Updated on 09.17.14

When Your Mental Health Keeps You from Success

Trent Hamm

Anxiety disorder. Depression. Panic attacks. Intense phobias.

Our brains are incredibly complex pieces of meat. Just like other parts of their body, they can break down and not work quite right. Yet, society often treats ailments of the mind as something either not to be spoken of or something to be looked at as an intense personal flaw.

Yet, just like any other medical ailment, the cause is often out of the person’s control.

I have battled depression on and off for years. I often convince myself that I am a failure at writing (or whatever else I’m doing) and I then convince myself not to do it any more. I am a ridiculously tough critic on myself and I often turn combative about the work that I do produce, because I often think that if the stuff I create after all of this effort still isn’t good, I must truly be a failure. There are times when I can write tons and tons of words. There are other times when I simply can’t make myself write. That’s depression at work, my friends.

A few stories from baseball along these same lines:

Kansas City Royals kid pitching sensation Zack Greinke started last season 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA (not a misprint) and 44 K’s, and he went on to win the Cy Young [award given to the best two pitchers in baseball]. Just four seasons ago, depression and social anxiety nearly caused him to quit baseball. A sports psychologist and anti-depressants helped him recover, as did the Royals. “We’ve been able to create an environment that has clear direction and a consistent way of doing things where Zack feels comfortable,” GM Dayton Moore told USA Today.

In 2000, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel, then just 21 years old, was unexpectedly thrust into starting Game 1 of the NL Division Series against future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves. After two solid innings, Ankiel cracked, walking four hitters in the third. More critically, he threw five wild pitches in the third inning alone — becoming the first major leaguer to do that in more than a century. He later joked about it, but he never pitched well again.

One can find thousands of stories from other fields, but baseball alone, as a singular example, has a mountain of them.

Signs that Mental Health May Be Standing in the Way of Success

1. You experience a loss of desire to do things that once filled you with passion

Yes, people have changing interests over time, but if you find yourself walking away from many of the things you used to love and instead spending time alone or involved in sedentary activties, that’s often a sign of a mental health concern.

2. You find it difficult to do the routine things in your life

If you were once a good housekeeper and find yourself not keeping house, that’s a sign. If you’ve started to allow your personal hygiene to slack off, that’s another sign. If you eat nothing but convenience foods, that’s yet another sign.

3. Your thoughts are filled with negativity toward yourself

Most people are hard wired to think of themselves in a positive fashion, not a negative one. If you continually think negative thoughts about yourself and the things that you do, you might want to take note of it and do something about it.

4. You drift away from lots of existing relationships at once

If you find yourself suddenly avoiding people and spending a lot of time alone because you don’t want to face them, that’s another potential cause for concern.

5. Your finances, once solid, are spiraling out of control

When people feel their happiness slipping away, they’ll often throw whatever they can at the problem – and in many cases, this takes the form of unnecessary spending.

All of these are possible signs of a mental health concern. All of these are also things that can have a severe detrimental effect on your level of personal, professional, and financial success.

What You Can Do to Improve Your Mental Health State

1. Go outside

This is the first step anyone should take. Instead of sitting inside, sit outside on the front step or on your balcony. Breathe in the fresh air. Read outside. Most importantly, get a little sunshine. Sunshine on your skin produces vitamin D, of which many people are somewhat deficient. Vitamin D has profound effects on the brain and adequate amounts of vitamin D are almost always a net positive.

Whenever I begin to feel seriously down, I usually go outside for a while, if nothing else. It helps more consistently than any medicine under the sun, at least for me.

2. Get some exercise

Even if it’s something as simple as taking a walk around the block, getting a bit of exercise can always be a help. Exercise not only alters your metabolism, it also causes your body to release endorphins which trigger positive feelings.

3. Eat a healthier diet

What you put into your body makes a huge difference in how you feel. Try eating some very healthy foods as part of your routine. Eat some fruit for breakfast and a spinach salad for lunch for a few days and see what happens.

4. Seek out new friends

One’s mood can be seriously affected by the people around us. If your friends are making you feel worse about yourself, seek out new friends. Look for other social opportunities, often in a place very different than where you usually go. Try something completely different. The best place to start is by doing something that seems intriguing to you, but your friends would ridicule you for it.

5. Talk to your doctor

Medical help can be a powerful course of action if the above techniques do not help you get to a better place. If you sincerely try the above tactics and do not find any success, seek the advice of your most trusted doctor.

6. Most importantly, don’t be ashamed.

You’re not alone in feeling this way. You’re never alone unless you choose to be.

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  1. Jessica says:

    I’ve been battling depression myself since my early teens and I only just started trying to get a handle on it a couple years ago (I’m almost 29). Thank you so much for this post… you’ve helped me to realize why I stopped talking to my best friend (my brain chemistry has been sabotaging me again) and I’ve now taken steps to rectify the matter.

  2. Steve says:

    I like the post. Personally, I feel like my career is sabotaged by mental health issues. I do well, but it’s mental health that holds me back and gets me into ruts. If you think about the lost income due to being held back, it really pays to focus on treating yourself. However, I haven’t found a treatment that fixes everything.

  3. Sarah says:

    Thank you Trent for talking openly about this issue. I struggled with depression a few years ago and had to seek help. I suffered for two and a half years. I used to feel ashamed of what I had gone through, but the more people talk about it the more people will realize it’s not that uncommon and get help. I’m so glad I did, even though it was very hard, because I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t. Keep up the good work!

  4. Elizabeth Gage says:

    Thank you for bringing this topic to your blog. I, too, have struggled with depression for years. Family-of-origin issues added to the problems. I see evidence of depression-caused suffering all around me, as in the person who attacked the Pentagon (who was from my town), or the suicide of designer Alexander McQueen. So I’m grateful when someone with a following, like you, talks about it openly. Depression can be a long-term illness.

  5. LTruslow says:

    Great post…it’s my life. I have always struggled with a lack of self-esteem and viewing myself negatively. I was diagnosed with depression in 1997. Medicine has helped, but I still suffer prolonged bouts of depression. It has limited my personal success and my finances. I was embarrassed to admit my illness earlier in life…but no longer. It is an illness…no one would ever choose to live this way.

  6. Todd says:

    Thank you for this post, Trent. It really gets to the heart of the whole purpose of your work. If we all acted rationally and sensibly in our decisions in life, no one would have financial trouble and there would be no need for a community like the one on this site. We all struggle with problems that hold us back from achieving our potential.

    Speaking of this community, it seems to me that your readers are far more intelligent, well-educated, and dedicated to you than the commenters on most sites I look at. That says a lot about you, as a person and as a writer. When I look at the enormous collection of work you’ve put together in only a few years, I feel like a slacker. You are doing important work.

  7. Kathleen says:

    This is a really great post on a painful and difficult topic. I struggled most of my life with anxiety and depression (I can remember having panic attacks in kindergarten) made more difficult by the stigma and shame attached by my family and me to any mental health disorder. In my mid-thirties I became what I think of as passively self-destructive/suicidal – I would drink too much and drive, I thought frequently about swerving into oncoming traffic, and I withdrew from everyone around me.

    A combination of medication and talk therapy have helped me stay on an even keel for the past 10 or so years – the best thing I ever did was ask for help by asking a friend for a referral to his therapist. It was incredibly difficult work that basically came down to practicing positive behaviors and deciding what is important to me, both things that you talk about frequently in your blog.

    A really important aspect of depression and anxiety is the feeling of isolation that they engender – thank you for talking about your depression issues and allowing a forum for others to let people know that they are not alone.

  8. kristine says:

    I am an unmedicated moderate bi-polar, with suicidal tendencies that get scary about 3X a year. I get this post, completely. It is good to be open about it.

    It is definitely something I cannot be open about in my workplace, and keeps me from getting close to anyone. As an abused kid, I have tremendous trouble trusting people, and have no female friends, having been unaided by my mom. I have never felt safe a day in my life, need sleep aids, and have trouble understanding why anyone would love me, even my kids.

    It holds me back. Therapy, and a saint of a husband have helped. But without the help of a counselor in the picture, I would not recommend trying to make friends at the actual time of depression. Wait until you are back on the way out of it. Depression hinders judgement. And it leaves you incredibly vulnerable to rejection.

    Best to wait to make that step until you are feeling a bit better. Besides, a truly depressed person does not attract the kind of friends you need- it attracts other unhappy people. Seek out helpful non-judgmental people you trust, and be honest.

    I find lists help me a lot. Goals, budgets, To-Dos, songs I like, schedules, anything. When the brain gets overwhelmed, I turn to my lists, and just perform. It keeps me responsible, employed, and there for my family, even if I need to temporarily detach.

    And if I need to get out of the house to combat isolation, I have a list of places and restaurants that I can go to without breaking the bank. And if I want to shop, I have list of gift occasions for the year always in my purse, with budgeted amount. So I can spontaneously spend money that is budgeted and planned to be spent. It gets me from here to there, and keeps me on-track.

  9. Dee says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  10. Louise says:

    Excellent, excellent article! This is such an important subject, as so many people suffer from depression.

    I was quite reluctant to start medication for it when I was diagnosed 13 years ago. I thought I should be better in control of my emotions and that I shouldn’t have to use meds as a “crutch.” However, I read what Mike Wallace (from 60 Minutes), an extremely accomplished and intelligent man, wrote about it. He said if he had high blood pressure or diabetes, he would take meds for his condition without hesitation. Depression is ALSO a physical condition, so why should he be ashamed to take medicine for it?

    I will be forever grateful to him for those words, as I started meds right afterwards. I would probably not be here if I hadn’t, and they definitely have improved my life.

  11. As one who went thru this on a much more minor scale, it also helped me out to identify the things that I knew were strong points in my life (the successes I had, my positive personality traits) and to accentuate them and make the most of them

  12. deRuiter says:

    Do something outdoors and positive. I know, I know, depression makes you not want to do things. Go to the local animal shelter and walk some pooor dog who’s on death row, every day, or on a set schedule. You’ll feel better. First of all the fresh air and sunshine, second the walking stimulates endorphins in your brain, those are the “feel good” chemicals. Third, the joy of that poor animal when he sees and recognizes you is a lift. You’re doing a good deed for a non judgmental creature in desperate need. Don’t like dogs? Play with the cats who sometimes become depressed confined to that tiny cage. Do some outdoor activity, something physical, and you will feel better. Staying home, spiraling down, contenplating your navel and woe is me won’t help you.

  13. Cheryl says:

    Excellent post Trent, thank you from being so open and honest with your readers. Women are also affected by postpartum depression, and hormonal changes around menopause, so I’d also encourage them to talk to their doctor if they are noticing changes around these times as well. Prayer, good music, and going to church also helped me through some tough times. Thanks for sharing that with us.

  14. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this post. When focusing on controlling financial issues, sometimes the control necessary can vacuum up all of that energy inside one’s self. Financial and personal issues can all bundle up into much larger problems that are perceived as character flaws leading one to feel anxious or depressed by the daunting size of problems. But, your website shows how to breakdown problems in smaller tasks, to gain control, to organize, to keep trying, to go outside and enjoy nature — I appreciate show much the positive microcosm you have created online! Thanks for this topic, your great work and the excellent, practical suggestions to keep everything on an even keel!

  15. Millie says:

    One of the single best well thought out articles I’ve ever read on the subject. Thanks, Trent, you have helped a lot of people today!

    Also, be sure that if your Dr. gives you an antidepressant and you see no changes in a week, go back and ask for a different one. They work different ways and one size does not fit all!

  16. Sharron says:

    Thanks, Trent, for a good, honest, and articulate article about this important subject. My 22-year-old daughter stuggles with anxiety and PTSD; I’m so glad to see more people talking about these issues openly.

    According to my physician anyone who lives north of Atlanta, Georgia, probably isn’t getting enough Vitamin D from the sun. He suggests supplements. Another easy and inexpensive way to boost the good light is to install grow lights in the room where you spend the most time. If Seasonal Affective Disorder plagues you in the winter, this is a good way to combat it AND grow some plants to improve the air quality in your house.

  17. Tracy says:

    Awesome post Trent – I really enjoy must of your posts. Keep up the great work. Special thanks for this post – promoting mental health awareness is very much needed.

  18. littlepitcher says:

    @Kristine–Suicide gives the abuser exactly what they want–annihilation of the person the abuser decided was “no good”. And abusers do not give up–they will try to manipulate their targets’ lives into adulthood and middle age, for their own sadistic jollies. Understand that what you are experiencing is Not Your Fault. I’ve been through this very personally, and it has taken years to uncover the nasty little game the abuser and her family have been playing.
    Examine your life slowly and thoroughly before you start shopping for friendships, and keep a hairy eyeball on those friends for signs of undue influence. Examine your own actions for signs of influences from the past, and start building your future one activity at a time. Get vitamins–childhood stress negatively affects your immune system, bone health, and metabolism, and you will need extra self-care. Exercise regularly, as a signal to yourself that you do not have to stay super-quiet and super-still to avoid violence.
    Best possible future to you.

  19. Brandi says:

    Well said, Trent. As a psychiatric nurse I see how depression and other forms of mental illness can affect one’s quality of life, not to mention their finances (untreated bulimics who spend enormous sums on binge food come to mind, or compulsive spending can be common among some people with bipolar affective disorder). Thank you for giving sound advice on managing this common and debilitating condition. I would also add that if cost of treatment is a concern, there are options, such as community mental health centers that offer a sliding-scale fee for therapy, free employee assistance programs at some workplaces, flexible spending accounts that reimburse for therapy sessions (you still pay of course but before taxes) and even state government insurance that picks up where private insurance runs out (called state psychiatric papers in Iowa), used to pay for inpatient hospitalization. Unfortunately, insurance benefits for mental health can be poor in the US, and sometimes one has to get creative with funding.

  20. Shevy says:

    I’d like to expand on what Millie said. If you start taking an anti-depressant *ask* your doctor how long before you should expect to see changes. Some work quite fast, others take more than a week to really have an effect. Ask about coming off a particular anti-depressant. There are several that require you to taper off them slowly.

    Also, watch for irrational mood swings when you start certain types of meds. If you suddenly have unexplained crying jags, rages or suicidal thoughts it might be a side effect from the meds and you should contact your doctor immediately. Prozac and related drugs are well-known for this. If they work for you they can be wonderful. If they don’t, they can cause you to endanger yourself.

    Check out alternatives to medication. Light therapy can be extremely helpful. Also, read Potatoes Not Prozac or any of the other books by Kathleen DesMaisons. She has a PhD in addictive nutrition and maintains direct contact with participants on her Radiant Recovery website (no link, so as not to end up in moderation limbo) or through a variety of Yahoo groups.

    Even if you don’t have issues with sugar, she provides a lot of information about the brain chemical relationship between blood sugar, serotonin and beta endorphin levels.

  21. Judy M says:

    First off, I would like to tell Trent that I really appreciate your posts, and it is the one finance blogg that I make a point to read every day. Please keep up the good work.

    I think a lot of us are affected by depression. I have a mild case of it, which is definitely worse in the cold , dark winters here. Thank goodness the spring is here and I can get outside and work in the garden! Part of the reason my marriage fell apart was depression (both of us were affected by it.)

  22. kristine says:

    lilpitcher- thanks for the kind words and insights. I recently cut off contact with those parts of my family, and though it was extremely hard-especially as I have kids, it was as if someone cut the albatross off my neck. At some point, destructive relations have to be ended, no matter who the people are, forgiveness notwithstanding. And you are so right about being careful afterward- I unwittingly married a man who became very abusive, and barely survived. I am remarried, to the man who literally and figuratively saved my life.

  23. Jane says:

    A week is rarely enough time for an antidepressant to start working. I agree with Shevy. You must discuss with your doctor how long it will take. And never stop taking such medicines cold turkey. This can be devastating. I had a friend who did this, and it spurred on a manic episode, which was horrible and set her back a year or more. I slowly weaned myself off of an antidepressant once without doctor approval, and it was okay, but looking back it was a foolish thing to do.

  24. SoCalGal says:

    Kristine, I relate to everything you said & have gone through. You do have a friend in me!
    Great post Trent. I am shocked at the lack of empathy that the general population has for the mentally ill. If someone had cancer, we would do anything for them, but mention a mental illness & the room goes quiet. We need to talk openly and this post is a great start.

  25. Tall Bill says:

    Great, Honest, and right to the point! We’re almost dealing with the same here at this time. Thanks Trent!!!

  26. Claudia says:

    Great Post Trent!
    I think just about everyone has been depressed at times in their lives. Life is not always fun or easy. Even though everyone doesn’t need therapy or medications to overcome the feelings, we all need to acknowledge when we feel depressed and when our loved ones are depressed. Making light of your feelings or the feelings of others is not a help.
    Also, good ideas for helping to get through depressive episodes.

  27. Linda says:

    Thanks for tackling depression–both personally and on your blog. My husband and many in his family suffer with difficult, clinical depression. It certainly has affected our lives financially and every way. But thankfully, we’ve been helped and others can be too. I hope your readers with depression will seek out medical assistance if your other great suggestions don’t work–professional help, medications, and lots of prayer have made a huge difference in our lives. This is such a prevalent issue, and I hope others will benefit by your honest approach and thoughtful ideas.

  28. Denise says:

    Thank you for a WONDERFUL and heart-felt post, and thanks also to those of you who have commented. I have been dealing with depression for over 15 years, and on medication for about 4 (can identify with the abuse/bingeing in earlier posts). It is SO HARD to take a step in the right direction when you feel low, but ANY LITTLE movement will help … the tiniest step will lead to another tiny step, and then a third … even if all you can bring yourself to do is sit in your car in the sunshine, or listen to an upbeat CD – any little step to take the edge off. Sometimes it is really hard for me to take that little step … all I can muster is to push ‘play’ on the cd player or radio … but that little act of self-sufficiency and self-determination can lead to healing. al-anon, music, therapy and prayer have hellped me. Peace to all of you. Trent, keep up the great work!

  29. Carol says:

    This post was so helpful on a very low day for me. Perfect timing, Trent, and please keep writing on this topic! You insights and very good advice are extremely helpful, and then it’s also just good to know that there’s a community of good, smart people out there who suffer from this at times and know how to lend a helping hand to lift themselves or others.

  30. partgypsy says:

    Word. I think this can be the elephant in the living room for many personal improvement advice, but people don’t want to talk about it (even though it affects 10% of the population!). A mental health nurse I knew said, everyone knows they have to take care of their physical health for it to be maintained and be in good shape for their old age, but they don’t do the same for their mental health, they take it for granted. EVERYONE needs to take care of their mental health by fostering habits to promote and protect it just as much if not more than their physical health.

    Many habits help both sides of the coin, like getting sufficient and regular sleep, regular physical activity, maintaining friendships, reducing caffeine/alcohol, and kindness: helping other people or animals.

  31. BonzoGal says:

    Like everyone else, I want to say THANK YOU for writing this. I too am a depressive- I take medication and try to help myself with exercise, diet, positive attitude, therapy, etc. but sometimes… well, you know. I’ve just accepted that this will probably always be a struggle for me, but it’s a struggle I have chosen to fight with all my strength.

    My best coping method to is count my blessings- literally. Whenever I hit a “mood” I make myself name ten (or twelve or twenty) good things in my life. I start with “having enough to eat” and “having clean water to drink” and go on from there- it’s pretty a powerful way to pull myself out of a funk.

    This blog is the best, and your readers are the best- reading all these responses has made me teary-eyed (in a good way, lol)!

  32. Lily says:

    Thanks for writing about this. It hit home.

  33. megscole64 says:

    Thank you!

    Mental disorders are still very misunderstood and thought of as “emotional” issues. I am bipolar and have had to come to terms with the fact that I MUST have medication. Some people see this as a weakness. It’s frustrating at times but I know what is best for my mental health and well being.

  34. mary says:

    Great post as always, Trent!
    Just want to reiterate what #23 Jane said about giving the antidepressant time to work. As a pharmacist I counsel patients that they may not see a difference for two weeks to six weeks,and don’t try to wean yourself off a med on your own. Some antidepressants take longer than others and you may end up worse off than you started.

  35. Laura says:

    Excellent writing Trent!

    I have battled depression… Also, on and off for years.

  36. CharlestonAnon says:

    One tip that I found works for me – if you are having trouble ‘getting out of bed’ or cancalling plans and not getting out of the house, tell yourself all you have to do is get up and take a shower. If you still feel like you can’t go after you take your shower/brush teeth /etc hygiene then you can lay back down, go back to the couch, etc. I find 8 times out of 10, once i’ve showered I’ll keep going and am always glad i did.

  37. Pixie says:

    In response to Kristine #8. You should read the book, MEAN MOTHERS by Peg Streep. It is great and hopefully, will help you feel better about yourself and put your past in perspective.

  38. Matt says:

    I do sort of feel ashamed, that this time I havent been able to crack it & get out of it.
    With my friends theres like this like “off the table”-itis where they wont talk about my depression. My family are the same.
    I dont know if its shame but I dont feel good about the fact Im still depressed & that others dont want to know about it.

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