Living With Depression
Does it have to be a life sentence? Some people live with decades of depression. It goes only to return. A cluster of feelings and behaviour suggest depression:
Lack of motivation
Feeling hopeless and helpless
Lack of confidence and feeling worthless
Loss of appetite or comfort eating
If this is you it is worth becoming an expert on the condition and taking advantage of all that is now known about how to improve how you feel. There is hope and help is at hand. Here is a summary of some things you can do.
Monitor Your Mood
If you are prone to depression it is easier to step-in at the early stages before you feel awful. Becoming aware of how you are feeling and watching out for the signs and symptoms that you are dipping is the first step. You may find you are getting snappy with your friends and family, or you avoid social gatherings. You may not wish to believe its happening again, but prompt action now will help.
You will also find that certain times of the day are worse than others. Also knowing that the worst days get better will help you tolerate them.
Evidence shows that exercise lifts mood. Walking in the open gives you exercise and sunlight, another essential mood enhancer. But when your mood is low you will need to set simple manageable goals. Any exercise is better than none. Five minutes dancing to your favourite dance music every day will give you a break from feeling down.
Stormy Weather Friends
When you feel depressed it is important to spend time with the people you trust most, those that help you to feel good about yourself and who value you. These are your stormy weather friends as opposed to your fair-weather friends. It may help to confide in them, or at least to explain what’s going on. Even if you choose not to tell anyone at this stage, spending time with your stormy weather friends can help take your mind off things and give you a break from the blues.
Setting Simple Goals
Lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression. As things pile up, you feel overwhelmed. The less you do, the worse it gets and the worse you feel. Start with the smallest goal you know you can manage, depending on how you feel. For example, if your home looks like you’ve been burgled, you could do five minutes a day tidying. If five minutes feels too much, put away five items. If you can’t get up until 1pm, set yourself the goal of getting up at 12.45 or even 12.30. If you can achieve this, you will be ready for the next goal. The sense of achievement will spur you on.
Everyone can identify certain activities which help them to feel better. Examples are: playing with grandchildren, watching films, gardening, walking the dog, baking, fishing, watching comedy programmes, listening to music. Some may need some organisation and planning but some can be simple things you can do alone at home. Make a list of all the activities which help you. Put the list somewhere you can see it at the difficult times.
With so much heaviness in your heart at the moment, you need regular injections of lightness and enjoyment. Think of these as necessities rather than luxuries.
Food and Mood
Recent research identifies the many ways that nutrition affects our brain chemistry. Eating regularly and having a good balanced diet helps to stabilise blood sugar. Serotonin production has also been linked to adequate supplies of B and D vitamins. In other words, this is no time to make do with junk food. There are many simple and quick ways of eating healthy but delicious food. Plan in advance, your own favourites or take the time to find some quick recipes you like the look of. Cook in bulk and save for the days you don’t feel like cooking.
Keeping a journal even if this is only one sentence a day, can help expel some of what’s going on in your mind. You can also use it to track changes in your mood or to identify what triggers down days.
Beware Alcohol, Drugs and Addictions
Alcohol is a swift mood lifter and may seem a tempting alternative to misery. It will just as quickly drop your mood lower than before. The only way to recover from depression is to nurse your mood through gradual improvements. Sudden alterations in mood will rebound. When feeling low, you will be even more vulnerable to quick fixes, whether shopping, gambling, food or sex. All of which bring their own problems. So limit your drinking or use of other substances. Counselling can also help with these.
How Can Counselling Help?
Counselling can help you make the small changes which will help you feel better now but it can do much more. Depression can provide the impetus to really address long standing unhappiness.
With the barrage of negative, critical thoughts and your confidence at rock bottom, you can end up pretty isolated. Counselling gives you a safe place where you can feel accepted, supported and never judged. Regular contact with your counsellor will help you stay open to relating to other people, remind you of who you are and prepare for any challenging situations.
‘I’m such a failure’ ‘My life will always be like this’. Are these familiar? These thoughts become beliefs and are destructive for your confidence and hope for the future. Counselling helps you change these beliefs and their grip on your life.
At the root of your current feelings are difficult early experiences. You may have a clear idea of what these are, or you may not yet realise. Sensitive support to explore these experiences and their impact on your beliefs, feelings, relationships is the key to making changes. You will gain self-knowledge, self-acceptance and a greater sense of aliveness and being in control of your life.