Defeat Depression

Photo Credit: Neadeau

I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood depressed. Some of that time, seriously depressed. I didn’t know it; depression runs in my family. I thought it was normal to have a few weeks or months every year that I just toiled through, barely functioning. I didn’t realize that apathy, hopelessness, tears, aches, pains, and difficulty making decisions should not be constants in life.  I was not suicidal; I just wished–often and without telling anyone–that I could go to sleep and never wake up. I was so tired of fighting.

I’m not depressed now. I get down, and there are tendencies I may always fight, but I want to live. I have goals, things to do–and people I want to help. I’m not on any medication, and have used a multi-faceted approach to deal with depression at the first sign of trouble.

If you are depressed, do whatever it takes to get out of it. If your road to mental health involves medication, do it.  For some people it will be a temporary choice, for others a permanent one. Do whatever will let you share your gifts with the world.

Here are the things I have done and continue to do to fight depression:

  • Nutrition: It seems like common sense to me that you must have the right raw materials for your body to function properly. I specifically have targeted blood sugar as my problem area, with a special focus on my sensitivities–artificial ingredients and starches, especially corn. Other people have found that a lack of minerals can contribute to anxiety, or that nutrition related to brain or hormone function can be crucial. Everyone is different, so I’m not giving out a specific list of supplements–I suggest investing the time in reading on your own and finding a trusted healthcare provider who shares your view of nutrition to guide you.
  • Emotion / Mental balance:  I once heard a TV pop-psych guy tell a guest that she had a choice in how she responded to the things life threw at her. That idea–that I control my response to life–has been life-changing. Sometimes I don’t know how I can change my response, but knowing I can gives me the will to search for the tools I need. I use prayer to ask God for the insight to know how to respond as a mature adult, meditation to calm my mind so I take time to think things through, and work on my self-talk so I don’t tear myself apart for no reason. I also keep a “garbage in/garbage out” mentality. I monitor what I read, watch, and listen to, and try to only expose myself to things that are uplifting in some way.
  • Exercise: I am still perfecting this one, but I try to get outside and walk around as much as I can.  I also lift light weights, because the feeling of being able to pick up progressively heavier objects gives me a sense of power way out of proportion to the size of the things I lift. Feeling powerful and in control of life is a great antidote to depression.
  • Immediate triage: On the rare occasion when I fall into a depressive state, I act quickly. The beginning of February is always a hard time for me. My parents died on February 4th and 5th, six years apart. Every year, I get melancholy and go inward for a few weeks. Each year, I try harder to manage the emotions better. I allow myself a certain amount of wallowing–losing your family hurts, and it is natural to revisit that grief each year. I listen to sad music, reminisce, and take an afternoon or two to cry. But I also make sure I eat healthfully, get plenty of rest, and do nice things for myself. Because of my history, a short, natural cycle of feeling down can become a major depression, and I choose not to allow that to happen.

These steps have become part of my life. I don’t think of them as My Depression Prescription, at least not until I’m short a blog post for the week. Whether you struggle with depression, or have never had to deal with it, these are good activities to add into your life. Do you have any tips to keep an upbeat, emotionally mature attitude in your life?

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    It’s All About Integrity

    Thanks to Krappweis for the photo.

    Twice a year, I do an inventory of my life. I look at what’s been working, what isn’t working, and what steps I can take to fix things. Reading that sentence, I am impressed at how proactive I am. The reality is not quite as nice.

    Until now, my inventories have been pretty informal. I’m a big-picture sort of gal, and coming up with all the specifics of how to track goals, and how to break down goals are not my strong points. So often, I know the general things that are better, or that need work, but the steps toward improvement are harder to make stick.

    I’ve let myself off the hook for years. “Play to my strengths,” I tell myself. “You’re doing your best,” I say encouragingly. I defined myself as organizationally challenged, so not meeting goals or having unrealistic timelines for accomplishments was just “me being me,” and therefore ok.

    This permitted mediocrity has become a little tiresome. Life is about living what I believe. I can do anything I put my mind to–maybe with some creative skirting around obstacles, and maybe with some unexpected side trips on the way–but my attitude and willingness to hold myself to high expectations are the keys to my success. Right now, true, I am not an organizational genius. I have no need to become someone who has every second pinned down, and a house so perfectly ordered I can do a magazine shoot with no warning. But I can streamline my life so that it works for me. And then I can better work for others.

    Living a life of integrity means you do what you believe. No compromise. If I’ve been given life as a blessing, I’m supposed to do something with it. I have to be striving for something. I have to move in the direction of my beliefs. Right now, issues in my life make it hard to be of service to my friends, family, and the world.  I’ve had enough.

    So starting now, I’m making new baselines. New levels that I have to meet to be ok with myself. I may change the standards as I tweak the system, but I won’t let the standards go. I won’t break appointments with myself for goal setting and evaluating without a true emergency. I will keep an up-to-date chart showing progress toward different goals. I will tackle laundry, bills, and other obnoxious parts of life at regular intervals because I hate falling behind. I will rest when I need to, and not feel guilty. There will be set exercise in my life, and there will be things I will not eat–starting now.

    I don’t like these new resolutions. But I hate seeing the person I want to be languishing. Years have passed. I’m not as young as I used to be. Time will run out someday. I’ve got things to do.

    How about you? Do you have goals you’ve let slide? Are they really important to you? If they aren’t important, throw them out. If they are, do whatever it takes to get to them. Life is too short to ignore your dreams.

    Smiling Really Can Make You Happy!

    Photo Credit: Anissat

    One of my favorite new books is Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (affiliate link). It describes the many ways that our brains process information unconsciously, and how we make decisions based on those processes. One of the sources of this subconscious information is the arsenal of microexpressions we translate from other’s faces. In the book, Malcolm Gladwell highlights the work of Paul Eckman and Wallace Friesen, two researchers who have mapped out The Facial Action Coding System, a system to codify microexpressions by describing the muscle movements that accompany each emotional expression. To create these “maps,” they practiced making the faces for joy, exhilaration  anger, sadness, etc., in front of mirrors and in front of each other. To their surprise, they found their emotional state was affected by what faces they spent the day making. On days they worked on anger or other less pleasant emotions, they felt angry, depressed, or other unpleasant feelings. On happier expression days, they felt uplifted.

    So what’s our takeaway? Even if you feel rotten, smile. Laugh, even if nothing is particularly funny (but don’t laugh maniacally in front of others–no sense taking an unnecessary trip to the psychiatric hospital!). Your body responds to the physical movements of emotion much as it responds to the conscious emotion itself. Happiness has definite positive chemical effects on the body–why not take advantage of them? 
    I’m not advising avoiding unpleasant emotion at all costs. You need to process anger, grief, and hurt. Pretending not to feel these major emotions will cause them to build up in you and you’ll find yourself irritable or depressed. The emotion will come out somehow. But everyone has days that are just “blah.” When you are bored, or cranky, or tired. On those days, making the conscious decision to smile anyway will make a rough day more pleasant, for you and those around you.

    Do you have any tricks to improve your mood on glum days? Please share in the comments!