Uplift: How Pushing Weights Lifts My Depression

“Human beings are designed for regular physical activity. The sedentary nature of modern life probably plays a significant role in the epidemic incidence of depression today.”  Andrew Weil, M.D.

After a long winter and dreadful May of rain and cold temperatures, beautiful June is finally here. The sunlight is filtering through the green tree leaves and warm air blowing across my hair.

Summer’s a great time to start investing in your health again after winter’s hibernation.  People are out walking or working in their gardens.  This whole time of year screams “move!”  I have added weight training as part of my moving routine.  Maybe you can, too.

How Standing Up For Yourself Helps You Fight Depression


Depression the most common mental health disorder in the United States with nearly one in 10 U.S. adults experiencing some form of it. Depression is affecting younger and younger generations, and sadly, it is on the rise. According to the World Health Organization, by the year 2020, depression will be the second most common health problem in the world. With October being Depression Awareness Month, I’m probably not the first to bring this subject to your attention, but what if we took pause to think about what these numbers really mean?

Once we recognize the real impact of depression, not just on a broader world health level, but on the individual lives that it affects every day, we must abolish whatever remains of the stigma that depression is something to be ashamed about, or that it’s just a bad mood, so “snap out of it.” And we must start thinking about what works in terms of treatment, a subject I’ll talk more about in a free Webinar “Empowering Strategies to Fight Depression.” How can each of us take up arms against this painful condition and offer ourselves, our children, and our loved ones their best chance at overcoming depression?

When it comes to finding ways to empower ourselves against depression, I believe that one of the most important things to consider is the effect of the “critical inner voice.” The critical inner voice represents a damaging internal thought process, a form of destructive self-talk that perpetuates feelings of shame, self-hatred, negative rumination, and low self-esteem. Studies have shown that low self-esteem predicts depression. Even in toddlers, a negative self-concept has been found to be associated with depression.

Although, most of us experience low self-esteem and are familiar with the commentary of a critical inner voice, for those who are depressed, this critical inner voice can have a powerful, debilitating influence on their state of mind. The critical inner voice can cause people to dwell on perceived problems or sorrows. It can also make it even more difficult to take actions that would help individuals emerge from a depressive state. This voice is often critical and highly distorted. In a blink of an eye, it can fill our heads with thoughts like: “You’re so pathetic. You’re just a drain on everyone. You’re worthless/ stupid/ ugly. Why can’t you just be normal? You don’t really have anything to look forward to. There’s nothing to feel good about.”

The critical inner voice is also tricky, as it can seem both self-soothing and self-punishing. It lures us into engaging in actions or situations that then perpetuate our anxiety and depression. “Just go home and be by yourself,” it suggests.  “You should just have a drink and relax. There’s no point in trying to be active. Why go through all the trouble of going out and seeing those people?” When we give in to these “voices,” our inner critic is then there to punish us. “What’s the matter with you? All alone again. What a loser. You never succeed at anything. No one wants you around anyway.”  This type of cyclical thinking turns us completely against ourselves and leaves us at the mercy of a mean and ruminating inner enemy. To combat depression means taking on this inner voice or “anti-self.”

My father, Dr. Robert Firestone, created Voice Therapy as a therapeutic approach to conquer your critical inner voice, and in our book of that tile, which I co-authored with my father, we discuss specific ways people can start to challenge this inner enemy. Here are some of the valuable steps that can help people to start to recognize and counter these destructive thought processes.

  1. Identify the negative thoughts and beliefs you experience. Notice the events and circumstances that trigger these “voices” and the feelings that arise.
  2. Write the thoughts down in the second person as if someone is talking to you. So, instead of writing “I don’t have anything to offer,” write “You don’t have anything to offer.” This allows you to shift perspective and see the voice as an external enemy instead of your own point of view.

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  1. Respond rationally and compassionately to these “voices,” as you would to a friend, except this time, write your responses in the first person, as “I” statements. “I have a lot to offer. I have many qualities that people appreciate, and I care about others. I am fine the way I am.”
  2. Talk to a close friend who tends to have a more optimistic outlook. This can help you align with your real self and counter the negativity of your anti-self.
  3. Make yourself engage in activities that you have enjoyed in the past. Even if you don’t feel like it right now, taking these actions will help reinvigorate you and interrupt the destructive thought process that’s taking place.

One of the most important principles you can adopt in facing off against this inner critic that fuels depression is to practice self-compassionResearch findings have consistently shown that greater self-compassion is linked to less anxiety and depression. Despite the fact that people who suffer from depression may have lower levels of self-compassion, studies also show that practicing self-compassion can reduce symptoms of depression, in large part because it helps us not get stuck in our negative thoughts.

Dr. Kristin Neff describes three key elements of self-compassion: 1) self-kindness over self-judgment, 2) mindfulness over over-identification with thoughts and feelings, 3) common humanity versus isolation. Self-compassion asks us to value ourselves as human beings without judgment or evaluation. It allows us to notice our suffering and to feel compassion for ourselves without getting caught up in the rumination that comes with assessing ourselves or our state of being. Dr. Neff’s research has confirmed the benefits of this practice when fighting depression. One of the rewards of self-compassion is that it’s proven to better help us to achieve change in our lives.

Depression is a real disorder, but there are real ways to fight it. And when we do, no matter what treatment approach we take, we must be on our own team. We must see our critical inner voice as the enemy it is and reconnect with our real selves, the part of us that embraces our basic human right to live our lives on our terms.

By Linda Firestone, Ph.D.

Dr. Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships(APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012).

Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.


Success Syndrome: The Ambition-Depression Connection

“I’m trying to get comfortable with the idea that I am a human BEING not DOING, and that being a child of God is enough. With therapy and lots of soul searching, I am digging inside for the strength that lies at my core — naked, unassociated with any accolade or achievement,” writes Therese Borchard. Read her Blog

Why Is Depression So Tenacious?

Psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg writes, “Why has depression become so prevalent? An ancient mood system has collided with a highly novel operating environment created by a remarkable species. Depression is worse in humans than in other mammals not because our species has more flaws but because of our unique strengths. Advanced language enables wallowing; our ability to set ambitious long-term goals sets up new opportunities for failure; our elaborate culture presents expectations for happiness that cannot possibly be fulfilled.” Read the Blog

6 Ways to Stress Less at Work

Some jobs can affect your mental health so much so that unemployed people seem to fare better. According to recent research, people in a bad job — defined as job insecurity, sky-high demands or heavy workload, little control over workload and unfair pay — had either the same or worse mental health than unemployed individuals.  Read the News

“Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz” – Oh, What a Relief it is? Our Relationship with Antidepressants


Most folks with depression have a complicated relationship with their antidepressant medications.

I certainly do.

While these pills saved my life years ago when major depression struck, years later, I often wonder if I still need to take them, or, if they’re still effective.

If I feel tired and flat on a particular afternoon, is it depression, the side effects of my meds or a jumble of both? Or maybe, it’s just my persistently pensive nature?

I think about this a lot these days – and maybe you do as well.

While the one-two punch of Cymbalta and Lamictal have kept me out of the dungeon of major depression for years, its comes with a cost. I have interludes of passivity, numbness, and fatigue. Maybe a low-grade depression at times, as well. If I ditch the drugs, maybe I will feel more “alive,” I think. I fantasize that cutting my ties with meds could lessen the days lost to the deadening grayness of a medically induced sense of normalcy I sometimes go through.

But I also feel anxiety. If I went cold turkey and lived medication-free, would it end, well, in disaster? A return to the swampland of depression? A deadman’s land if ever there was one. Can I take that chance? Should I?

There’s scary research that suggests once you stop antidepressants that work (or sort-of-work) for you and try to go back on the same ones because being off of them caused your depression to return (or you just couldn’t tolerate the horrible side effects that can come with discontinuation), there’s a good chance they won’t be as effective.

So, what’s a depressed person supposed to do? What should I do?

There are two camps that offer some guidance on this issue. Both have persuasive arguments about why those afflicted should or shouldn’t stay on meds.

The Stay on the Meds Camp

If depression is an “illness,” like diabetes or heart disease, I need these meds to balance out my of whacky neurochemistry. Given my risk factors: a family history of depression (genetics), a crazy childhood with a nutty, abusive and alcoholic father, and a high-pressure job with too much stress, I should stay on the pills.


In his insightful essay in the New York Times, In Defense of Antidepressants, psychiatrist, Peter Kramer, author of the best-selling books, Listening to Prozac and Against Depression, suggest that studies show this: for mild or moderate depression, talk-therapy is as or more effective that medication. But for the Moby Dick sized sucker called Major Depression? Medications are warranted, and, indeed, lifesavers. They help many to function and live productive lives, albeit with a range of mild to more severe side effects.

The Get off the Meds Camp

Some people (including psychiatrists) see meds as the devil’s handiwork: supposed chemical solutions to emotional problems that flat-out don’t work. Many psychiatrists’ (and family doctors who write the overwhelming majority of scripts for these drugs in the U.S.), they maintain, are “pill pushers” who do the bidding of “BigPharma”, a multi-billion dollar industry in this country. Antidepressants aren’t so much a cure as a curse.

Irving Kirsh, Ph.D., author of The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, writes:

“Putting all [the research] together leads to the conclusion that the relatively small difference between drugs and placebos might not be a real drug effect at all. Instead, it might be an enhanced placebo effect, produced by the fact that some patients have broken [the] blind and have come to realize whether they were given drug or placebo. If this is the case, then there is no real antidepressant drug effect at all. Rather than comparing placebo to drug, we have been comparing ‘regular’ placebos to ‘extra-strength’ placebos.”

The remedy from this group? Psychotherapy. They see depression as the result of off-kiltered, negative thinking patterns. The way out of these ruminative, pessimistic thoughts involves working with a therapist who uses, most often, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to challenge and encourage patients to replace such thoughts with more realistic and positive ones.

In his book Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You, Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. argues that both therapy and medication are effective, but limited in certain respects.  He advocates an additional factor often overlooked in depression recovery: our own habits. Unwittingly we get good at depression. We learn how to hide it, how to work around it. We may even achieve great things, but with constant struggle rather than satisfaction. Relying on these methods to make it through each day, we deprive ourselves of true recovery, of deep joy and healthy emotion.

The book teaches us how to replace depressive patterns with a new and more effective set of skills. We already know how to “do” depression-and we can learn how to undo it.

Some Recent News on the Meds and Therapy Conundum

The New York Times reports that a large, multicenter study by Dr. Charles Nemeroff, then a professor of psychiatry at Emory and now at the University of Miami, found that for depressed adults without a history of abuse, there was a clear ranking order of treatment efficacy: Combined psychotherapy (using a form of cognitive behavior therapy) and an antidepressant (in this case, Serzone) was superior to either treatment alone. But for those who had a history of childhood trauma, the results were strikingly different: 48 percent of these patients achieved remission with psychotherapy alone, but only 33 percent of these patients responded to an antidepressant alone. The combination of psychotherapy and a drug was not significantly better than psychotherapy alone.

So what’s a depressed person supposed to do?

I don’t know, really.

We’re in a pickle, aren’t we?

Maybe there’ll be a soon-to-be discovered test that can guide us on precisely what to do. But for now, many of us will stay-the-course and, for better or worse, stick to the “plop, plop, fizz, fix”.

I see myself somewhere in the middle of all this. I’ve never been hospitalized or tried to commit suicide. But I have known depression’s scorching winds, gales that have torn the flesh from my body. I will never forget this pain. It’s scarred me. And I never want to return to it.

If you’re thinking of discontinuing your meds, here’s a great article on how to do it safely.

I welcome your comments about your depression journey with or without medicaton.

Copyright, 2017

by Daniel T. Lukasik


NPR radio reports that the benefits of talk therapy for depression have been overstated in the scientific literature, according to a study in the journal PLOS ONE. The finding comes several years after a similar study reached the same conclusion about antidepressant drugs. Listen to the Story


How Much Should You Push Yourself with Depression?

Depression blogger, Therese Borchard writes: “In deciding whether or not to push yourself, you must first ask yourself if you are doing this thing — a job, a new class, having lunch with someone — because you WANT to do it, or for other reasons.”  Read the Blog

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