Dealing with depression requires self-awareness and do-it-yourself techniques that counselors suggest; read and find the tips you can use day-to-day.
Most people have at least a passing acquaintance with symptoms of depression—listlessness, prolonged feelings of sadness, lack of energy, even hopelessness. But for most of us, these symptoms are logically connected with negative incidents in life, and we overcome them naturally, almost spontaneously, or at least with a little extra effort. We call a friend and cry on a shoulder, eat a box of chocolates, go out and watch a funny movie, say a prayer or just plain wait it out.
Others don’t pass through the storm of depression so easily, and some require serious treatment by a physician, with medication, hospitalization, or other protocols. For many in between, do-it-yourself coping seems to be the order of the day. If your brand of depression is not so serious so to require medical treatment, your might want to consider other alternatives. Counseling, for example, may help get to the root of your low feelings and help you back on top by making clear the actions you can take to do so. Beyond that, what can those suffering mild depression do to cope?
1. Exercise: Andrew Weil, M. D., author of Spontaneous Healing and many other top selling books on wholeness and health, says the best single treatment for depression is vigorous, regular aerobic exercise, at least thirty minutes a day, five days a week.
2. Avoidance of alcohol, sedatives, antihistamines and other depressants is crucial, too, yet tempting when we’re in the throes of feeling low and seeking help in an extra beer, or a prescription for anti-depressant drugs.
3. Such attempted quick fixes actually double or triple the problem, making the depression more difficult to overcome.
4. Dietary modification: Dr Weil suggests less protein and fat, more starches, fruits and vegetables, although other medical sources do not recommend lowering protein intake. Other dietary recommendations by Weil and others include Vitamin B-6, Vitamin C and an amino acid, DLPA, taken in certain combination and timing.
While recognizing that patterned breathing and meditation is often advised by mental health counselors for mood swings, Weil believes that ultimately a depressed person whose emotions are unstable does not need a slow down of affect, but rather needs something to care about, something to be passionate about.
Depression seems like potential energy turned in on itself and made into an incapacitating paralysis, Weil asserts. Anti-depressant drugs seem to further deepen the paralysis. They also lessen the degree of feelings of every sort, including feelings of joy, gladness, excitement and alertness. Thus, the epidemic level of depression that people are being treated for these days is making us into a nation (or whole culture) of half-functioning, half-alive people.
In Wellness: Your Invitation to a Full Life by John J. Pilch, Ph.D., the author proposes that an attitude or outlook that encompasses certain values can maximize mental wellness and every aspect of health. Dr. Pilch’s five-pronged concept of wellness promotes a holistic spirituality that centers around a., knowing the purpose and meaning of life, b., identifying life’s authentic, satisfying, fulfilling human joys and pleasures; c., accepting responsibility for freedom of self-determination in life; d., finding an appropriate source of motivation; and e., accepting the need for change in life.
Dr. Pilch explains that you could be “terminally ill, mentally retarded, permanently disabled…and still have a high degree of wellness.” Conversely, you could be a glowing picture of physical and mental health but not have the foggiest notion of a direction in life, and therefore possess a low level, or no level, of wellness. Pilch goes on to explain that spiritual values, prayer and meditation, reflection on deeper meanings, can point the way to wellness by providing answers and direction for the five points above.
Although coming at his points from a different direction, Pilch concludes that having a passionate interest in life, being involved in something we truly care about, is a remedy for unwellness, particularly as a motivator for making or own healthiness a priority in our living. Forming long term goals might be part of this project of achieving overall wellness, too, and Pilch’s book may help some to make needed changes, just as Weil’s books may, as well.
But what if you need a momentary pick-me-up, not a long-time cure, just a lift or break from a sad situation you are basically dealing well with? I call such “pits” the doldrums, and while they are brief moments, they are admittedly low times in which no one wants to linger.
If you feel you are in the doldrums, try thinking through your symptoms, and being certain that your physician is not the one to call before you decide to find a remedy for your feelings. If a call to a friend or relative, or a chat with someone with whom you may be having a precipitating problem doesn’t help, what more can you do?
Most people think first of getting up and getting out to do something they truly enjoy. For some it’s a trip to the mall, or to visit favorite grandchildren. For me, it’s an exciting afternoon browsing the shelves at the bookstore with the café, or an hour’s stroll through the tropical gardens in the local nursery. For others it might be a meal in a new ethnic restaurant, or listening to a new CD of upbeat music.
For my friend it’s getting lost in the fabric store where she runs her hands over the textures and her eyes over the visions she imagines she can create with the lovely material. Using our senses to distract ourselves is often all it takes—sight, sound, scents, tastes and textures can really draw us out of our minds and into the present effectively. It’s like the remedy of foreign travel, when you’re stuck in first gear in your own head.
Don’t just do something you enjoy, either. Balance the fun part with accomplishing a task you’ve been putting off because you’ve been feeling low, something like cleaning out that bottom drawer, or weeding the flower beds. The rewards of satisfaction of expending physical energy give you self-confidence and spur you on in accomplishing good in other areas of your life, too.
Everybody knows instinctively, I think, that it’s important to be with people they like and enjoy when they’re down. Who else but our friends and family will put up with us when we’re cranky, discouraged, pessimistic or glum? No one wants to be a perpetual drag on others, but good, stable friendships allow for picking each other up from time to time, as long as the shoe is not always on the same person’s foot.
Try something new for your body in order to help your mind. Massage therapy is the first thing that comes to mind. Many I know have found delicious pleasure in having all those stress kinks worked out by a diligent masseuse—it’s a feeling of being pampered, cared for, and everyone deserves it from time to time.Reiki and other new-age health procedures can behelpful, too.
As Weil and others advise, eat healthy when you feel low—probably just the reverse of what you feel like doing. While chocolate is a good mood lifter because of the natural endorphins it produces, too much overly sweetened chocolate can lead to sugar blues, and worsen your depression. Planning and executing healthy meals can be a part of the “cure” that gets some people enthusiastic and helps doubly so.
Get enough sleep, and because sleep is often the first thing to go when we’re depressed, that’s a big challenge. Napping in the daytime is probably not a good idea. When you’re sleepy during the day and tempted to nap, take a short, steady walk, preferably out of doors, if weather permits. The fresh oxygen in your lungs and increased blood flow to your extremities will help wake you. Then pamper yourself at bedtime with rituals you know generally make you sleepy, like warm hot soaks, aromatherapy, breathing exercises. Ask your doctor about the use of melatonin as a help to falling off to sleep and staying asleep for the night. Try to keep your sleeping place quiet, and dark.
Foster your own prayer and the inner life by taking a few minutes a day to be still and invite God into your life. Remember not just to “say” prayers, but to quiet down and try to listen to what God may be saying to you. Find help in learning to take daily prayer time by researching on the web, finding spirituality books or speaking to a faith leader in your religious persuasion.
Exercise, exercise and exercise some more. Even if you can’t work up to Dr. Weil’s prescription for daily aerobic workouts, even a short amount of exercise four or five times a week can help in so many ways. It helps you sleep better, eat more healthily, and just plain feel better about yourself. Walking, whether on a treadmill or on street, also relaxes and refreshes you, and begins to help you put together the pieces of your life that may be jumbled and adding to the doldrums.