- Mental Health
How to Overcome Depression- Your Guide to Depression Self Help
Living with chronic depression can seriously affect the quality of one's life. As a mental health practitioner and person who's suffered from depression, I know only too well how all pervasive its devastating effects can be. Many of us have been treated for years, but still suffer. For some the serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's) stop working for us, for others the cause is unknown, and some have never found an antidepressant that works for them. Still others tend to go in and out of the depressive state with little idea what the instigating factors are. Regardless of which group you're in, it's crucial to know there is hope. It's very difficult to see that in the thick of it... I know. But, there are things you can do to decrease your chances of an episode or to emerge from the depths of one. These suggestions come from 30 years of personal experience as well as a decade of professional experience.
If you're not sure whether or not you're depressed, take this online depression test to find out.
First Stop: Your Doctor
The bar none very first step in fighting the depression battle is setting up a visit with your physician. There are a myriad of treatable medical conditions that can mimic and/or create chronic depression: thyroid problems, fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases, vitamin deficiencies, chronic infections, blood disorders like anemia, dietary disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc... There is a pretty long list. You definitely want to rule out any underlying physical cause. It's amazing how many people don't take this critical step.
You and your doctor can discuss whether an antidepressant is an appropriate course of treatment, too. It can be and is a crucial part of treating depression for some people.
How to Overcome Depression: Emerging From the Depths of Despair
When you're really down and out and depression has completely taken the wind out of your sails, it can be a colossal effort to do anything. You may not want to get out of bed, talk to anyone, tend to personal hygiene, take care of responsibilities, etc... Everything may just feel like too much of an effort. It can become a vicious cycle, too. NOT doing anything and continuing in avoidance mode can make you feel guilty, only adding to the depression. It is imperative you act to disrupt this downward, vicious cycle. The good news is small changes can bring about large change- the point is you need to do something. Here are some suggestions:
- Take a shower or bath
- Get dressed for the day
- Walk to the mailbox to get your mail
- Walk to the end of your street and back
- Call a friend just to say "hello"
- Pay a bill
- Vacuum a room
- Mow the lawn
- Sweep your front porch or balconey
- Make your bed
- Clean out a drawer
- Take a five minute drive
- Take a five minute bike ride
- Make a healthy snack
- Play with your pet
- Bake or cook something
- See a movie
The point is to choose a small, productive activity and just DO IT! Choose something that doesn't take very long and is easy to achieve. You may even find yourself motivated to do more after you begin. Or perhaps you won't, but that's okay too.
After you've finished your activity, do NOT return to your original environment. If you were in your bedroom before, do not return. That room, that chair, that bed, that desk, that couch, wherever it was is now forbidden. If you live in a studio apartment and can't move to another room, just go to a different area in the apartment.
Why (you ask)? Because associations are very powerful for humans and we are creatures of habit. For example, when you have spent a lot of time in your bedroom, feeling down you've begun to make negative associations between your bedroom and how you feel. Going back to the same environment is likely to recreate these same negative associations. Even a small environmental change gives you the upper hand in feeling better.
The Trick is Learning How to Continue to Feel Better
The above suggestions create temporary mood elevation, but the trick is keeping the momentum going in order to avoid sinking back into depression. Overcoming depression entails continual dedication and action. You literally need to be armed and ready every day to fight the battle. Here are the most important tools to help you win.
Take heed of your sleep hygiene. Nothing can spin you downward more quickly than poor sleep habits and/or sleep deprivation. Set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. Similarly, set a time to get up daily and do it! Consistent sleep patterns are a critical piece in the mental health puzzle, your brain chemistry will not stabilize without it. Being a night owl is something you're going to have to ditch. Even if you're still getting 8 hours of sleep when you stay up until 3 am, you are doing yourself a disservice. You definitely want to increase the number of daylight hours you are awake. And get at least 7 hours of precious sleep every night. It needs to be triaged to the top of your priority list.
Get regular exercise! Exercising has a very powerful effect upon the neurotransmitters that contribute to a sense of happiness and well-being. You don't have to go nuts at the gym for two hours everyday, either. Even a brief walk a few times a week is enough to decrease feelings of depression. You can start small if you're feeling uninspired. Just walk to the end of your street and back. You just might find you discover some motivation along the way. You could also revisit a sport you used to love. If you used to play tennis, find a way to pick up that racquet again. Your goal is to get moving... in any capacity possible. And yes- chores around the house are included!
Cut out the junk food. Eating poorly has huge effects not only on your health, but also your mental health! Sugary foods can make you crash later. High fat foods can add to that lazy, lethargic feeling. You will be doing yourself a huge service to incorporate many more fruits and vegetables in your diet. Of all the changes I made, this one was HUGE. I cut out the fatty, greasy foods, the sugary snacks and replaced them with fruits and veggies. I immediately felt more energized and positive about life.
A fun way to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables is to check out your local farmer's market. It's not only a fun activity, but you will walk away with wonderful brain food!
Take Heed How You Talk To Yourself
Have you ever taken just a moment to listen to how you talk to yourself?
If you haven't, spend a day paying attention to your internal dialogue. You might be surprised how hard you are on yourself. When you find yourself being negative or beating yourself up over something, ask yourself if you would treat your best friend this way. I doubt you would, or you probably wouldn't have that best friend much longer.
For a while, pretend you're talking to your best friend when you have an internal dialogue. If you must, pretend he or she is sitting across from you at a table, or walking down the street with you, or sitting at your work desk. When you start beating up on yourself, stop yourself immediately. You wouldn't treat someone else this way, why is it okay for you to treat yourself this way? Now you need to practice speaking nicely to yourself. Keep that best friend on your metaphorical shoulder, it's a good reminder. You will find with practice, you will get out of this nasty habit.
A Guaranteed Way to Overcome Depression
Nothing can help you feel better mentally than getting out of yourself for a while. This tactic has been used for many years in Alcoholics Anonymous, for example. It just feels good to help another person or group of people in need. It might offer you some much needed perspective, too- perhaps you might discover that your plight in life could be just a bit worse.
Ways to help others:
- Rake a neighbor's leaves
- Volunteer for a food bank
- Donate blood
- Volunteer at a pet shelter
- Volunteer for Meals on Wheels
- Offer to walk an elderly person's dog
- Offer visits to nursing homes
- Participate in a walk or run for a cause
- Help with a local fundraiser
- Find out how you could help your local schools or parent-teacher organizations
- Donate toys to needy kids for Christmas
The list goes on and on... No doubt you can readily find a way to make a difference in your neighborhood or community. The thanks and gratitude are worth their weight in gold.