Did you know one of the most effective and impactful ways to overcome depression is to get out of your own head? Easier said than done right? When we feel down, our thoughts, words, and attitudes tend to be negative. We tend to predict crummy outcomes and think poorly of ourselves, others, our situations, the world, the future…any or all of the above. I have found over and over again that cognitive-behavioral therapy (thinking and doing things differently) is invaluable to overcoming depression (and anxiety).
When I worked at the Behavior Therapy Center years ago, I quickly learned that two goals are incredibly powerful in treating depression: 1) behavioral activation (getting busy DOING something productive/pleasurable) and 2) socialization (connecting with others, fostering a sense of belonging). These are the quickest and most effective ways to spark your energy and thoughts down a different path. I can start a day feeling badly and within minutes of connection feel completely energized and different! Of course it’s not quite as simple as saying, “stop thinking that” or “just change your thoughts.” In fact these can usually make matters worse because they ‘seem so simple’ they contribute to feelings of futility when not overcome. Instead, what I recommend for achieving both simultaneously with one activity? Volunteer! Whether you volunteer for an event, for an agency, virtually, for a hospice or pet shelter…what matters most is that you get out of your head and into feeling productive like you are serving a purpose greater than yourself even for a few moments. Pain forgotten, pain gone.
Tips for connecting can be found in my book, Don’t Be A Stranger! Check out teasers from my book here. Applying principles and tips from my book will help you position you to be more approachable and disarming even on the days when you feel least approachable and likely to connect with others. If you’re feeling extra courageous and willing to fight for ‘you,’ empower yourself to own the moment. Actively create opportunities for connection by starting the dialogue! Almost everyone in the world seeks connection. Fight those thoughts in your head and get into the world by being the person to start the dialogue. Say the first hello. Make eye contact first. Voice the first compliment. Let the person know what you appreciate about their presence. Ask how you can help, and focus on how you can serve others. Don’t wait! Remind yourself, there’s always someone out there wishing they had your life. As your start volunteering, getting active, engaging with others, and getting out of your head, you’ll notice a growing sense of purpose and connection and with that comes joy, fun, and uplifted spirits. As you start to see your impact on the world around you, you can’t help but start to feel better…even for a moment…it matters. You matter.
Not sure where to start? Search a favorite organization/benefit/charity or cause you feel strongly about (sometimes because a loved one has been afflicted or you’ve seen a certain group do great things). Reach out to the agency you’re curious about, and ask if they have opportunities for volunteers. Reach out to founders of the charities and Friends of Charity I support here, or check out websites like www.volunteermatch.com for periodic opportunities to give of your time. Financial donations are certainly invaluable to agencies to rely on contributions to operate, but I simply can’t say enough about the power of giving of your time and seeing the impact of your giving first-hand. Anyone can write a check. Show up my friends. See the work. Do the work.
Continue to see your impact on the world one memorable moment and connection at a time. You might be amazed when you look back and realize you actually changed even a little bit of the world. 🙂