The Case for Meditation

Recently I was invited to speak at Deepak Chopra’s “Seduction of Spirit: Pathway to Happiness” retreat in Chicago, Illinois. Obviously, I was completely blown away by this incredible invitation from a true spiritual master. And soon, I also began to think about the retreat in more depth. Did I just want to give my speech…or did I want to attend the weeklong retreat and immerse myself in meditation and yoga for the first time—finally—at 47 years old?

I eventually decided to attend the whole retreat, but I’ll admit, I went in with some trepidation. Could a consummate extrovert like me take a whole week of inner reflection? My mind typically runs at a mile a minute; would I have the discipline necessary to truly meditate? I was also nervous simply because I had always thought effective meditation required “perfect” technique, and I didn’t want to fail and waste my time.

As it turns out, my apprehensions were for nothing. What I learned about meditation is turning out to be a true game-changer for me. Here is what I learned:

  • Meditation can actually spark positive changes in your brain’s biochemistry. (Previously, I’d thought that exercise and antidepressants were the only two things that could accomplish this!) Not only can meditation make you more mindful and content; it can also help you deal more effectively with stress, lower your blood pressure, and boost your immune system—and much more!
  • If you hold a certain intention in your mind and meditate on it, you’ll be more likely to attract that thing into your life. Some attribute this phenomenon to the Law of Attraction; others believe you’re simply more able to recognize opportunities when they crop up because you’ve been thinking about your ultimate goal so much. Personally, I have started meditating on reaching as many people with my message as possible.
  • You do not have to be a “perfect meditator” to still reap its benefits. In fact, it’s not about how well you meditate for 30 minutes; it’s about how that meditation impacts the other 23.5 hours of the day! As I mentioned before, meditation—even when it’s not perfect—puts you in a different place and allows you to handle conflict better, be more relaxed, live in the present, experience less stress, etc. As I once heard someone say, “It doesn’t change things for you; it changes you for things.”
  • Meditation gives your mind the “room” it needs to “stretch,” so to speak. I have always found that when I’m exercising I tend to find the answers I’m looking for, and I also have some of my greatest ideas. Meditation has the same effect. Because I’m not running errands, talking to people, and completing tasks left and right, my stream of conscious thoughts slow downs and I can consider more weighty subjects.
  • Meditation drives home how very simple things can be incredibly powerful, such as the exercise we did at the retreat: picking someone we’d never met before and simply staring into his or her eyes for 30 seconds nonstop while sending out messages of forgiveness, love, peace, and healing. Believe me, the nonverbal connections you develop in just 30 seconds are crazy-powerful. Try it sometime! Our eyes truly are our windows to the soul.

If you would like to learn more about meditation and perhaps even give it a try yourself, I truly believe that you won’t find a better teacher than Deepak Chopra. I suggest starting with his free 21-Day Meditation Challenge, which is available four times a year, and can be found here. Check to see when the next Challenge begins and mark your calendar. And remember, meditation is NOT about perfection; it’s about improving your attitude and well-being.

Men, Let’s Talk about Depression.

For men especially, depression is something that’s uncomfortable to talk about. Unfortunately, our society tends to believe that “real” men shouldn’t get depressed. Men are supposed to be tough, the thinking goes, and not let their emotions “get the better of them.”

Please understand: If that’s how you tend to think about depression, you’re making a dangerous mistake. The truth is, over six million men are affected by depression each year in the U.S. alone, but many don’t seek treatment because they don’t want to be seen as weak or defective. Believe me, I understand. It took a complete nervous breakdown at the age of 36 for me to directly address the feelings of anxiety, unhappiness, and stress that I had been dealing with for much of my life.

Now, I have gotten the medical help I needed for some time leading up to my breakdown. I’ve also revised my outlook on my life in general and on my mental health in particular. Because of my experiences, I believe that it is vitally important for men to educate themselves about depression so that they can recognize its symptoms and be prepared to seek help if necessary. Above all, I want all men in America to understand that depression is not and never has been something you can overcome through willpower—it is a medical illness. This week, please read these seven facts about depression as it relates to men and share them with the men you love.

*Depression is more prevalent than ever. Increasing numbers of Americans are being diagnosed with depression—and that includes men. Studies show that each generation is more likely to become depressed than the one that came before it—and more likely to become so at an earlier age, too. Not surprisingly, antidepressant use in our country continues to grow. Since my breakdown, I’ve learned that you can be prone to depression because of your genetics, but also due to life circumstances. I’ve thought for years that the way we live and work in America is unhealthy. And I know that the recent economic downturn, and the fact that it caused a lot of people to lose their savings and jobs, hasn’t helped our outlooks and mental health.

*Men experience different symptoms from women. This is a “biggie”! Because most people don’t realize that depression manifests differently between the sexes, many men fail to even suspect the true nature of what is bothering them. According to my friend Dr. Howard Rankin (who is a clinical psychologist), women are likely to internalize their negative feelings and blame themselves for their problems, while men more commonly act out on their emotions. Depression manifests itself differently in men because their emotional circuits and brains are designed differently. So instead of getting tearful, a man who is depressed might become irritable, hostile, and fatigued. Like I did, he might dive into his work or a hobby until he literally can’t carry on. He’s also likely to blame other people or other circumstances for his problems, rather than admit that he is experiencing troubling symptoms.

*There’s a connection between depression and stress. Stress is so prevalent that we tend to ignore it and write it off as normal, despite the fact that we’ve all heard the statistics about how chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems. But did you know that long-term stress can also increase your risk of becoming depressed? While depression can be related to genetics, it can also be caused by long-term stress—especially if you’re not handling it well. When you’re constantly worn down, anxious, and unhappy, you’re essentially training your brain to be that way—and eventually, your brain’s biochemistry becomes locked into this pattern. While I’m no doctor, my personal experience has been that exercise is the best way to alleviate stress—and by extension help stave off depression—because it naturally releases endorphins and manages your mood.

*Depression can damage your physical health. Depression is a disorder that’s rooted in the brain, but it can affect your body, too. Depression is accompanied by a loss of energy. It can also cause muscle pain, joint pain, digestive problems, headaches, reduced sex drive, and more—and it’s easy to see how those symptoms can disrupt your life. Consider the following statement from Dr. Rankin:

“If you’re depressed, it’s very possible that you’ll feel exhausted and in pain all of the time. It’s actually not uncommon for patients to be misdiagnosed at first because they and their doctors think that the unpleasant symptoms have another cause. That’s why it’s very important to understand that depression isn’t just ‘in your head,’ and to be completely open with your doctor.”

*Depression can also hurt your family. Don’t make the mistake of believing that depression affects only you. If you’re lacking energy or if you’re anxious, irritable, or in pain, your family will notice. And their daily lives—in fact, their basic well-being—will be impacted, too. Your spouse and children might feel that they have to walk on eggshells around you, for example, and might become anxious themselves because they can’t ease your burden. You won’t be able to give them the attention, support, and love that you used to, either. In hindsight, one of the worst things about my depression and breakdown was that I simply couldn’t be the dad and husband I wanted to be. Please, if you’re reluctant to get help for your own sake, do it for the people you love. And remember that if your kids see you moping around every day, they will be much more likely to grow up the same way, thinking that an unhappy life is simply the norm. That’s not something any father wants to leave as a legacy for his children…and then for their children after them as well.

*Depression is not a cause for stigma. This is something I’m VERY adamant about: Depression is not something to be ashamed of. While clinical depression is very different from a disease like cancer, they have one major thing in common: No one chooses to suffer from either, and no one can power through these ailments unaided. Yes, I do understand why men feel it is their job as the head of the household to ignore their depression and just continue on. But doing so can ruin your life and even lead to suicide. I’m very glad to see that our society’s view of depression is finally changing, albeit much too slowly for my liking. I’m passionate about bringing the reality of depression into the public conversation, and I’m not the only one. Well-known figures including Terry Bradshaw, George Stephanopoulos, and Mike Wallace, to name a few, have also opened up about their own struggles with this illness in order to raise awareness and dispel myths.

*Depression is treatable. Many people suffer from debilitating depression for months or even years, and if you’re one of them, you may believe that a “normal” life is—and always will be—beyond your grasp. Depression is treatable, though—and with a combination of counseling and medication, most people are able to completely regain their quality of life. Once you and your doctor do find the combination of medication and/or counseling that works for you, I promise you’ll be astounded by the results. It’s possible that just one pill a day can make you feel like a whole new man again! When my doctor and I found a medication that restored my brain chemistry, I felt like my old self in just six weeks’ time.

If you think that you (or a man you love) might be suffering from depression—or even heading toward it—please, please talk with a medical professional. Being aware of your mental health is just as important as being aware of your physical health. Above all, remember that getting help for depression is not—let me repeat that, is not—a cause for shame or stigma. In fact, it’s the best thing you can do for your health, your family, and your future.