Self-help for depression
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Debbie Gillespie MSc PGCD MBACP (Accd) UKCP Reg Psychotherapist & Supervisor
13th December, 2013
Depression is a common problem. It's estimated that around one in ten adults will experience depression at some stage in their life.
The symptoms include: a sense of loss of pleasure and interest in life and activities, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, inferiority, inadequacy, helplessness, sadness, despair, loss of hope and self-hatred.
Depression can affect the concentration, memory, indecisiveness and increase self-criticism.The physical symptoms include fatigue, lethargy, sleep disruption, restlessness and agitation, headache, muscular pain, back pain, weight loss/gain, or appetite changes and loss of sexual desire.
There are a number of things which can help you to feel better. What often gets in the way is the lack of motivation, and the feeling that any attempts to help yourself will be hopeless. One of the difficulties is that when you're feeling feeling hopeless, tired and lacking in motivation, it helps to cultivate that "downward spiral" which leads you to feel even worse.
It's okay to take active steps. Research suggests that people who have depression and put time and energy into activities which help them to recover, have a substantially higher rate of recovery which will help them to get better quickly. There is also less likelihood of a relapse.
Being realistic is important - we all have mood changes and fluctuations to some degree - this is part of being human. When you put the changes into practice you may have down days, but that doesn't mean that the changes you're putting into place aren't working.
Alongside your therapy, I invite you to consider considering the following:
There is some evidence suggesting that exercising three times a week has a mild anti-depresant effect, and can improve your mood and general feelings of well-being.
It's important to choose an exercise which you will enjoy, as you're most likely to continue. This might be a ten minute walk which builds gradually to a longer one. Looking up to the sky, taking in what's around you - even the different shapes of the chimney pots - can help to lift your mood.
If you build your exercise to forty-five minutes, three times a week, you may find that your energy levels will increase.
Paying attention to the food you eat may change your mood.
Nutritionists often recommend the following:
- Increasing levels of Omega 3 fats by eating oily fish, or by taking a supplement.
- Ensuring that you have enough vitamins and minerals - eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, or by taking a supplement.
- Eat two sources of protein a day, to help build serotonin and other chemicals within your brain which affect your mood.
- Cut down on sugar and refined products - simple changes like changing to wholemeal bread.
Managing your thoughts and feelings
Everyone has bad thoughts - it can be helpful to remember that feelings are just feelings and that they will pass, no matter how bad they are.
We all have choices on whether to act on our feelings.
It's unrealistic to think that we should have good feelings all the time. Feeling bad, doesn't necessarily mean that we can't do anything, and we can still do things in life even though we might feel upset.
Self-care and self-nurturing
Often with depression comes self-neglect. It's important to do things which help you to feel good about yourself.
It's okay to give yourself "permission" to relax when you're going to read a book or a magazine, it's okay to take care of your appearance - even if you don't feel like it.
Meeting others can improve your mood and feelings of well-being. Although it may be hard to maintain contact with your family or friends at this time, it's important that you maintain regular contact with people. We all need recognition from others - "strokes" of recognition help us to feel good. If certain relationships are damaging to you and leave you feeling bad about yourself - it's okay to reduce or stop this contact.
Some tips to improve your sleep
- Go to bed at the same time every evening.
- Get up the same time every day - structure is important to everyone.
- Get some exercise every day.
- Get some fresh air and light.
- Don't watch TV in your bedroom - use this for sleeping (and maybe keep the room a little cooler).
- Avoid working on your computer, watching TV or reading, anything exciting / engaging before bed-time.
- Avoid stimulants like coffee, tea, chocolate or alcohol (alcohol can be a depressant and reduce sleep).
- Avoid day-time naps as this may affect your usual sleep patterns.
Mindfulness is about training the mind to focus and pay attention to the present moment (the here-and-now), in a non-judgemental way.
It can take a long time to practice, but there is evidence to support that regular mindfulness practice is beneficial, and people can experience benefits within around two months of practice.
- Sit comfortably with your back straight and close your eyes.
- Focus on your breathing.
- Notice the internal sensations when you breathe. Your abdomen rising with each breath, and falling with each exhalation.
- Thoughts and feelings will come into your awareness. This is okay, notice these thoughts and bring your attention back to your breathing.
- You may become aware of sounds, smells and tastes. If this happens, recognise them and bring your thoughts back to your breathing.
- Allow yourself to let your thoughts go. Recognise that they are just thoughts and not necessarily actions.
- If you notice yourself wandering off - bring yourself back to your breathing.
If you haven't made an appointment for therapy - go and speak with someone, and if you already have a therapist - keep in touch, and talk about your concerns and celebrate your successes about managing depression.
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