5 ways to tackle depression
If you suffer from depression, you will know that it can affect every aspect of your life. It can make daily and family life a struggle. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses seen by GPs.
Depression is a mood disorder; it is an illness that affects your body, your mood and your behaviour. It presents as a pervasive low mood that affects the way that we go about our lives; life lacks joy and becomes a chore. Simple tasks take great effort. Often when, suffering from depression, we will withdraw from the world and become uncommunicative or stop socialising. Recovery takes time, and you need to offer yourself the space and compassion to improve.
1) Stay connected
Spending time with friends can help your mood and can help you to challenge negative views. By being with others you can reduce the sense of being alone fighting this condition. Often when we are depressed, we feel we don’t have the strength to be in company. Filled with self-doubt, we lack positivity. Often we feel others won’t want us tagging along in our low mood. Yet, often good friends will be looking for simple ways to help. That could be listening to how you are feeling, or it could just be having lunch or going for a walk.
2) Do the things that make you feel good
When you are depressed it is easy to stop doing the things that refreshed you and gave you purpose. Doing things for yourself because you enjoy them no longer happens. The joy of living seems to leech away, and it feels difficult to recapture it. Yet, having a routine that includes things that refresh and revive you can make a big difference. This may feel hard to achieve at first, so you have to be routine and mechanical about it. A good place to check for pointers is things we spent time on in the past (perhaps you had a hobby or a sport you followed). For example, if walking in nature used to make you feel good, you may have to push yourself the first few times to do it. After a few times you'll see a slow improvement in your mood.
3) Get moving and exercise
Many studies have shown that exercise can make a difference in depression. It doesn’t have to be hours at the gym - it could be 30 minutes of walking or swimming. It can be hard to get motivated, so think about building up slowly. It can be helpful to exercise out of doors as, again, studies suggest that for some types of depression getting out in the daylight can both help your mood and help you sleep better. Alongside exercising, it's worth looking at what you eat. Often when depressed, you might under or overeat. Some people find alcohol is a problem, as they use it to mask their emotions. Try to avoid all of these and eat healthily so that your body has the fuel it needs to get better.
4) Challenge your negative thoughts
Our thoughts and thought processes can be overwhelming when we feel depressed. Often we don’t feel in control, being powerless to manipulate them. It is important to realise that these unrealistic thoughts are part of having this illness. When you challenge the thoughts you can often make a difference to how you feel and what you feel you can do. You can challenge the critical inner voice and notice that you have good qualities that are harder to acknowledge just now - but they are there.
5) Practise self-care and compassion on yourself
Learning to accept that you are ill in a similar way as a physical illness can be one of the hardest steps. When we have an injury, we often naturally guard it; we slow down, we take care of ourselves. With mental illness we often become critical, telling ourselves we should be over it or minimising our feelings. Accepting we are ill and offering ourselves compassion is important. It can take time to recover fully. Many find writing or keeping a journal a good companion on the journey. It offers a way of reflecting what is happening now allowing you to put down the burden. It also offers the opportunity to notice the things that are going well in your recovery. Taken overall, you can see the progress that you are making.
Depression has a major impact on our lives, and while your GP is the first stop in managing the condition, it is important to notice that there are things that you can do to help yourself. These steps can help to support you while you recover. You may feel that a talking therapy would help, and contacting a counsellor to help understand and control unhelpful thoughts and behaviours can make a difference. It is important to realise that depression is treatable, and that by taking simple sensible steps you will get better.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author, living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice, he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.