Ways to Fight Depression.
In my recent post looking at my personal interpretation of my painting 'Descent From Möbius Wood' (see image below), I touched on the ways that I guard against another episode of depression. Here, I will expand on that and look in more detail at different ways to fight depression.
Please note: if you suspect that you are suffering with depression, your first port of call should be your doctor. They will be able to properly diagnose you and check for other conditions, prescribe medication if necessary, and/or refer you for counselling. You wouldn't try to deal with a persistent chest infection on your own, without seeking medical help, so why is depression any different? After all, it is an illness not a weakness.
Below, I'll detail self-help techniques for keeping depression at bay. They are things that I have read about in books or on websites and I have tried every one myself, admittedly with varying degrees of success. If you want to check that they are credible ways to deal with depression and I haven't just made it all up, I will add some links for you at the bottom of this post. Not all of this advice will necessarily work for you, but bear in mind that you will need to stick with the strategies and try them for a good while before discounting them. None are quick fixes and should be integrated into daily life to have the best effects. Look at them as regular maintenance to keep you feeling mentally well.
So in no particular order let's get started:
If you are depressed or start feeling like you're slipping downwards this is probably one of the last things that you will want to do. But as with many of these techniques, it is well worth pushing yourself to do it. Now when I say exercise, that doesn't necessarily mean getting involved in triathlons, or freestyle mountain climbing (although if you feel that way inclined, don't let me stop you). Exercise can be as simple as going out for a brisk 20 minute walk every day. It doesn't cost anything and has the added bonus of getting you out in the sun for some fresh air and Vitamin D. Swimming, cycling and running are other relatively cheap forms of exercise. You could go the whole hog and join a gym, which could have an added social benefit, especially if you join classes. But make sure that any targets you set yourself are reasonable and achievable. In my experience, it is better to succeed at a small target than fail at a huge one. One way to ensure that you keep up an exercise programme is to do it with a friend or join a club. That way, you will be able to support each other. Given that, if you do let it lapse don't beat yourself up about it, just try again.
If you have a hobby, then keep it up. You may not feel like it. It may have stopped giving you pleasure. But if you suspect that depression is making you feel that way, keep going. You may not enjoy it the first, or second time, but hopefully the fun and satisfaction will come back. Haven't got any hobbies? Start one. I enjoy painting, watching obscure films and playing co-operative board games, although there are obviously many more (less geeky?) hobbies out there. You could join a club or take classes to learn something new at night school. Again, this would have the added benefit of social interaction and according to people who know about these sorts of things, time seems to go slower when we learn a new skill, so life won't feel like it's racing away.
My first instinct when depression rears its ugly head is to remove things that give me pleasure. So I have to force myself to do my hobbies at times like this. But I'm always glad that I did.
Look After Your Appearance
Another thing that quickly falls off my radar when I go down is looking after my appearance. But taking care of yourself can have the effect of making you feel better mentally. So get a hair cut, have a shave, spray on that deodorant, put on clean, ironed clothes and apply your make up, whatever you would normally do to brave the world. Don't fall into the vicious circle of thinking that you're not worth it. If you let your appearance slip, you will feel even worse. Take the time to care for yourself.
Take care of yourself internally too by thinking about what you eat. Depression has a tendency to make me eat less, although for other people the opposite is true. Again, the simple matter of eating well can make you feel better. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, pulses, seeds and a few nuts. Avoid the usual suspects that contain high amounts of fat or sugar. You can find many other sites that will go into healthy eating in more detail so I won't labour the point (plus these other sites may give meaty options that I tend to shy away from as a vegetarian). If you know that your diet is pretty terrible, you may find making massive changes to what you eat extremely difficult. So just make a small change and get used to that. Then make another. And so on. Over time you will get used to a new way of eating and not want to go back. It's not about going on a diet (and then going back to what you used to eat), it's about changing what you eat for good.
As with exercise, don't be hard on yourself if you make the odd food error. Try again. (And make sure that you give yourself the occasional treat.)
For those unfamiliar with mindfulness, it is a form of relaxation and meditation that changes the way you experience the world, helping you to live in the moment and find pleasure in the small things. In a similar way to all of these strategies, a certain time commitment is needed when embarking on a mindfulness programme. (I have worked through 'Mindfulness - A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world' by Mark Williams and Danny Penham and found it really useful.) A typical session will involve you either sitting or lying down and doing a number of simple mental exercises designed to relax and bring you into the moment. It is a break from the relentless pace of life. There may be some "homework" to do in-between sessions, such as paying attention to every sensation when brushing your teeth.
Now, if ever I am stood in a queue or stuck in a traffic jam, I start some of these exercises and it doesn't feel like wasted time. In fact, I feel better for taking the time to relax. Definitely recommended.
Mood trackers are simple apps that track your mood (funnily enough). A score is given daily and results are graphed allowing the user to spot patterns or see triggers. Doing it with a friend, or someone you trust, and sharing results has been shown to give the best results. This is probably the quickest fix on here, but to get the most benefit it needs to be done regularly. The one that I use is Moodscope (my score for today was 63% , not too bad). I'll give you a link at the bottom of this post.
Oh dear, this is where I really fall down and is definitely the hardest one of these strategies for me to do. (More on this in a future post.) Even so, I keep trying. Visit family and friends even when you don't necessarily feel like it and keep up those all important social interactions. If you have someone who you can talk to about your depression, even better. Involve them in the things you are trying to do: exercise, hobbies, mood trackers etc. If possible, encourage them to read a book on depression to see what you are going through. And share this quote with them from Stephen Fry:
"It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do."
Things to Avoid
Smoking, drinking alcohol or taking other drugs can all make depression worse. For me, I always headed for alcohol. And every time it was a bad idea (although Tequila is an error at the best of times). So be very careful with these.
There are many more things that can be done to fight depression with medical support from a GP or a trained professional:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Other talking treatments such as counselling, psychotherapy etc.
These will have the greatest impact.
I repeat, if you suspect that you have depression visit your GP. They are trained to deal with it without judging.
If like me, you know that you are prone to depression, try one, some or all of the above and see if it makes an improvement. Let me know how you get on. Does one of the strategies work really well for you? Have you discovered any other ways to fight depression? Leave a comment below.
Now, I better follow my own advice and get back to painting...