If there is one thing I can talk about at length, it is depression.
Boy do we go way back, depression and I. We have a love-hate relationship by this point. Depression isn’t really an experience I can capture adequately through words, as there are individualized spins on how it manifests for each of us.
Personally, it robbed me of any vitality and made living an actual nightmare. I just forced my way through each day, with a looming cloud of melancholy surrounding me. Running away wasn’t an option, as depression found me anywhere I fled and was inescapable.
Sleeping wound up being my only solace from the fusion of despair, numbness, and racing thoughts that characterized my every moment. If you are anything like me, you know just how debilitating depression can become if it isn’t managed with deep awareness and deliberate action.
Depression, which can be defined by most mental health professionals as continual feelings of sadness for periods that go beyond the occasional blues, is a medical condition that affects around 15 million adults in the United States alone.
Depression is a mood disorder that is no longer a rarity and it doesn’t discriminate either. Any one of us can develop depression at any point in our lives, and despite the countless studies that have tried to understand the how and why of depression, there aren’t always clear cut ways of preventing it from entering our lives.
Whether it has resulted from genetics, brain chemistry imbalances, or stressful life situations, there isn’t a magic pill that prevents us from the possibility of entering the world of depression. Fortunately, there are actions that can be taken in order to manage depression once it has taken hold of us.
Personally, I treat my depression as a part of my human experience and no longer resist it with force. Instead, I merely avoid doing things that aggravate it further and partake in behaviors that uplift my mood. Knowledge is power and this philosophy applies to handling depression as well.
Here are five ways to keep your depression at bay:
1. Get Moving: Exercise plays a monumental role in treating depression and is one of the main things I run to whenever I sense myself beginning to feel off-kilter. Research studies point to the fact that exercise releases endorphins in the brain that are responsible for elevating the mood and making us feel good.
For us depressed folks, movement can be life-changing. Personally, I don’t allow my depression to consume me, but equate it to a brewing cold. In other words, just like we can resort to a series of immunity supplements or warming soups once we sense a cold coming on, the same method can be taken when we notice our moods sinking.
I take a yoga or cycling class as soon as I become aware of the differing sensations that characterize my depression. Don’t get me wrong; I know how hard it can be to exercise when you are depressed, but the end result of doing so is so worth it! Try not to put pressure on yourself to achieve certain expectations. Instead, seek out enjoyable means of moving that work for you, and your mood will thank you.
2. Seek Out Meaningful Connections: It is easy to sink into the depths of despair and hide ourselves under the covers. I have been there myself and actually spent the first few years of my depressed state avoiding people like the plague. Going out into the world frightened me and it was easier to stay in my comfort zone of hibernation. Isolationism and depression are connected but we have the choice to choose intimate connection instead.
Even if we resort to a few individuals who fully support our plight, it is key that we maintain select relationships. And if we have disengaged from all of our former contacts, then there are many depression support groups and resources out there for the taking. We have to play an active role in saving ourselves. I recall my therapist being one of my main forms of support while I was severely depressed and talking to her about my ups and downs was such a relief.
There is no reason to be ashamed of our depression and try to protect others from being around our “Debbie Downer” moods. The human race is all in this life together and serving one another is fundamental to keeping us alive. Chances are that you will be of service to family and friends when they have struggles of their own. Own your depression and accept the abundant love around you.
3. Take Care Of Yourself: If you suffer from depression, try not to forget that you are experiencing a more sensitive, fragile version of yourself. Neglecting ourselves or pushing through our depression as if it doesn’t exist are not viable options for working through our mood disorder.
Our depression is providing us with an opportunity to master the art of self-care. This is the time for us to nourish our minds, bodies, and souls to the greatest extent, whether that be via clean eating, adequate rest, or meditation. The list is endless so choose wisely! I am a proponent of self-care no matter what state my mental health is in, but I attempt to place greater emphasis on self-care when I notice depression knocking loudly on my door.
I most definitely cannot afford sleepless nights riddled with alcohol and loud music any longer, as it almost always triggers my depression. Nor can I handle prolonged stress, as my tolerance for it is rather low. Like myself, all of you have actions that you know will stand in the way of your healing. Prevention is our best tool, so rather than seeing how much stress or neglect we can put up with before a depression relapse, it is smarter to treat ourselves like the deserving individuals that we are all year round.
4. Give Alternative Therapies a Shot: Aside from traditional psychotherapy and psychiatric medication, there are alternative means of managing depression that may do the trick. The more possibilities or gateways to healing we open ourselves up to, the greater our chances of overriding depression and living our lives to the fullest.
Every case is different, and I can’t speak for everyone out there, but alternative measures are worth a try and can be incorporated into the medical model of treatment. Examples include acupuncture, mindfulness meditation, yoga, supplement therapy, and deep breathing techniques, among others. Personally speaking, I believe in a complementary approach whereby I merge conventional and alternative therapies to treat my depression, but it is truly up to each one of us to develop a personalized plan.
I no longer use psychiatric medication because I believe the side-effects outweigh the beneficial aspects. However, at my most lowest point, I utilized it for emergency purposes and am thankful for what it did to stabilize my mood. Who knows where I would be now had I not taken antidepressants at that time in my life.
Over the last few years, I have also toyed with alternative supplements to see whether they had any effect on my moods and urge the rest of you to research some options. According to the Mayo Clinic, examples of supplements occasionally used for the treatment of depression include St. John’s Wort, SAMe, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Most importantly, be sure to consult with a healthcare provider such as a naturopathic doctor or even your primary care physician to gauge whether or not you are a suitable candidate for these supplements. It doesn’t hurt to think outside of the box as long as we take the time to make intelligent decisions.
5. Play: Last, but not least, find ways to play! Yes, I know it is much easier said than done when we are in the lowest of lows. The default approach is to give fuel to our depressive state and pity ourselves. Depression can make every moment appear cloudy or suck the vitality out of life itself.
When my depression was at its worst, going through simple, everyday tasks was arduous and equated to desperately crawling myself out of quicksand. My whole existence turned into one big blur, and I eventually grew tired of being so forlorn. I couldn’t bear to live such a colorless life any longer and figured that the pain of leaving my comfort zone of deep melancholy would still be better than submitting to a whole life of overwhelming agony.
Before long, with the support of my therapist and family, I was encouraged to incorporate fun into my life no matter how uncomfortable it made me feel. Beginning slowly, I added in fun, playful activities into my routine, such as dancing, comedy shows, and even went on road-trips. Without any conscious effort on my part, my mood began to brighten and the hope for a happier tomorrow entered my veins. Science actually backs me up on this one. According to recent research in a scientific journal known as The Lancet, taking part in activities that are lively and reduce isolation can serve as highly effective means of managing depression in subjects.
These therapies have a therapeutic name known as behavioral activation and are based on the premise that depressed individuals avoid engaging with the world in positive ways and thereby reinforce their depression. Therefore, having fun will help put an end to their unending cycle of doom and gloom. Being patient with ourselves in this process is imperative, as it won’t be easy to go out into society and make ourselves available to play and joy right off the bat.
We won’t lose anything by trying, my friends!
Author: Shirin Karimi Tararani
Image: Flickr/Francisco Osorio
Editor: Travis May