January just ended, and it’s already been a horrible year.
I know that’s not inspirational. I know it doesn’t fit the entrepreneurial model. It’s not the company line when you’re trying to posture yourself as a thought leader or business expert.
But it is the truth.
I’m depressed. Clinically. I take medication every day to make me feel able to get up and face the tasks I have ahead of me.
Most days I’d rather stay in bed than get up. And when I do finally pry myself out of bed, my first challenge is to make myself take a shower and not wear the same clothes as yesterday. When I sit down to work, I fight the constant urge to fill my time mindlessly surfing social media. It’s just easier than having to focus and fight my way through feeling unmotivated and uninspired.
I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I know I’m not.
Entrepreneurs often live isolated lives. Often we work alone, away from camaraderie of an office environment. Many times we confuse work and personal time, lacking boundaries that protect us from burnout. When the entire company rests on your shoulders, you tend to work more hours, take fewer vacations and overload yourself with stress and worry. Long hours, bad food, and financial challenges can take their toll on a person.
Plus, researchers have found that motivated, creative, energetic people are more likely to become entrepreneurs. But those innate traits that draw us to the challenge of entrepreneurship also make us more susceptible to intense emotional states like depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
So if you’re like me and feel like you’re fighting a daily battle with yourself to wake up and keep pushing and creating, here are a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance. I’m not always successful with these, but when I am, I find they help.
Get Some Sleep
I know, you feel like sleeping all the time. But I’m not talking about that depressed feeling of just wanting to lay around in bed all day.
I’m talking about becoming more intentional about your sleep. Get a bedtime and wake up that makes sense and try to sick to it. I have tried going to bed an hour or so earlier than I used to, and it has really helped with my urge to lay in bed in the morning.
Watch Your Input
Think about the holes in your head. Eyes and ears, nose and mouth. No, it’s not a children’s song. Make sure you’re putting good stuff into those holes in your head.
Consume media that supports healthy thoughts and feelings. Our first instinct is to spend time in the darkness, because that’s what we feel. Instead, choose input that uplifts and inspires you.
Often, when depressed, our eating habits become irregular. Either we overeat, or we have no appetite. Think about this: your body does not naturally produce any of the nutrients your brain needs for optimal health. None. They all come from the food and water we consume. If you’re battling your brain on a daily basis, give yourself the best chance to win the fight. Eat properly.
There are two types of people in the world: givers and takers. When you are depressed it’s important to limit your contact with the takers of the world. These are the people who will suck the life out of you and leave you for dead. These are the people who complain or are constantly negative.
It’s been said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Look at your five. Do they have anything to do with the mood you’re in? If so, maybe it’s time to find a new five.
Don’t forget your nose. It’s amazing what a pleasant smell can do for your mood. Find one that makes you feel good. Maybe it’s a smell you remember from childhood. My wife bought me a sandalwood candle the other day that just makes me feel peaceful when I burn it. Don’t underestimate the power of all your senses in affecting your mood.
Do One Thing
There are days I could literally sit in a chair and do absolutely nothing. All. Day. Long. I don’t have any motivation. I know there are things I should be doing, but it’s just so hard to get started. It’s like thinking just takes too much effort.
Something I’ve tried and found to help is to just take one action. No matter how small, the very act of making myself do something is a powerful tool. It plays into my natural inertia. Once I’m going, it’s easier to keep going. So when I find myself fighting that motivation battle, I give myself permission to feel however I want, after I do one small thing towards my goal.
Plus, I feel better because I didn’t let the darkness win. I did something in spite of it. For a brief moment, I was in control.
Depression can become a snowball of gazing at ourselves. When you don’t feel good, it’s easy to be inwardly focused and fixated on our depression. Nothing reverses this tendency like serving others. Plus, there’s a dopamine hit you’ll get when you feel like you’ve made someone else’s life better.
Find a way to serve. Through your church, homeless shelter, nursing home or school club. Get yourself looking forward at others instead of in the mirror at yourself.
There’s something powerful that happens when we slow down long enough to just be present with ourselves without judgment. Those moments where we lay down our thoughts and just give ourselves permission to “be.”
Prayer is a powerful tool to remind us of a higher power that loves us. But even if you’re not religious, intentionally becoming present with yourself will do wonders.
Sit in a comfortable chair, walk in nature, look out the window, whatever works for you. Try to concentrate on your breath. Remember, no judgment. You can’t do this wrong.
Professional help is not a bad word. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you are a loser. Talk to someone, preferably a competent professional. Opening up to the pain might be scary, but you can’t walk around it, you have to walk through it.
Medication is not a sign of weakness. I always like to think of it like diabetes. That’s a chemical imbalance in your body that can cause all sorts of problems if it’s left untreated. A chemical imbalance in your brain is no different. Get the chemicals worked out.
You Are Not Your Depression
Just because you battle depression does not mean you cannot be successful. Some of the most creative people in history battled severe depression. I believe it’s because those who are smart and sensitive perceive more than the rest of the world. We can’t ignore all the pain and senselessness like others. We see it, feel it, and internalize it.
You do not have to let depression define you. I’m sure you are a smart, funny, creative person who has a lot to offer the world. The world deserves to have the unique contribution only you can make. I have been able, in spite of my depression to build a successful podcast and business, travel the world serving kids in poverty, and have been married to my wife for thirty years. It’s possible.
It’s a fight you must face. We all have our crosses to bear, and depression is mine. At least for now. Maybe it is for you as well. Just know you’re not the only one. Others deal with it daily and are winning the battle. Not always, but sometimes.
And we’ll take what we can get.