Depression can be a puzzling condition for patients and their loved ones. There may not be any overt reasons for it but coping with even routine tasks can become a daily struggle. The condition can range from mild to severe and episodic to chronic. In most cases, patients lose their zest for life in some for or another.
As difficult as the situation may be, when the patient recognizes the symptoms and faces the reality of living with depression, healing can begin in earnest.
Depressive disorders certainly require the help of a medical professional but there are some steps that one can do to initiate if not accelerate the healing process.
Self Help For Depression
1. Self Realization is the first step to recovery.
Self examination strengthens self-acceptance. Identify possible triggers of the depressive episode through self-examination. Using a journal to chronicle the daily changes in one’s moods will help to organize thoughts and possibly identify environmental triggers of the condition. These causes are issues that need to be addressed in some way in order to alleviate stressful events.
For instance, facing overwhelming debt is stressful and very depressing under most circumstances. It can be even more so when the situation is compounded by current or impending unemployment. Separate the situations and deal with each one accordingly. Seek the help of financial professionals and explore all available life lines including those provided by government and private entities.
The point of the exercise is to face reality and to manage distressing factors that can be controlled.
2. Take it one step at a time.
Understand that there are no instant solutions to problems that may have been festering for a while. But there are always options for those who are brave enough to face their problems and seek help.
Keep it simple. Resolve to call a friend or a family member regularly to keep your social connections active and aware of what you’re going through. Confide if you can or simply find comfort in the fellowship of friends and loved ones.
As an alternative, consider becoming part of a support group. Interact with people faced with similar issues to reduce the sense of isolation. It may even bring a fresh perspective that will challenge one’s personal outlook.
3. Indulge in exercise.
Physical activity has been shown to positively affect serotonin levels as well as other hormone interactions in the body. Regular exercise is a powerful antidepressant because it has been proven effective in energizing neurotransmitters and endorphins that enhance mood. A study involving an elderly cohort showed that 16 weeks of exercise was as effective as antidepressant medications in reducing the symptoms of major depressive disorder.
Exercise also releases muscle tension and relieves stress. Start with 10 minute sessions of simple physical activity such as climbing the stairs or walking up and down the hallway. Gradually increase the duration, striving for 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day increasing intensity and duration as appropriate.
Physical activities can include:
- Walking the dog
- Walking or running with a friend
- Walking to do errands when the distance is walkable
- Playing with children
Aerobic activities such as biking, jogging, aerobic dancing and swimming are excellent stress busters and mood lifters.
For patients with mild to moderate depression, getting a lot of sunshine has been proven to influence mood. Studies published in the Journal for American Medicine indicate that sunshine can be as effective as medications in dealing with mild to moderate depressive symptoms. Sunshine affects serotonin levels and provides vitamin D that helps in the absorption of the stress-busting B vitamin complex.
Seasonal affective disorder can be treated with greater exposure to sunshine. When natural sunshine is not available during winter, phototherapy can be used as an antidepressant. Patients are exposed to 2,000 to 10,000 lux by sitting in front of a light box. A daily 30-minute treatment is recommended for SAD sufferers during the winter season.
5. Feed the body, nurture the brain.
Depression can influence food attitudes. Some depressed patients resort to over-indulgence leading to dangerous weight gain. Others engage in food deprivation that may lead to malnutrition. In both cases, patients will benefit by turning to a healthier diet.
A well-balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates and adequate protein will energize the body, allowing depressed persons to engage in more physical activity. A diet based on carbohydrates like whole grain pasta and breads, brown rice, baked potato and bananas can enhance serotonin levels. Refined carbohydrates such as those found in most baked goods and sugary snacks should be avoided at all costs because these foods have little nutritive value. Refined sugar provides a temporary mood improvement but will be deleterious in the long term because of it raises insulin levels and interferes with normal endorphin levels in the brain.
6. Supplementation can help.
Vitamin B deficiency can lead to depression in those who are already predisposed. Eggs, beans, chicken, citrus and leafy greens are vitamin B sources. Supplement with vitamin B complex capsules if necessary.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources including mackerel, salmon and other cold-water, wild-caught fish can be mood boosters when included in the diet. Alternatively, fish oil supplements can also be used.
There are many herbs and natural cures that might support treatment for depression.
Some of the most popular herbs used to help with depression are:
- St. John’s Wort – improves sleep patterns and promotes stress relief
- Gingko Biloba – improves memory, focus and deactivates free radicals
- 5- Hydroxytryptophan – a serotonin booster
It should be emphasized that supplementation may interfere with other medications. Self-prescribing natural supplements is not recommended but some health care providers are open to including natural cures as part of a holistic approach to depression treatment.
7. Pets provide unconditional companionship.
Pet therapy has been recommended as a palliative for many conditions, depression among them. A pet will provide some companionship as well as require owners to engage in as much physical activity as is required to walk and entertain the pet.
Interaction with dogs, horses and even pigs have been shown to relieve stress among ill patients. No definitive study has been done to gauge the efficacy of pet therapy in managing depression but the mood-enhancing effects of human and pet interactions cannot be denied.
8. Get adequate sleep.
Depression affects sleep patterns and sleep behavior can influence mood swings. Too much sleep can be depressogenic. In fact, lethargy and inactivity are symptoms of depression. Aim for six to eight hours of restful sleep every night.
On the other hand, some health professionals have recommended the use of wake therapy as a rapid onset antidepressant. Wake therapy refers to controlled sleep deprivation to elevate mood. Serotonin activity heightens when a person is awake and slows down in the sleep state.
Manipulation of sleep patterns can be helpful in mood improvement, consequently cutting down on medications that cause drowsiness, adding to depressive symptoms. However, it must be noted that mood swings from wake therapy can result in mania, much like that experienced by college students pulling an all-nighter to cram for exams.
9. Visualization and the power of positive thoughts can help.
Think yourself happy and it will happen. Negative thinking exacerbates depression. Focusing on negative events while ignoring or diminishing achievements is damaging to one’s self-worth.
Stress can be self-imposed as with perfectionists, for instance. Setting impossible standards is stressful but self-flagellating for perceived failure is unhealthy.
Opt for the fellowship of positive people. Negativism is contagious and habit-forming.
10. Know when to reach out.
The road to recovery is uneven at best. There will be good days and there will be bad days but a trusted circle of friends and family would always be able to provide a shoulder to lean on or simply act as a sounding board when you feel like talking.
If you find that even with these self help methods and the support of your family and friends your symptoms are not getting better and/or are getting worse, your best course of action is to then see a doctor. Depression is an illness just like any other and a doctor can check to make sure there isn’t a physical reason for your condition and can also prescribe certain prescription medication such as antidepressants.
Reaching out is not a sign of weakness. It is an expression of the strength within. It is proof positive that recovering from depression is well within your reach.