If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read about my depression: LINK
I was in such a bad condition that every single psychiatrist I went to told me I would need 6-12 months to start eating, sleeping and working again. That is IF I started recovering today. And I had only been getting worse over the last 5 months.
And then, out of nowhere I found this guy who beat depression by doing visualizations every day. I tried them and something in my brain clicked. Things started to change, fast*. The night I tried the visualization technique for the first time, I felt a short burst of energy and motivation after just 10 min. of practice. And I hadn’t felt motivated and energetic for months.
The visualization technique itself really simple. People don’t even try it when I tell them, so explaining HOW and WHY it works is a lot more important than the technique itself.
Humans are complex animals. We think the way out of tough situations like a major depression episode must be very complicated and hard. Otherwise we would have guessed the way out ourselves, right… Don’t be that guy (I sure was).
Here is what I did to recover: I visualized that I’m feeling better and I started getting better. Now back to why and how and the reason I keep saying it’s so important:
- Understanding WHY visualizations work will give you the logic behind it and the faith it could help you too (otherwise you will never try it)
- Learning HOW to do them right will keep you on track until they start working (otherwise you’ll give up before they do)
THE VISUALIZATION TECHNIQUE
The human brain is both amazingly powerful and amazingly simple. It has two main frequencies of work – conscious and subconscious. Out of millions of years of evolution, only the last 10 – 12 000 have been governed by the conscious mind. It’s easy to imagine most of our brain capacity and potential is still hidden in our subconscious. And it is. The subconscious rules all of our emotions, thoughts, feelings, enzymes and hormones production, etc. Depression is a therefore a problem of the subconscious mind, not the conscious one.
Depression (as OCD, anxiety attacks, etc.) is a reaction of the subconscious brain to excessive stress. I can’t bold that sentence enough: A person is depressed when their subconscious has undergone or is undergoing too much stress.
To recover, you only need to unwind and relax your mind. Which sounds really hard if you’re depressed but this visualization technique will give you the tools to calm it down.
WHY does stress cause our brains to malfunction? Because those millions of years of evolution have trained us that STRESS = DANGER. In small or unfrequent doses, stress improves our concentration, reactions and pattern-recognition to escape danger. So it’s in fact a good thing. In small doses, that is. But nowadays we’re constantly overworked, underslept and unhappy, making us more stressed than we’ve ever been. Stress accumulates in our brain until it takes it out of order. Today we feel constantly stressed which means our subconscious feels in constant danger. Our brain logically shuts off non-vital functions like metabolism, sleep, emotions, serotonin and endorfins production (happiness hormones). They are not crucial for our survival under extreme danger. You don’t need to be happy or to digest well when a bear is chasing you (that’s the levelsof stress you’ve put your mind under)
It sounds silly, but depression symptoms, a.k.a. your subconscious shutting non-vital body functions, is just a defense-mechanism. Our subconscious takes everything literally. It doesn’t make a difference between real danger (the bear) and too much stress over a too long period (tough year at work + a breakup).
Don’t hate your brain for doing what it does. In fact, now that you know how it reacts to stress and that this reaction caused depression, you can try to turn things around. Just like I did.
HOW VISUALIZATIONS WORK
As we mentioned, your subconscious takes everything literally. It has no eyes. It cannot make a difference between real danger and feeling in danger. But here’s the key: This is equally true for positive emotions. It makes no difference between what’s real and what’s vividly imagined. If you can picture being on the Eiffel Tower in Paris down to the last small detail, your brain believes you are there. That’s why you can feel the same emotions, as if you were really there.
Let’s say it again: If you can really make your subconscious feel you’re not in danger and you’re getting better, you’ll start getting better.
Now we’re left with HOW to trick yourself into believing you’re not in danger:
Your subconscious is the far faster and more powerful part of your brain. To use its power, you just have to listen and speak in its language. It doesn’t speak English. It speaks through our intuition (emotions, pictures). And it doesn’t understand English, nor any other human language. Again, it understands emotions and vivid images.
If you intentionally project a different reality to it though visualizing things differently, it quickly starts doubting you’re in such grave danger. And it starts seeking proof that you’re in fact getting better.
Here’s how I did the visualizations:
1. Visualize your life with no sign of depression. Picture it down to the last detail – what kinds of things you do, with whom you do them, how you look, where you hang out, how you feel, how you’re dressed, how have your thoughts changed, how much energy you have.
2. Engage all your 5 senses. Picture what the air feels like on your skin, what your favorite person’s perfume smells like, what that delicious desert you’re eating together tastes like, what that great song you’re listening to sounds like. Remember – you just need to briefly forget this is not real and pretend that it is. Imagine you’re an actor/actress and you’re playing a movie scene. Only for a minute or two.
3. Do it in the present tense. Ignore that this reality is only present in your head and try to visualize all of this happening NOW. It’s all in front of you and it’s amazing. You may feel silly at first, but it’s powerful. And if this made me believe I could sleep and eat again, why not help you recover too?
4. Be patient. At first the visualizations won’t come naturally to everyone, so you might not feel them working right away. But learning how to guide and affect your mind is worth every bit of your patience. It changed my life forever. In my case 2 weeks* were enough to get me back on my feet and get me the best mental shape of my life. In your case it might take more, but when you feel it working, time won’t matter. You’ll know you’re on your way to recovery and you’ll feel relaxed and motivated to keep on.
5. Feel free to take it further. There are no boundaries here. Visualize your life filled with positive people, adventures, great friends and lots of love. Anything that makes your subconscious feel better, so it starts releasing the happiness hormones again. The serotonin and endorfins produced in those brief visualization sessions will start to balance your thoughts and emotions again.
6. Write it down. Our minds are speed-runners, especially when we feel in danger. Writing makes doing the visualizations slower, which in its own turn makes them more mindful. The first time I felt the change happening in my brain, I wrote the visualizations down. For the first week, I wrote them anew every day, then I started reading the old ones, updating them once a week.
7. Do it twice a day. Trying to trick your brain is tricky itself. First, it needs repetition and devotion. Don’t skip and if you accidentally do, NEVER skip twice, until you’ve recovered. The best time to do it is when you wake up and before you go to bed. That’s when you’re sleepy and when your mind’s logical resistance is weaker. Your subconscious is more open to “inception” when it’s more relaxed.
8. If you can’t visualize, try this: Pick a small object at home, hold it in your hand and study it from all sides for a minute. Then close your eyes and try to visualize every detail of it. Repeat 2-3 times every day and try changing the objects if you want. This will make you better at visualizing.
Another trick that will help you learn to visualize is gratitude – it works like magic. Being grateful for only a minute or two, 2-3 times a day, at a specific time. I do it when I wake up and go to bed, and when I’m in my car back from work. It also produces those same hormones of happiness that relax your stressed mind a bit.
Here’s how I practice gratitude: Several times a day I try to feel a small “touch” of warmness inside of me. I’m grateful for being able to see something cute or beautiful or nice around me. Something very small – like watching the leaves dance in the wind or seeing someone smile, or enjoying a deep breath of air. There’s so much wonder around us to feel grateful for. You can even be grateful you found my website because I’m doing my utmost to help you recover and get back to your happy self.
Don’t push yourself to be super-grateful if you still feel unhappy, just experience some small glimpses of the goodness of life – that’s all you’re aiming for. This will trigger your imagination and motivation and in a few days you’ll be able to feel truly happy for a few seconds or even a minute. Keep practicing and you’ll soon be able to do the whole visualization technique.
* DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is true and complete to the best of my knowledge. As I am not a therapist, I cannot guarantee specific results. The results from applying my methods may vary from person to person. But I’ve done my best to explain how and why they worked for me and I’m deeply hoping they can help you with your recovery too.