The following are all common sense things we all know deep down, but sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else. Trust me, I blew half my life sitting in a chair and being cartoonishly depressed. If I can make these changes after this long, you can totally do it wherever you are in life. There is no permanent cure for depression because life is chaotic and changes constantly. We all get overwhelmed. This is not a failing. The suggestions below are part of a holistic approach to keeping yourself in good shape to deal with the flux of life, and they are as much a list for me as for you.
- GO OUTSIDE. Right now. You have a minute. Even if you live in the ‘hood, there’s a park somewhere in town. At the very least, go to a dog park and watch puppies play. If you live in the country, there’s no excuse to not be soaking that up daily. Get to as natural a place as you can, preferably out in the woods or on a mountain or near water. Go somewhere like that, and just take it in. This will remind you of two things that seem contradictory but are both true and essential knowledge. One, there is a whole world going on without you, and therefore, your problems are exactly as significant as anything else. They’re real, but they’re not as huge as they feel from your point of view, and you can handle them in time. Two, you are part of a system too vast for human comprehension that works just fine according to its own rules, even if it does not match your own wants and expectations. We’ve all been trained to feel separate from Nature. Go make contact. Take your shoes off, and get your feet in some beach sand or some forest dirt, and just breathe in that air, relatively free of car fumes and burning trash and the collective farts of thousands of people. Seriously though, go outside every day. That’s where most of the world is.
- Remember the fabled “balanced breakfast” that all those crappy cereal commercials from your youth referred to? It exists, and it’s worth it. Get some protein or you’ll be stupid all day. Coffee does not count as breakfast, but it is a powerful ally. I used to live off boiled eggs but A: they're mostly farts and B: I've gone mostly vegan and find that plant energy burns better for me. After much experimentation I have found a damned satisfying breakfast in the following, and keep in mind this feeds two:
- 2 packets instant oatmeal
- avocado, apple, and banana, halved and sliced
- 2 Tofurkey Italian sausage
- 4 slices multigrain bread, toasted. 2 slices butter and real fruit jam, 2 slices peanut butter
Your mileage may vary, but the more effort you put in to keep things organic and fresh, the greater the reward. I don't care if you use real sausage, but be aware that you're getting half the protein and twice the fat. If you have the time, make a smoothie, the greener the better. If you’re in a hurry in the mornings, maybe you can make part of your breakfast the night before. I slip, and you will too, but you can make up for it.
If you notice that you get spaced out and kind of broken between meals, you may just have a fast metabolism, and you may want to try more frequent, smaller meals. Low blood sugar is more or less identical to intoxication in terms of the way it presents. Look into foods with a low glycemic index so you don’t burn them up as quickly.
- Take a shower. You may not stink, but you’ll feel better. Pretend you’re washing off all the fermenting anxieties clogging up your mind and starting fresh. It sounds corny but just believe it for a few minutes and it’ll help you. Do it at night if your mornings are rushed, or even better, just make the time. Hell, do it twice to bookend the day, or make the night-time session a bath, or whatever. Don’t fall asleep in the bathtub, because drowning is bad for you. Washing up is part of the job. The whole body is a temple thing has truth to it. Your body is your primary house, after all.
- Smile at strangers, and mean it. Not a customer service smile, a “hello in there” smile. Don’t be attached to the result. Enjoy the return smiles and let the dead eyes pass without taking the blame. You never know what people are going through. Try to assume that they, like you, are doing their best. In time, you may find yourself with some unexpected friends. This is particularly valuable with the elderly, because people often stop noticing them, which is awful. Everyone has a story to tell, and that generation in particular has a great deal to teach because they have seen so much rapid change within their own lives. Don’t assume that the stranger across from you is an exception. If they’re dickholes, let them be dickholes. You just keep being you, and do your best to stay open.
- Clean up a little. You are probably too tapped to deep clean your whole house, but straightening up has an immediate psychological effect. When you’re feeling better, you can do a more thorough job, but for now, just make it look nicer. While you’re at it, open those drapes, and crack the windows. Get some fresh air and some natural light going. Do the dishes, sweep the floor, or dust off your furniture as a token of respect for yourself. You’re lucky to have a place to live, and all that stuff, so honor that good fortune by keeping it nice. This one is hard for me, but it’s vital. I don’t know about you, but I have powerful allergies, and it’s self-destructive for me not to keep on top of the dust and pet hair. If you can’t breathe, no wonder you’re feeling half-dead.
- In fact, let’s talk about that for a second. Breathing is so important, and so often taken for granted. You owe it to yourself to take short breaks regularly and breathe deeply. Your body and brain are amazing machines, but they require many variables to be balanced for optimal performance. Oxygenating yourself will help you in so many ways. Take it from someone who spent most of his life barely breathing, it’s worth your time. Taking time to focus on your breath will also help you focus your mind. Meditation is often tarted up as this complex process but really, you can benefit from just counting your breaths for a while. Breathe in, hold it, let it out, repeat. It may sound silly to breathe so deliberately when it happens by itself, but it will make you feel better. Try it.
- Even if you are an atheist, find a practice of some sort and use it to chill yourself out. It doesn’t matter what works, and you don’t have to worship anything. This is about what works for you, and even if you’ve never considered yourself spiritual, you already know what your bliss is, so do it. Personally, I find a mixed approach helpful to avoid getting stuck in dogma while keeping me interested. Rituals are helpful, whether you follow someone else’s or make up your own. I recommend a combination. Sigil magick, for example, helps you get in touch with your desires and is quite personalized by the nature of its process.
You may feel silly when you start a practice, but that’s OK. If it doesn’t work for you, try something else. No one is in charge. Find a personal space and use it for your rituals to recharge as often as you feel you should. Daily practice is good for discipline, whatever you're practicing. It’s not everyone’s bag, but it helps.
- Drink more water. Seriously. Water doesn’t taste like soda or beer but you’ll have to get over it. You can put things in it if that helps but try to get used to just straight water. Try to drink it filtered, even though modern tap water kicks the ass of most of the water that was ever available. There’s some nasty stuff in there and it builds up in your system over time. It helps to get a non-toxic, durable water bottle and fill it yourself from trusted sources so you aren’t buying a thousand disposable poisonous bottles that will just end up floating in the Pacific, killing sea turtles and shit.
- Eat as well as you can. It’s getting hard to know what’s safe to eat, but it’s worth the trouble. I can tell you as someone who was raised on TV dinners and hamburger helper that switching over to real food is absolutely worth it. You can find a habit today that you don’t need, phase it out, and apply that money to eating right. Just start replacing junk foods with organic produce and phasing out meat and dairy, and you’ll notice the difference in quality and the way your body responds almost immediately, which will motivate you to keep at it. You truly are what you eat, so aim higher. Your car can’t run on molasses and you can’t run on chemical simulations of food.
- Give yourself permission to catch up on sleep. It’s worth it. Get in the habit now. If you’re a natural insomniac, start figuring out why by process of elimination and cut out the factors one at a time. It may take a long time to sort out but keep doing it. This is your quality of life we’re talking about. Sleep affects everything, and you will suffer if you don’t get enough. Insufficient sleep also means less dreams, which means your subconscious is constipated and making you crazy. If you are having recurring nightmares, you’re probably trying to tell yourself something. Try writing them down, and see what you can learn from them. They may tell you precisely how to help yourself. If nothing else, you’ll have plenty of new stories.
- Once sleep becomes easier, start getting up earlier. It makes a huge difference. Once it becomes habit, you’ll wonder why you were sleeping in. Morning is beautiful. Getting up early means you start the day with less stress because you have more time before your obligations. It also allows you the freedom to insert good habits where you used to have recovery sleep as a band-aid for the insomnia. It’s a gradual process, but in time, you may find it quite natural.
- Do some kind of exercise every day, even if it’s just walking. You will not always have time for the gym, but you can go do some push ups on the stairs or something. If you have a sedentary job, find something you can do at work and do it a few times a day. Keep it simple so you don’t lose the habit. Hell, I’ll go do it now so you know I’m not a hypocrite. (And I did.) What I do is body weight exercise, hanging off some guard rails at the back end of the plant I work at and doing pull ups, etc. It feels good and it’s dead simple so I recommend it. You can exercise just about anywhere, and it will help you in so many ways. It’ll get your blood moving, which makes your body work better. It releases endorphins so you’ll feel less down and maybe get some clarity. You’ll get the instant gratification of having accomplished something. It can serve as a way to quiet the mind because when you’re focused on something that requires the cooperation of your whole body, it’s hard to think of anything else. Like the breathing, just focus on the counting and you’ll center yourself. Plus, if you stick with it, you’ll start looking and feeling better, and you’ll be more confident. You’ll also start sleeping better. All of this stuff works together.
- If you spend a lot of time at a desk, see if you can convert it to a standing setup and try that out. Have a chair available but try not to use it. Just standing will improve your circulation and general energy level. We were built to live upright! People who sit all the time get fat and die early just like the people who don’t sleep. This is not for everybody, and it’s not even for me all the time, but it feels good when I’m doing it.
- If you love soda, cut down gradually and then abandon it as completely as possible. That shit is bad for you. It is hard to quit, and I still have one once in a while, to be honest, but I would never go back to drinking it daily. It’s worth the effort to quit. High fructose corn syrup is pretty much the nastiest thing you can ingest, and it’s doing more damage than you can imagine. Phase into natural sodas if you need to. They exist and they taste better. Quit soda, and you’ll start getting your energy back. You’ll lose weight, and you’ll stop throwing away fistfuls of dollars on something devoid of nutrition. Remember, soda is everywhere because it costs almost nothing to produce and makes incredible profit, not because it’s useful to your body in any way.
- Drink less booze. It feels great to let go and relax but alcohol is a depressant and you will feel a cumulative effect, plus it makes you fat just like soda. I’m not straightedge or anything, and a beer is definitely nice now and then. The key is moderation. (I won’t tell you to stop drinking just like I won’t tell you to quit smoking. You know you’ll feel better if you do, and you’ll know when you’re ready to do it your way.) I promise, cutting back is not as hard as you think it will be, and if you’re doing the other stuff on the list, you won’t want to drink as much anyway. Also, you’ll save cash, and you can throw that at better groceries.
- If you look at porn, stop. It’s a universe of bullshit, and if you’re looking regularly, it’s fucking you up by distorting very basic components of reality. This is my opinion, but I stand by it.
- If you don’t have a pet, consider it. Animals can teach you a lot. Dogs will teach you how you how to love unconditionally. Cats will teach you how to live without giving a damn. Birds are smart, fish will chill you out, and reptiles are cool. Whether it’s a Great Dane or a millipede, a pet gives you something to care for, which motivates you to be more alive. In the case of a dog or cat, you will get plenty of love right back. Dogs, in particular, are always happy to see you, and make you feel awesome when you come home. I won’t get preachy about it, but adopting pets is really rewarding if you put in the work to make them feel safe. Once an abused animal figures out that you’re never going to do that to them, you won’t find a better friend. If you’re just not an animal type person, visit your friends’ pets or go to the zoo or something. There’s so much to appreciate in the natural world!
- Get some plants. They make clean the air and make oxygen, and they enhance your surroundings.
- Read about things that light up your mind. Stimulate yourself like crazy and maintain your sense of wonder. There is no cutoff age for museums, amusement parks, or cartoons. You do not ever have to grow up to the point of abandoning your childhood loves or capacity for awe. Remain inquisitive, and investigate the things that interest you. This will keep you young, and true to yourself, which is essential.
- Write, even if you never share it. It gives you a release valve and a means of achieving context in the future. It will show you patterns and things to work on. It will also reinforce your identity. It’s powerful stuff, man.
- Post lists like this publicly to keep yourself honest.