I think that one of the worst things that I’ve found in dealing with depression is the hopelessness that comes with it. One minute you’re fine, and the next, you’re…not. Medication and therapy help, but depression is a chronic condition. It comes back. And while you can limit it, manage it…it still comes back, and sometimes worse than others.
I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: Professional guidance, and a controlled regimen of therapy and medication, can make all the difference in the world. When it comes to chronic mental illness, the evidence is clear: Treatment works.
But, treatment doesn’t just mean that you rely on medication and/or therapy to get better. To some extent, and I’ve certainly found this in my own life, you have to take control of your own illness. Yes, you may be a victim of a bad roll of the dice, but no one need be depression’s victim. There are things you can do, on your own, to help keep depression away (again, please note, NOT advocating any of the below in place of therapy, medication or any other professional advice that a licensed medical professional gives you…can’t emphasize that enough). Here are a few tips that worked for me, and can hopefully work for you.
Here’s a good one with a ton of benefits: Exercise can make a huge, positive difference when it comes to depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, it does so by releasing “feel-good” chemicals, reducing immune system chemicals that can make depression worse and by increasing your body temperature. Better yet, any physical activity can be helpful, so fear not! You don’t have to launch yourself into a massive weight lifting program.
On a personal level, I’ve found the gym to be a savior. Not only does it help you get in shape, feel better and look better, but it makes you feel like you are accomplishing something. All too often, when you are depressed, you want to just lie around and Netflix & Sad. You become depression’s bitch, and that is exactly the time to get up and force yourself to move around. It takes a lot of hard work to overcome this natural inclination to slug-out on the couch, but it is well, well worth it.
The evidence is clear: Meditation can help to ease the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. It doesn’t have to be long – the article I link to says 2.5 hours a week – but, a bit of meditation goes a long way. What I found somewhat interesting here was that most articles relating to depression and meditation don’t just discuss meditation, but a specific type of meditation – mindfullness meditation. This specific type of meditation is defined as “a technique of meditation in which distracting thoughts and feelings are not ignored but are rather acknowledged and observed nonjudgmentally as they arise to create a detachment from them and gain insight and awareness.”
What is remarkable is that at least one study found that meditation “helped prevent depression recurrence as effectively as maintenance antidepressant medication did.”
Okay, I’ve resisted this all my life. Not “resisted,” really…just, haven’t allowed myself to do it. I’ve come up with excuses, I’ve done it for a few days, I’ve stopped and started and just haven’t been able to sit down and meditate. This blog entry has convinced me…again…of how important meditation can be for depression! Must. Do. It.
Also, try the app Headspace. I’ve used it a couple of times and it seems interesting.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene? It’s exactly what it sounds like – using healthy practices to help you get some real rest. Sleep and depression have a complex relationship – a lack of sleep can lead to depression, and depression can lead to a lack of sleep, which makes getting a good night’s sleep all the more important. Good sleep hygiene includes:
- Limiting naps.
- Not drinking caffeine too close to bed.
- Limiting screen time too close to bed.
- Having enough exposure to natural light (huh, didn’t know that).
- Having a set sleep and wake-up routine.
During some of the particularly rough periods of my depression, I had a REAL hard time sleeping. It was the canary in the coal mine of my symptoms – I couldn’t sleep, and suddenly, there I was again. Sleep hygiene – particularly the routine and screen time part (which I still really need to work on!) – is vitally important, at least to me.
I discussed this the other day, but felt it was worth repeating: Video games can help with depression. First, the basics: There are studies which show that MMORPG and other social games can help reduce social anxiety, while puzzlers can reduce stress and anxiety levels. Other apps and video games have also been found to reduce levels of depression.
Of course, video games can have serious negative drawbacks. There is, unfortunately, ample evidence that some are not working and are instead playing video games, and there are real fears that mental health plays a role in this. Video games provide an immersive escape, where there is no judgement, no consequences, and no real failure that cannot be eradicated by reloading the last save file. This, of course, is dangerous when it comes to entering and remaining in the real world.
As I said earlier in the week, I’m a believer that video games can be great – if used in moderation. They provide a nice retreat when necessary and can recharge your batteries – getting you ready to relaunch into the real world.
Anything you want to add? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments!