Depression is hard. One of the most difficult parts of depression is the double-bind it creates: depression tells us to do things that will make us more depressed. Depression tells us to not get out of bed, to not eat, to isolate from other people, to do nothing. When we do the things depression tells us to do, we end up feeling more depressed.
The purpose of this article is to give you four tools you help combat your depression. These will not be easy things to, at least not at first. Remember that your depressed self will lie to you. It will try to convince you of things that are not true! Here are some ways to start digging yourself out of depression and feeling better.
Eat healthy foods
Depression tends to affect people’s appetites in two ways: either you just don’t get hungry and don’t want to eat, or you tend to want to eat more but you end up eating junk food. Some people lose weight because they’re not eating, others gain weight because they primarily eat sugary or salty foods. Both of these are a prescription to increased misery.
If you’re the kind that doesn’t want to eat, here’s the key point to remember: not eating will make you feel more depressed! This is a lie that depression tells you. Eat a minimum of three meals a day, regardless of how you feel about it. If you don’t want to, if it feels like work to eat, remind yourself that eating helps you with depression and not eating can make depression worse.
Your brain simply doesn’t work correctly if it doesn’t get the nutrients it needs! Visit your doctor and ask him to help you rule out any purely biological causes of depressive symptoms, such as hypothyroidism. Low vitamin B6 has been linked to depression in some folks as well. Put yourself on a schedule, and eat something, regardless of whether you want to. Set an alarm on your phone, make up a schedule (or have a loved one do it) and put it on your fridge, whatever it takes. Tell someone what you are doing, and ask them to check up on you. Don’t trust yourself to always be motivated to do this.
If you find yourself eating too much, and too much junk food, here’s the key point to remember: eating junk food will make you more depressed! This is a lie that depression tells you. Eating junk food gives you pleasure, and that’s the bait, but the hook is that it leads to more depression later on due to guilt and weight gain. The first thing to do is to remove temptation. If you have junk food in the house, get rid of it, reduce it as much as you can! When you are depressed you are not well, the normal amount of self-discipline we have is compromised. Removing harmful foods from easy reach is the first step. Tell someone you love what you are doing, enlist their support and ask them to check up on you.
It can be hard to suddenly stop eating, so find a substitute to snack on. You won’t like it as much, but remember you are climbing out of a hole when you are depressed. Every time you have something that doesn’t harm your body you are helping yourself get better. Healthy eating is crucial component to overcoming depression.
I know, you probably want to stop reading right now. I’m not asking you to go to the gym and lift weights five times a week. I am asking you to do the opposite of what depression tells you to do, which is nothing. The key truth to remember here is that doing nothing makes you more depressed, and exercise reduces it! A key component of overcoming depression is some form of physical exercise. You are also more likely to sleep better at night.
It can be tough because folks that are depressed typically lack motivation. Here’s what you do: think back to some kind of exercise you enjoyed. It could be walking, running, swimming, yoga. Pick a reasonable goal and start! Make yourself a schedule. Tell someone you love about your plan, enlist their support and ask them to check up on you. Better yet find someone else to exercise with you. It’s similar to my advice on eating, it won’t be easy at first, but the more you do it the more you end up reducing your depressive symptoms.
Don’t overdo it! Five minutes of exercise a day is better than zero minutes, and is something you can allow yourself to feel good about. If you can go 10 minutes, or 20, great, the more endorphins you release the better; if you can’t, stick with five until you can. If you can’t think of anything, sign up for a beginner’s yoga class. Even better, sign up with a friend. Yoga has scientifically-based benefits for self-esteem, two of you are better than one, and if you are paying for something you’re more likely to follow through. If you don’t think you can afford it, many communities will offer free or reduced-cost yoga. The most important thing is to choose something today.
Tell someone you are depressed
One of the most devastating lies depression tells us is to stay away from other people. “I don’t want to burden them” or “they’ve got enough to worry about” or “I don’t have any real friends.” These are lies. Some of us don’t want anyone to know we are depressed. Notice that the first two things I recommended, eating and exercising, both involve telling other people about it? That’s because support from others is essential to overcoming depression, and keeping it a secret makes depression more powerful. If you honestly cannot find anyone in your life that will support you let your local counselor support you, or join a support group.
Think back. Do you remember those days you’ve spent succumbing to the lie that you need to be alone? Did you feel better? Did it help alleviate your depression? Isolation makes us feel worse, not better. If you haven’t done it yet, the single best thing you can do is to tell someone you are depressed. If you are having trouble with this, try turning it around in your mind. If someone you cared about was depressed, alone and suffering, would you want to know? Would you feel burdened by knowing, or would you want to help? Draw on that and tell someone. Then tell them how they can help: with your eating, with your exercise. It’s perfectly OK to do this, because they will want to know what they can do.
Do something enjoyable every day
The first three things I listed can be work. Here’s something that’s fun! One of the best ways to help alleviate your depressive symptoms is to find something pleasurable (and non-harmful) to do every day. When you are depressed it can be difficult to come up with anything enjoyable to do. Sometimes we can only think of one or two things, and one of them is usually television. Doing something enjoyable can reduce your depression.
There are a couple of ways to come up with simple, pleasurable things to do. One is to make a list of things you used to enjoy doing, so you can refer back to it. Try doing one every day. If this is difficult, here is a link to a pleasurable activity list, along with a way to track how these things help. Print it out and circle everything there that you would consider doing. Pick one every day you are feeling down, and use the worksheet! I would caution you regarding number 173, because this can sometimes have the opposite effect.
Of the four things I’ve listed in this article, pick at least one and start today! The more of these changes you begin to make, the better you can feel. There is no substitute for professional counseling, but not all of us are ready for counseling, and even those of us that are would rather learn something we can do right now. Start small, start with reasonable goals, and get support.
I hope this is helpful to you! Please click here to learn more about depression treatment and my practice.