How to Fight Depression

Depressed Man thinking about how to fight depressionWhen we feel sad or blue about something, we say that we’re depressed. But when we’re depressed and drained of all drive to do anything about it, then we have depression. Depression is a medical condition that affects over 20% of people at one point or another in their lifetime. The odds are that sometime in the future you or someone close to you will encounter depression. So it’s important to know what to do. We’re very fortunate these days to have medications that deal well with depression, but they don’t do the whole job. And if you follow my advice on how to fight depression, you may not even need them.

Fighting depression might seem impossible to someone who is depressed. The truth is: it’s difficult, but very possible–as long as you remember to start small. How small? Small enough so that you can get off your butt and get started!

Each night, set a daily goal, something that you know will give you a sense of pleasure or accomplishment or novelty when you’re doing it. Don’t get too ambitious; you can choose something as small as bicycling or doing the laundry. Then, the next day when you wake up and don’t feel like it, force yourself to get out of bed and do it. Once up and running you should reap the rewards you imagined and feel encouraged to try something else the next day. You see your engine works fine; it’s just the ignition system that has a problem. To help you get started, make personal trainers, friends, and pets part of your plans. You know you can’t let your dog down. He needs a walk just as much as you do!

Challenge your negative thoughts: Yes, you do have them. We are all prone to negative, or overly pessimistic, thoughts—and depressed people all the more so. So challenge those mood-killers any way you can. Let’s say that you have just been dumped six months before your wedding day. Your self-esteem may be destroyed and your spirit crushed by the need to find a place to live, cancel a myriad of reservations, and break the news to a hundred people—once you’ve found a way to do it that doesn’t leave you feeling completely humiliated.

“No one is ever going to love me,” you may lament. Challenge that thought by looking at the evidence on the other side, like, “My sister and my high-school sweetheart really know me and love me.” Then replace that negative thought with something more positive and more realistic, “I am lovable. I just need to be with a person who appreciates me.”

Don’t get stuck on a problem like “How am I ever going to explain this to Mom?” Ponder it for a while then put it away. Some problems don’t have immediate solutions. Come back to it tomorrow at an appropriate time. Discuss it later with a friend. Trust that solutions might be just around the corner, even if we can’t see them from where we stand right now. Then, stop thinking so much. Get out of your head and do something. See a movie. Relax.

Life is like a glass of wine; it’s never filled to the brim. Do you always focus on the empty space at the top? Or the rich red nectar filling most of the glass? Focus on the full part. Okay, you perfectionists out there, you don’t have to ignore the fact that your glass is half empty, but please for the sake of your own mood—and the mood of others around you—spend most of your time focused on the full part and be grateful to the people involved.

As Madonna says, “Express yourself. Don’t suppress yourself.” Enough with those limiting thoughts, tap into your inner enthusiasms. Depression saps the joy from your life; reclaim it. Redo your room, check out anything that interests you, get on an exciting project at work. We only have so many things that energize us deep down. Don’t squander any, no matter what your high school buddies might think of it. If you’re having trouble tuning in to your inner feelings, please see my post on the topic.

Cultivate supportive relationships. I know you’re depressed and you don’t feel like going to the trouble to set up a phone call or dinner. And you definitely don’t want to seem pathetic or feel like a burden to your friends. Aw, forget about it! We all have our moments of need—or will sometime soon–and we all like to be of service to our friends at one point or another in our lives. Besides, we are a social species. We’re not meant to tolerate too much isolation without getting upset on some level. All kinds of contact can be important. Find people you can open up with, people you can be lighthearted with, and people you can do things with. Steer toward folks who know how to be cheerful. Steer clear of those who might reinforce your old negative habits.

Depression can disrupt your eating and sleeping habits. Most people will lose some of their appetite and find it hard to sleep through the night, though some will crave comfort food or find it hard to stay awake during the day. So limit the damage, by staying regular. Eat three flavorful, healthy meals a day. Try not to nap during the day and aim for 7-8 hours of sleep at night. Take care of your sleep environment and remind yourself of other important sleep guidelines.

Control your drinking. If you are a woman who has more than seven drinks a week or a man who has more than fourteen, then alcohol may be causing or contributing to your depression. Alcohol is a depressant  that lightens your mood for a few hours, then pulls it down for the rest of the day. Stopping or limiting your drinking can make a huge difference.

Consider antidepressant medication or natural supplements. Depression studies have shown possible benefit and limited harm from natural supplements like l-methylfolate, SAMe, and omega-3-fatty acids. Don’t give up if these don’t work, because, of course, other studies have shown more tangible benefit from antidepressant medications that can be carefully prescribed by a doctor.

Further studies have shown that exercise and sunlight can work like antidepressants in their own right and are sometimes all a person needs. So get at least fifteen minutes of sunlight every day. If you’re beset by cloudy winters, get a light box. Aim for  20 minutes of exercise a day. Be creative and pick things you enjoy so you keep coming back. A little is better than none, so squeeze it in if you think you don’t have time. Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator.

And if nothing else, start each day with a brisk walk around the block, and remember you can do something about your depression!

–Dr. Adam

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