Last year, around 15.7 million adults experienced at least one major depressive episode; this is about 6.7% of the American population. Anyone who has been there knows once you’re in, you’re in. A dark, downward spiral takes over and it’s difficult to climb out. Depression and anxiety paralyzes even perceptive, bright minds and can kill creative endeavors.
In these moments, it feels almost impossible to think about any benefits or plus sides. Yet during these dips and lulls, there are strategies to be learned and tools to pick up to help fight these dark monsters when and if they return.
I’m listing what has helped me. It’s a long road, and I’m grateful for the caring coaches and counselors and friends and mentors who have helped along the way. I hope some of these tips can also help a few of my friends, no matter where you are in the world or what you’re dealing with. Please know you’re not alone.
Number 1: Return to basics
During periods of depression, basic human needs tend to get out of whack. Some people sleep all day while others can’t sleep at all. It’s important to try to establish a regular schedule and routine. Aim for 7-9 hours each night and try to be awake when the sun is out. Even if you’re tempted to take naps, get outside and soak in some rays, they’re good for you and carry Vitamin D.
Try to eliminate or cut down stimulants. Coffee, sugar, drugs and alcohol give you a temporary high and make you feel good for a moment, but when the effect wears off, you’re left feeling even more drained and tired than before.
From my own experiences working with and counseling clients, I’ve noticed that people who suffer from depression tend to be quite sensitive: emotionally and physically. Take care of yourself from the inside out.
Number 2. What are you eating?
Choose to eat healthfully whenever and wherever you can. Whole foods are unprocessed and contain more vitamins and minerals that help boost moods. Again, sweets and alcohol can be tempting for a temporary high, but your blood sugar levels will crash and can push you further downwards.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can make everything worse, so put the junk food away and reach for greens, veggies and whole grains. (Omega-3s have been shown to fight depression.)
Number 3. Get moving
Exercise revs up endorphins, helping you feel better as you move. Walking, stretching, going to the gym — it doesn’t matter, as long as it works for you. Be good to your “Earth Suit.”
Number 4. Look up (and around)
Take a moment to think about the triggers that feed your depression and create anxiety.
Facebook? Surfing the net? Watching episode upon episode of TV shows? Staying in the house all day? Talking about certain people? Eating certain meals? Limit these energy suckers and replace them with creative activities:
- go for a walk
- dig around in the garden
- visit a local bookstore
Make a list of what makes you feel GOOD. These don’t have to be elaborate, expensive activities. Things like:
- light a candle
- listen to music
- visit the farmer’s market
- call a friend
- take a class
- read a book
are easy, cheap and instant mood boosters.
Number 5. Are you independent?
Many people who struggle with depression are powerhouses. They’re capable, strong and fearless. But being too much alone can make depression worse.
Make yourself get out and connect with others. You don’t necessarily have to interact with anybody, just be around people. Go to a place where you can observe life happening: the library, the park, a coffee shop. Step out of your home, away from your thoughts and into the company of others.
Number 6. Connect
Don’t suffer alone, reach out. Message or call people you like: your best friend since high school, that crazy aunt, your neighbor who comes over with hot soup. It feels good to help others, so let your friends and people who care about you help you. You’re not selfish or weak for asking for help.
Also consider your daily habits and lifestyle. Are they isolating you or helping you build a supportive community?
Please remember, reach out. Contact a therapist, join a group, don’t be alone. You’re not.
Number 7. Your thoughts will still be there.
So take a break.
Getting out of your head and away from yourself can be the best way to gain perspective. To do this, direct your attention outwards. Distract yourself if necessary and meditate on expansion instead of restriction. Try not to focus on the depression. Step away and start focusing on small steps you can take RIGHT NOW, in this moment, to feel better.
Another alternative is to volunteer. When you’re giving your time and energy to a positive cause, you’re getting a vacation from your mind. Contributing to something bigger than your own problems and yourself moves your energy and focus away from yourself and your thoughts and onto someone/something else.
Your thoughts will still be there. You can always return, possibly with a different perspective.
Things will be OK. It can get better, and it will. Just take a break.