Depression hits many of us at one time or another. Here’s how to feel up when you’re down.
Depression severely affects millions around the world. But there is good news. You can fight the mild to moderate depression that many of us experience now and again. Here are seven self-help prescriptions that have worked for many people.
1. Get exercise. Exercise elevates beta-endorphins (the ‘feel good’ hormones) and improves the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. Aerobic exercise – running, dancing, skipping or brisk walking – is best, at least three times a week (preferably five) for 15-20 minutes each time. For walking, first aim to cover 1.5 km in 15 minutes then gradually work up to 5 km in 45 minutes. Exercise also gives you a feeling of accomplishment and helps decrease the sense of helplessness that comes with depression. Schedule an exercise period every day, even if it’s only a short walk.
2. Improve your nutrition. Even a single deficiency in our nutrition can result in depression in susceptible people. Particularly use foods that build up serotonin (the happy hormone) and dopamine (the pleasure chemical) – such as whole grains, fish, green vegetables, eggs, turkey, lean beef, almonds, bananas and milk. B-complex vitamins can also help.
3. Think your way out. Cognitive therapy may be even more effective than antidepressant drugs. Depressed people tend to view themselves, others and their future through dark-tinted glasses. Use the three A’s – awareness, answering, action.
Acknowledge that you are depressed, don’t deny it as many do.
Pay attention to your mood changes, behaviour, differences in your feelings, thinking and body responses, such as eating and sleeping.
Feelings are caused by thoughts preceding them, though you may not be aware of them. Learn to recognize and record these thoughts every time you have a negative feeling.
To do this, make two columns on a piece of paper. In the first, write your negative thought. In the second, write a more realistic alternative. Ask yourself: “Is this true?” “Is this helpful to me to think this way?” “What is the evidence for this?” then “What is another way of looking at it?”
For instance, your thought is: “I saw my friend on the street and he didn’t speak to me. He doesn’t like me. Nobody does.” Alternative explanations could be: “He didn’t see me”, or “He was preoccupied with his own problems”. And is it really true that absolutely nobody likes you?
Action. Start working on your most serious problems. For example,
If you feel unattractive, get a new hairstyle or try to lose weight. (Perhaps consider hypnotherapy this time around!)
If you are not happy or feel unsuccessful in your job, take a course to increase your skills, or scout around for other opportunities.
Normalise yourself physiologically –
- Get up and go to bed at regular hours.
- Eat normal-sized meals at normal hours.
- Avoid alcohol, which may act as a depressant.
- Meditate, do relaxation or breathing for 20 minutes a day. This will right the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood and help you get into your “Wise Mind” where creative solutions to your problems can emerge right out of the blue!
- Get a massage, go to your chiropractor or osteopath. Physical touch has been shown to increase protein synthesis in the brain and can help banish the blues.
4. Socialise. Research shows that people who maintain personal relationships, especially in times of change and crisis, are much more likely to be in good mental shape than people who go it alone. Social support can even help you live longer! Tops on your list of friends should be someone with whom you can discuss your very deepest feelings. Almost as important are other friends with whom you can have fun and share joys, as well as gripes. Make a habit of keeping in touch. Recognize feelings of loneliness and isolation as early warning signals of possible depression and treat these signals as you would a red warning light in your car.
5. Increase the number of pleasurable activities you do. When we do few activities that we experience as pleasant, we feel depressed. Also, when we feel depressed we don’t feel like doing things which are likely to bring us pleasure or satisfaction. So there is a downward spiral. Fortunately there is also a positive cycle. The more we do, the less depressed we will feel and the less depressed we feel, the more we will enjoy doing things.
So – plan activities that give you a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, especially at weekends. Clean out a cupboard, ride your bike, write a letter, go to a concert or club meeting, join a drumming circle. Since depressed people tend to make mountains out of molehills, break things down into small parts.
6. Check your thyroid function. Sometimes a hormone imbalance might be the culprit. One woman reported that after hormone therapy she hasn’t had a down day in six years.
Low thyroid and/or low adrenal function are often unsuspected causes of depression. You can make your own initial test and take the results to your doctor. Place an oral thermometer on your bedside table. After a good night’s sleep following a day when you had no alcohol, take your temperature immediately on waking. Tuck the thermometer snugly into your armpit for 10 minutes. If your temp is 350 C or below, it may indicate low thyroid or adrenal function and this could be a reason for your depression. Medication may help.
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) also has a side-effect of depression. Cut out sugar, get off caffeine and eat a number of small protein and complex carbohydrate meals a day – but check out those hormones.
7. Look over your medications. Many prescription drugs can cause depression as a side-effect. Oral contraceptives, barbiturates, steroids such as cortisone, some antibiotics such as sulphonamides and some drugs used to control hypertension, such as reserpine can trigger depression.
Symptoms of major depression include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, irritability; changes in eating habits; early morning wakefulness, loss of interest or concentration, suicidal thoughts, difficulty functioning socially, excessive fatigue, slowed-down or speeded-up thinking or activity. If these feelings persist or keep recurring, see your doctor and strongly consider a referral to a psychologist. Depression is curable!