We all feel down and sad sometimes. It is hard. It is difficult. It can drain our energy and empty our resources. But what if there is something we can do about depression to at least soften its influence on our lives?
According to American Psychiatric Association, depression (or major depression disorder) is a treatable mental illness that affects how you feel and act. Symptom may include feelings of sadness or simply depressed mood, changes in sleep regime, loss of appetite and energy, feelings of low self-worth and guilt, and thoughts of death and suicide, among many others. Usually depression is treated with combination of medication and psychotherapy: This combined treatment breaks the vicious cycle of negative moods and feelings which hinders any positive life change.
There are some positive actions that anyone can try to do according to one’s own personal preferences. Even small incremental change, especially if a person is devoted to put continuous effort, can lead to better outcomes and overall higher quality of life. Escaping from the vicious cycle is not a dramatic and glorious event—it is more a quiet stream of small successes and only few steps up the hill, not necessarily going all the way to the top (or at least with no such expectations in the beginning).
Here are the things that you can do and actions you can perform in order to take the road less travelled:
- Stop going around in ruminative cycles of negative thoughts which exacerbate shame, anger and sadness. No doubt—it is very hard to break out from negative patterns; not only that, the more you are thinking negative thoughts, the stronger they get. Patterns of thinking and doing which we reinforce each day will have tendency to become a part of our personalities. We are all creatures of habits. But this is also good news—it is possible to reinforce positive patterns as well. Find one positive thought or behavior and stick to it for a while, as long as you can. It is more difficult in the beginning, but it will not be like that all the time. The more you practice, the easier it gets!
- Try mindfulness meditation. Just breathe and focus on your breath—this is more than enough for start. You can also try some guided meditations for being in contact with feelings associated with depression. There is ample evidence that mindfulness can be very effective in fighting against depression and even a viable alternative to anti-depressants: Focusing on experiencing our bodies in everyday activities is often a way out of negative patterns, because we are distancing ourselves from depressing moods and states of mind.
- Exercise. Even a little bit. Evidence shows that symptoms of both depression and anxiety can be relieved by physical exercise. Psychological benefits might be connected to releasing endorphins, natural chemicals in the brain which can influence sense of personal well-being. And don’t worry about the amount of exercise. Even a brisk walk or 5-minutes stretching is much better than nothing. Releasing of endorphins and rise of positive emotions can serve as an entry point to more positive cycle of experience—thus lowering risk for future depressing thoughts and feelings.
- Get enough sleep. Persistent feelings of anxiety and depression will influence sleep and vice versa. It is not clear what is the nature of this causal relationship—it seems that it goes in both directions. This negative loop is very hard to escape from. The less you sleep, the more you are tired in the morning and the rest of the day. Low energy gives good mental background for negative feelings to bloom. In the evening, insomnia kicks in. Again, you cannot sleep. And it goes like that forever. Use relaxation techniques and sleeping apps, make some lifestyle changes, and in some cases, taking sleeping pills for a very limited amount of time will do the work—it is very important just to break out from the cycle. After a while, it is going to be easier to go to sleep, as unwanted feelings will weaken.
- Socialize. And by socializing we do not mean Facebook or email—just good old fashioned face-to-face contact. Being with your family or friends reduces depression risks and strengthen people’s mental health in general. It also seems that our sense of belonging is crucial for our well-being. Being surrounded with our loved ones is a powerful antidote to negative mental states and will help us to weaken, at least for a short period of time, feeling of being trapped in insular negative patterns of thoughts, actions and behaviors. Also, it can ameliorate detrimental feelings of loneliness as well. Hence talking and sharing with people who are significant in our lives is a good example of self-care and care for others at the same time.
Doing something is usually better than doing nothing—and this is especially true for people who feel depressed. Not every action can ripe the same potentially positive effects, but any fresh experience will most certainly bring a new possibility to escape the patterns that have been created over long stretch of time and which are working against our well-being. Increasing quality of life for just a notch will probably have positive effect on our state of mind and then we will automatically do something which enhances quality of life. It goes in circles. But this time to our own benefit.