Depression…What can you do to help yourself?
Let’s talk about depression. First, understand that like most things in life, depression is a spectrum; it is not black and white. Some people have situational depression or very mild depression and do really well with therapy and making some simple life changes. Others might need medication to assist them. Some unfortunately suffer from major depression and find it hard to cope with life. No matter where on the spectrum people fall, the following information is helpful to anyone who has experienced depression.
So, if you have a depressive illness, the first and most obvious thing you can do is seek help from a mental health professional. But what are some things that you can you do to help yourself? There are different ways to approach this. You can approach it from a behavioral or lifestyle standpoint as well as from an attitude or thinking standpoint. Both approaches will give you keys to help unlock depression’s hold on your life and bring you peace and serenity. A peaceful, positive, serene life is like kryptonite to depression. You can use the tools and ideas below to foster those peaceful, positive, and serene vibes in your mind, body, and soul.
Let’s talk about some of the behavioral things you can do if you have depression. These are some rules to live by that mainly center on a healthy lifestyle.
1) Exercise everyday. When you have depression or anxiety, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do. But once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference. Research on depression, anxiety and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help improve mood and reduce anxiety. You don’t have to become a gym rat, just find a way to move your body every day.
2) Get sunlight everyday. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip, and your mood will follow. So get outside in the fresh air and sunshine!
3) Eat a healthy diet. This includes nuts, fresh, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins such as eggs, fish, and chicken. I recommend fish without heavy metal. I’m more of a pop rock kind of guy. Seriously, it’s better to eat fish that don’t tend to build up mercury in their systems. Species that tend to develop mercury levels include marlin, tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because they are longer-lived and therefore have more time to build up toxins. One of the best fish I recommend is salmon. Not only is it an excellent source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals, but it has omega-3 fatty acids that are responsible for its reputation as valuable brain food. All chicken should be organic, raised with no hormones or antibiotics. If you eat red meat, try lean cuts of grass-fed beef. If you feed it well, your body will reward you and your brain will follow. Healthier bodies = healthier brains.
4) Avoid alcohol and tobacco like the plague. Alcohol is in and of itself, a depressant. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you’re depressed, imbibing a depressant like alcohol will only make it worse. No reason to pile on the problems. And if you’re addicted to tobacco, try to at least switch to a vape. You’ll still get your nicotine fix, but without tar and some of the harmful chemical inhalants. I have patients who say that making the switch from cigs to vape was so easy that they wish they had done it sooner. Even better, you could also go the transdermal patch or gum route too. Or come see me to discuss the possibility of a smoking cessation drug. I’ve seen some success with that.
5) Meditate. There is a strong feeling in the realms of neuroscience and psychology that meditation and meditative practices can change brain physiology and reaction. Learning how to manage your thoughts takes time, energy, and dedication. Spend ten minutes each morning doing meditation to start your day on a positive note. How do you meditate? Google “meditation types for depression” for more information on the various types. If meditation isn’t your thing, then incorporate some sort of centering activity, maybe something in a spiritual realm. Try being prayerful. While you can’t “pray it away,” a randomized trial of the effect of prayer on depression and anxiety concluded that prayer was useful as an adjunct to standard medical care for patients with depression and anxiety.
6) Socialize. All work and no play is no fun, so get out there and mingle. But be mindful of who you socialize with. You should only socialize with people who lift you up, that make you feel good. Good positive people make you feel good. Avoid life suckers… people who make you feel badly or don’t contribute anything positive to the relationship.
7) It’s good to learn something new every day. Make it a point to do just that. Start learning a new language, acquire a new skill, try a new sport, or take up a new hobby. You don’t have to set a timeline on when you’ll finish or if you’ll master it. The idea is to challenge your mind. A challenge is uplifting to mind, body, and soul.
8) Try to set your life up to minimize stress. Some stress can be motivating, but too much stress or chronic stress can lead to depression. Stress increases levels of the stressful hormone cortisol and decreases the happy neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. You must find healthy ways to minimize stress and turn off the stress mechanism. Serenity is the goal, and stress is the antithesis of serenity. As such, it is the enemy… treat it accordingly and eliminate it whenever it rears its ugly head. Make positive life changes when possible. I myself made a major life change to help eliminate stress. Yes, psychiatrists have stress too. I hate commuting. Commuting is a serenity sucker, a universal stressor. I used to have many interstate miles to commute to the office. I would find that when I would arrive at the office to begin my workday, my serenity was smashed. That doesn’t fly in my world. So as soon as I found an opportunity, I packed up my house and moved. Now I have a ten mimute commute, the interstate is a thing of the past, and I walk into the office with a smile. Obvioisly, it may not be feasible to move to avoid a commute, but I challenge patients to examine their lives to see what changes they can make to minimize stress. A good place to start is to find out what makes you happy and make a concerted effort to integrate those things into your life.
Now, these are some behavioral things we can do to combat depression. But what can we do with our thoughts? How do we change our way of thinking to improve our mood?
1) I tell people to always stay positive. Positivity gives you good vibes. None of us have a crystal ball… no one knows the outcome of any given situation, so why not think about the potential positive outcome as opposed to the negative, because the positive outcome is just as likely to happen as the negative. A review of relevant research found that optimism is beneficial in treating depression. It’s even the basis of a therapeutic tool. Positive activity interventions (PAIs) is a self-administered therapy that involves intentional generation of positive thoughts and feelings within ourselves. Make the effort to see things in a positive light, to see the glass half full, until it becomes second nature to you. What do you have to lose, except for anxiety, stress, and depression?
2) Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Do you have the perfect home? The perfect job? The perfect family? Every single thing you’ve ever wanted? Not likely. Nobody does. But the happiest people don’t focus on what they do or don’t have, regardless of how much or how little. Be grateful for what you have. Imagine if everything you have was suddenly taken away, would you be sadder? Yes, of course you would. So, be grateful to the universe or your higher power that you have what you have. Feelings of gratitide can be multiplied through actions as well. Be of service to others as an expression of gratitude. You’ll find that it’s a mood elevator. Going up!
3) Set limits and boundaries to only engage in activities which you enjoy, and avoid activities that you don’t. Don’t get stuck into doing projects you know you don’t want to do just because you can’t say no. Don’t accept invitations to parties you don’t want to go to. Don’t socialize with people who you don’t want to be around. Don’t be involved in activities which you really are not interested in. Learn to say no. When you jettison the dead weight, it allows you to focus on the things which bring you pleasure and peace of mind… good vibes.
4) Always have something you look forward to. This may be a vacation or a wedding, or any other thing that requires planning. The planned event may not happen for a year or longer, or you may not even have a date set for it, but that’s okay. The idea is just to have something you’re planning on the horizon. Something you’re looking forward to. Dream of it and plan for it. It is exhilarating to the soul to plan something positive.
5) Take time to refresh and recharge.
Serenity blooms in a quiet mind. Get out of your head and take in something bigger than you. I suggest that people reconnect with nature. Spend time where the only sounds are of birds calling and the wind in the trees, not the sound of sirens and the noise of people. A peaceful natural place is a great backdrop for centering oneself and fostering thoughts of gratitude and positivity.
Depression can drain your energy, hope, and drive, and make it difficult to take the steps that will help you to feel better. Even though overcoming depression isn’t quick or easy, it’s far from impossible. You can’t just will it away, but you do have more control than you realize. The key is to start small and build from there. By implementing the positive tools discussed above each day, you’ll soon feel the fog of depression lift and find yourself feeling happier, healthier, and more hopeful again.