Depression can be crippling.
When you are depressed, you may feel like you are living in a bleak fog, unable to concentrate or think clearly.
You may have trouble sleeping, or feel unable to get out of bed.
You may lose your appetite; or you may overeat without enjoying your food, because depression takes away the ability to experience pleasure.
Depression may rob you of motivation to do anything. No wonder that when we are depressed, we often feel hopeless that life will ever get better.
What can you do when you’re depressed?
While antidepressants can be helpful, the most powerful strategy is for you to address the factors that are contributing to your depression.
Here are some tips:
First, see depression as something outside of yourself, an adversary against whom you can take action. Making this shift in your thinking can help you to stop feeling like a helpless victim.
Next, focus on taking action to address those factors contributing to your depression that are within your power to change. This will give you something positive to focus on in the present, and will help you to feel proactive rather than powerless.
If you believe that there is nothing you can do, challenge yourself to find a move to make. You can almost always find something to do.
Here are key areas to focus on:
- You will likely feel worse if you repeatedly focus on unchangeable past events such as losses or mistakes, or on negative feelings or beliefs about yourself. Get out of that groove by gently shifting your focus to something different: When you can identify external factors that are contributing to your depression, you might shift your focus toward taking action to change these factors. Or, you might want to shift your focus to a positive image or activity, such as walking outside and intently noticing the warmth of the sun on your skin, the sound of the birds, and the feel of the breeze.
- Meditation is a great way to practice letting go of upsetting thoughts and feelings. Here is a meditation that I often teach clients. You may find that this meditation helps deepen your sense of well-being and peace. Remember that it is normal for depression to keep pulling you toward that which makes you sad. Your job is to keep pulling yourself away. Know that the more you practice, the easier it can be to shift out of rumination.
- Sweat often. Regular aerobic exercise actually changes your brain chemistry in the same way that antidepressants are thought to work. Examples: walking, swimming, running, cycling, or any activity involving movement that raises your heart rate for a sustained period. An added bonus: If you are having trouble sleeping (common with depression), frequent exercise may help you to sleep better.
- Speaking of sleep, you can help yourself to get restorative sleep by going to bed at the same time every night; by avoiding caffeine for many hours before bedtime; by only using your bedroom for sleeping, rest, and sex (no computer, television, or work!); and by avoiding your computer or television shortly before bedtime, because the mental stimulation and the light emitted from these devices can interfere with sleep.
- Eat well. When people are depressed, they often either lose their appetite or eat a lot of unhealthy food. Stay away from simple carbohydrates such as white sugar and white flour, which wreak havoc on your blood sugar level (an important mood regulator) while providing little nutrition. Excessive caffeine may make you more anxious, worsening depression. Alcohol may temporarily mute sad feelings, but alcohol is a depressant that also interferes with restful sleep. Get plenty of omega-3, which has been shown to reduce depression. Certain fatty fish are rich in omega-3; great vegetarian sources include chia seeds, hemp seeds, and hemp milk. Also be sure to get adequate vitamin D, which plays a vital role in mood regulation.
- Finally, connecting with others (both humans and animals) will reduce your isolation, shift your focus, and improve your mood. And don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A skilled therapist can help you reduce negative or fearful thinking, improve your ability to soothe yourself, and learn to face challenges with creativity.