. Tell yourself you are strong. There’s no limit to what you can do when you realize your own inner strength.
5. Set boundaries.
When you set boundaries by telling someone “no” or letting others know what is acceptable to you and what isn’t, you are treating yourself with value. Every time you set a boundary you raise your self worth. The emotional translation of healthy boundaries is, “I matter.”
Think of it like this: The exact opposite of setting boundaries is letting people exploit you and treat you in ways that you know are not acceptable. That’s a slippery slope to eroding your self-image. Set boundaries and you send yourself a clear message that you matter.
6. Remember the things you like about yourself.
Practice self-gratitude. What do you like about yourself? Spend more time thinking about your great qualities. Become a compliment collector. This isn’t about selfies or being egocentric. It’s about repairing a self-image that was knocked around (sometimes by you). Notice the small things you like (like the color of your hair) to the big (like your generosity of spirit) on a daily basis.
7. Prioritize rest.
Some bad days and bad moods just need to be put to bed. Sleep on it. A good night’s rest and a new day can completely change your outlook.
8. Make your anger productive.
When I worked at SUCCESS magazine, our publisher Darren Hardy talked about the value of having an enemy in your mind. “An enemy gives you a reason to fight. Having to fight challenges your skills, character and resolve,” he said. I love this tactic. I often conjure up an enemy in my mind when I want to strengthen my determination. Use a toxic relationship to your advantage by turning the fire of your anger into a fire of resolve to achieve your goals. “I’ll show them” can turn a negative experience into a positive one.
9. Be brutally honest with yourself.
Emotionally healthy people can step outside themselves, examine their behavior, and identify what isn't working. Imagine your life and your role in it as though it were a movie. The more self-aware you are, the easier it is to self-correct and make decisions that are healthy and congruent with who you are — and who you want to be.
10. Journal regularly.
Writing in a journal forces your mind to slow down. It connects you to your thoughts and emotions. Writing can be a cathartic process — a process of self-discovery. Blank pages can capture your thoughts, help you sort through confusing emotions, clarify solutions, or give you space to vent, without fear of judgment. You might not think you're "a journal person," but try to write. Journaling is one of the most effective ways to increase your self-awareness and connect to the real you.
11. Find a form of exercise you love.
For me, running is an emotional outlet. The great outdoors, a killer playlist and a heavy sweat join forces to make me feel like I can conquer anything. Find an exercise you're passionate about and use the benefits of physical activity to empower you emotionally. When you feel physically strong, you feel more emotionally strong.
When we do the hard work on ourselves, we have a chance at actually breaking free from the dark cloud of depression. Only by doing that can we lead the lives we were meant to live.