Coping with depression
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Saff Mitten, Counsellor & Psychotherapist - W1 & NW6
24th July, 20140 Comments
From time to time most of us may say "I am feeling a bit depressed or down" but what does it actually mean to be depressed?
Depression can take many forms and vary in terms of how long it lasts and how it impacts us, but it usually involves far more than just feeling a bit down. It is important to remember too that anybody can get depressed at some time in their life and although it may be triggered by an event or scenario that is stressful or upsetting, it could also be something that happens out of the blue, for no particular reason.
With at least one in ten of us experiencing depression in our lives it is likely that if you have not experienced it yourself, you will have friends, colleagues or family members who have, even if you haven't necessarily been aware of this. Whilst for some people, depression is also something that re-occurs at various points throughout their lives which they then have to learn to cope with.
At one end of the spectrum is what is often referred to as low level or mild depression. This is something that can be described as a general sense of feeling low, but it doesn't shift after a couple of days the way that low moods often do and it is not the same as feeling a bit down or sad. Instead it is more pervasive and harder to describe.
Also, unlike when we usually feel sad or upset, there may or may not be a reason that you find yourself feeling depressed. If there isn't a specific reason, it can be quite confusing and anxiety inducing as you may be asking yourself, "why am I feeling like this when there is nothing particularly wrong?" As a result, some people can get quite frustrated and impatient with themselves, believing they should snap out of it and they try to do so with varying levels of success. They may also be reluctant to discuss it with others or seek help because they think they don't have anything to be unhappy or down about and therefore may be worried people will think they are overreacting or being too sensitive.
When experiencing both mild or more serious depression there may also be what can be described as a flatness or almost a lack of feeling which may develop slowly over time. It might be difficult to become enthusiastic or excited about anything in particular and it might be hard to motivate yourself to do things you used to enjoy. For instance socialising and other leisure activities may feel like too much of an effort, or you may find you don't really want to talk to anybody, you just want to be on your own. This is fine if solitude is what you really need, but sometimes people can become isolated from friends and family because they are struggling and don't want to share what's going on - or they feel bad about burdening others - and this can make the situation worse.
Also, although some mild forms of depression will gradually lift and pass on their own accord, this is not always the case. If left untreated, low level or mild depression can at times develop into a deeper depression which is much more challenging to deal with and find a way through. So it is worthwhile taking steps to address it in the early stages if you can. Additionally, it is important to note that lower levels of depression are still challenging to cope with and can a have serious impact on one's life, so getting help and support with it is worthwhile regardless.
Deep or clinical depression
Someone in the depths of a deeper depression (which may be referred to as clinical depression) may experience some or all the things described earlier, but this type of depression is typically far more overwhelming and consuming. In fact it can be quite debilitating. For instance, it is not uncommon to feel like you are drowning or suffocating in a dark cloud and you are unable to find your way out, or to even see a glimmer of light or hope to hold onto.
Furthermore, this kind of depression can be so crippling it may feel impossible to even carry out day-to-day tasks. For instance getting out of bed each day, showering, going to work, and remembering to eat may feel like too much effort or you may not be able to see the point. A lot of people also report feeling constantly tired and lethargic and may spend a good deal of time sleeping or will stay in bed. This is often a physical response to the depressive state, but can also be linked to a desire to block everything out - some people say the only relief they get from their depression is when they are asleep.
At such times, intervention is definitely needed and it is worth going to the GP to be checked out from a physical and mental health perspective, even though this may feel very difficult to bring yourself to do. It may be that you need antidepressants to help you cope and although you may be worried about this and what others might think, perhaps you can view it in the same way as you might view taking medication for a physical illness. For instance, in much the same way that we develop an illness like Bronchitis which may not go away on its own accord without taking antibiotics, for some people antidepressants can be a positive and at times necessary intervention in helping them deal with depression.
Aside from antidepressants which can be helpful and necessary for some people, there is no one solution or cure for depression. However there are many small lifestyle changes you can make which may help in some way, particularly if you are suffering from a mild form of depression - although they can also be beneficial for more serious depression too.
Trying to establish a regular routine - ensuring you are eating healthily, not self medicating with drugs or alcohol, and getting enough sleep nightly - can also be of benefit. Avoiding too much caffeine may be helpful if you find you are having trouble sleeping, although many people have the opposite problem and find they want to sleep all the time.
You may also like to try going for a walk each day and spending some time sitting in your local park or green space if there is one nearby. Although it may feel like a struggle to exercise, there is plenty of evidence that exercise helps with depression and so even a regular walk (nothing too strenuous) could help to improve how you are feeling. Similarly, many people find that spending time outside in nature is beneficial, and the vitamin D from the sunshine at this time of year may help.
Additionally, there are those who find that artistic or creative pursuits can have a positive effect. Therefore, if there is something you normally enjoy doing like drawing, painting, listening to or playing music, creative writing or writing a journal, you may find that these things can help you in working your way through/giving you an outlet for what you are feeling and experiencing. So perhaps even if you feel unmotivated, it maybe worth giving it a try to see if it helps at all.
Furthermore, some people report feeling a little better from doing some simple mindfulness exercises on a daily basis. In this regard, there are many free or low cost online programmes and mobile apps, like Headspace: https://www.headspace.com which could be worth trying to see if they have any benefit.
Role for therapy
Alongside trying to do things on your own to improve your well-being, a lot of people find it beneficial to seek help in the form of counselling or psychotherapy. Therapy can be of benefit because it can help you examine what is going on and give you a place to talk about what you are experiencing in a non judgemental, supportive environment, with someone who understands the impact depression can have.
Talking may feel like a struggle and going to see a stranger might not appeal, but chances are that once you start it might be quite a relief to be able to share and unburden yourself with a professional who understands depression and who may be able to help you develop some other strategies to deal with it. Whilst together you can also look at the reasons you may have become depressed - if there were any specific triggers for instance - and you can work to take steps to try and improve how you are feeling physically, mentally and emotionally, as depression can impact upon all three aspects of our health.
For those people suffering from deep or clinical depression, therapy can be an important factor in the road to recovery too, often in combination with antidepressants. When your depressive symptoms are debilitating and you feel lost and unable to hold onto the hope that things will get better, therapy can help you to feel supported and less alone.
On a once weekly basis (or sometimes more frequently if required), a counsellor can be there to support you, listen to you, give you the time and space to share and make sense of your thoughts and feelings, and - like with milder forms of depression - they can work with you to develop strategies that may help you cope better.
Importantly, if they have prior experience of working with depression, a counsellor or psychotherapist will also understand what you are going through in a way that other people in your life may not, and they can hold onto the hope for you that things will improve even when you can't believe in this yourself. Also, their experience of working with depression means they will have the ability to empathise and to validate your personal experiences. This is something many clients describe as a huge relief because it means they can be totally open and honest about what they are going through without worrying what their therapist might think of them.
Therefore if you are currently suffering from depression - whether it be mild or more serious - why not contact a counsellor or psychotherapist and see if therapy might be able to help you? It may feel like a lonely and isolating condition to have, but you don't need to suffer through it completely on your own.
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