If you are affected by depression, you are not “just” sad or upset; you have a condition that involves intense feelings of persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness, together with physical problems such as sleeplessness, loss of energy, and physical aches and pains.
Depression is an illness and you need support to help fight it. Treatments can involve a variety of different approaches including antidepressants and psychological therapies. But there are also many self-help techniques you can use to complement professional treatment.
Options include attending a self-help group, making changes to your diet, improving your sleep habits and learning relaxation techniques. Research on acupuncture, herbal medicines (including St. John’s Wort), and aromatherapy suggests that these treatments can help to reduce anxiety and to alleviate mild depression.
Don’t expect too much of yourself, as depression makes it difficult to do what you need to feel better, but you do have some control. Make small changes, persist with them, and you will begin to notice a benefit.
Of course, it’s not that easy. Even small changes may seem impossible, so it’s crucial not to pressure yourself to take action. Imagine yourself completing a few small goals to start with. Consider the resources available to you: friends, loved ones, doctors, information, support from an employer, health facilities, outdoors areas to relax in. Gathering information can help reduce the misconceptions, guilt and fear which are often associated with depression. Look out for books and websites on depression.
Ideas for action include taking a short walk, calling a trusted friend, sending a few emails. If you feel up to it, think about communicating with other people in a similar situation. Sharing experiences within supportive relationships can help alleviate your depression and provide new coping strategies. It can be hard to maintain perspective on your own so, although it can be a challenge, it is worth breaking out of the isolation and reaching out for help.
Once they know how you are feeling, trusted friends and family members will want to help you through this tough time. If you’ve had some bad news or a major upset, tell someone how you feel. You may need to talk (and maybe cry) about it more than once, but a good friend will understand.
Make plans to have lunch or coffee with a friend and explain the situation. You could ask them to check in with you regularly, and set regular events for the two of you such as going to the movies, a concert, a museum, to dinner, or to a small gathering.
Depression can increase your tension, stress and anxiety, so relaxation is an important element of recovery. There are many ways to relax – yoga, reading, listening to a relaxation tape, or getting away for a short holiday. On the other hand, some people unwind best through a more physical activity. Perhaps there is a form of gentle exercise that appeals to you and will make you feel more positive. Taking a walk in the sunshine provides exercise, fresh air, vitamin D, and removes you from your comfort zone if you tend to stay at home.
Dietary changes are a sensible idea to support your recovery from depression. Often people find that their appetite decreases or increases significantly, so try to make sure that you eat regular, appropriate amounts of food, ideally including fresh fruit and vegetables. Certain nutrients, like Omega 3 (found in oily fish, flax/linseed and olive oil) are thought to be especially beneficial. If you’re really struggling to eat well, invest in vitamin or fish oil supplements.
Aim to maintain any hobbies or interests you normally have, if only just a few minutes each day. Routine is essential. These activities will help you to feel better, despite being more difficult and perhaps not giving you the pleasure they usually would. If your interests involve being sociable, try to fight the urge to retreat into your shell. Being around other people will give you a lift.
Make time for things you enjoy, while limiting your working pressures and commitments as far as possible. This may open up an opportunity to begin expressing yourself creatively through a new medium: music, art, or writing. Inspiration could come from spending some time in nature or revisiting favorite books or films to get back in touch with your happier self. Look back over journals or photos to get a fresh viewpoint on your current feelingsyou may gain strength from recalling your achievements and obstacles you have previously overcome.
Relaxation techniques are worth investigating. Try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation. Identify what is adding to your stress load (work? unsupportive relationships? substance abuse? health problems?). See if any of these can be reduced or eliminated.
Most of all, go easy on yourself and don’t set impossibly high standards. Recognize this tendency if you have it, and step back. Challenge your negative thinking by treating yourself as you would a good friend. Sometimes the thought patterns in depression can make you feel helpless, but it is a disease that can be treated. Take gradual steps day by day and be proud of yourself for doing so.