First, make sure that there is not a physical reason for your depression. Depression can be a side-effect of any number of physical sources: nutritional deficiencies, bacterial imbalances in your gut, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, fibromyalgia, hormonal disorders, food allergies, infections, and medications. Get a thorough checkup from your doctor.
Pay attention to your health. Depression can also intensify or improve with physical conditions.
As anyone who has experienced hanger (hunger + anger) knows, our brains need proper nutrition and sleep to stabilise our moods. Balance your diet, alcohol intake, and sleep.
Move your body. Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk suggests that our bodies hold on to traumatic experiences. If unaddressed, trauma can lead to depression. In his book, The Body Keeps Score, van der Kolk advises that we take physical steps to release the impact of trauma on our bodies. He recommends mindful movement such as yoga, dance or Qi Gong.
Exercise. When you exercise, your body releases a natural morphine called endorphins. Endorphins are one of our body´s natural painkillers. (Endorphin actually means endogenous morphine). What better way to quickly reduce emotional pain?
We don’t have to go to the gym or even exert a huge amount of energy. Even a 10-minute walk can lift one’s mood. However, it’s fair to say, any exercise can seem almost unmanageable when depressed.
Distraction can help..
Listening to an audiobook while walking outside or using a treadmill while watching a series on your smartphone can provide a useful distraction. Great suggestions that make exercise more palatable can be found at http://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2011/08/exercise-for-depression-suggestions-for-making-it-possible/
Accept your thoughts and feelings. We have thousands of thoughts and feelings each day and we can’t possibly attend to all of them. When we have depressive thoughts, they sometimes take hold and make us feel down. When we feel down, we are more likely to think negatively, creating a depressive spiral.
When depressive thoughts and feelings arise, don’t ignore them, judge them, or try to stop them. Acknowledge them and let them pass. Take a tip from meditation: Think of your thoughts and feelings as flowing through your mind like a river. If you attach to a thought, let it go and let it flow; it will float through your mind leaving space to focus on other things.
Attaching to thoughts and feelings:
Thought: I feel like such a failure.
Reaction: I am doing it again. I am beating myself up. Every time I try to be positive, I fail. See I am a failure. Stop it. Stop it. But I can’t even do this right, ugh.
Accepting thoughts and feelings and letting go:
Thought: I feel like such a failure.
Reaction: Hmmm. There is that thought again. What should I have for dinner?
Meditation teaches us to be aware of our thoughts and emotions without judging them as positive or negative. When we judge a thought or feeling, we give it more attention and more power. Meditation doesn’t aim to make us emotionless; rather it teaches us that we don’t have to be carried away by our thoughts and emotions. Practice meditation regularly to get good at this.
Show self-compassion. Beating yourself up for feeling depressed just adds more negative feelings to the collection you’re already coping with. And constantly fighting negative feelings is exhausting. Instead of beating yourself up for wanting to stay in bed all day, schedule a ‘duvet day’. Rent movies for it, get your favourite food delivery, plan the day as you would a mini-holiday. Then, experience the day without feeling guilty. If duvet days turn into duvet weeks, this is a sign that you might need to seek help.
The most effective depression treatments involve positive experience.
Do something small. You might not be able to change the difficult situation that is getting you down but you can do little things to uplift your mood. Plan some small activity that you normally enjoy. It could be as simple as cooking yourself a nice meal. You may not feel great after one time but pat yourself on the back for doing it. And then repeat it. The effects are cumulative.
Change something small. Often people think that something big has to happen in order to change our mood. Quitting an unhealthy job or changing careers can seem unmanageable right now, whereas taking a weekend class or volunteering to learn more about a new career interest is doable.
Connect with someone. Depression often inhibits our ability to connect with others. Reconnecting, even with just a short phone call, can release bursts of bonding and soothing neurochemicals (like oxytocin) into the brain and lift your mood as a result.
Problem solve. This may sound obvious but our environment and our relationships are complex and dynamic. It’s very hard to get a full picture of a situation that is continually changing, especially when we are emotionally involved.
Sitting down and articulating difficult issues, compiling all available resources and brainstorming possible options for change can make a difference in how we feel about it. If your issues seem insurmountable, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has tools to help you through this process.
Talk to a therapist. You might suspect that a therapist would say this. (You were right.) Many people think that they don’t feel bad enough to warrant therapy. But the intensity of psychotherapy depends on the client’s needs.
Because sometimes you just need to talk it through with someone, I offer one-time 90-minute Skype sessions (as well as six-session, and ongoing Skype packages). After the session, you can decide whether you want to continue, check back in the future, or say goodbye. It is up to you.
FIND OUT MORE: Depression, The Science Behind Depression, How Psychotherapy (and Monkey therapy) Can Help You Feel Better
References and Contributors
Paul W. Andrews & J. Anderson Thomson, Jr. (2009). The bright side of being blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological Review.
Antonio Damasio. (1996). Descartes’ Error.
Paul Gilbert. (2010). The Compassionate Mind.
Daniel Goleman. (1996). Emotional Intelligence.
Rick Hanson. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness. The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence.
Karla McLaren. (2013). The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill.
Dan Siegel. (2010). Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.
Bessel van der Kolk. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma