Fighting Back! Strategies for Overcoming Depression

If you suspect that you might be experiencing depression, or even if you're just going through a low period, there are steps you can take to help you find your way back from the ledge. (If you haven't read my earlier post about depression, you can read it here.) The following suggestions have been provided by England's National Health Service.

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1. Talk to someone: It's best if you consult a professional. Depression is a medical condition and should be treated as such. If you're not sure who to call, ask your primary care physician for a referral. (For a more detailed discussion about choosing a medical professional, go to WebMD.) But even if you can't bring yourself to talk to a therapist or doctor yet, find someone. Go to trusted friends and family. Consult with a spiritual mentor. It's important that you don't try to go it alone.

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2. Stay involved in life: Don't self-isolate. Though sitting on the couch might seem like as much as you can do, take action! Actively pursue your hobbies. Go to church or temple. Meet your friends for coffee. You may not feel like going out, but you know the saying, "Fake it till you make it." Isolation will only drive you deeper into depression.

Photo by Milton Clark

Photo by Milton Clark

3. Get active: I know how impossible this sounds! Let's face it. Most of us don't want to exercise when we're feeling fine. Why would we want to hit the gym when under the cloud of depression? Remember, you are fighting for your wellness. Walk around the block. Ride your bike. Lift some weights. Take a yoga class. It doesn't matter what you choose to do. All experts agree that physical activity is a powerful weapon against depression. Not only does it move our focus from our thoughts to our bodies, it actually changes our brain chemistry. (For more information about this topic, check out this article from Harvard Medical School.)

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4. Face your fears: Depression often walks hand-in-hand with fear. Many people experience the fear of social interactions and the fear of leaving the house, but fear and anxiety can be attached to almost anything. It doesn't matter what's causing your feelings, the longer you avoid whatever it is you're dreading, the bigger the monster gets. Addressing the fear head-on is the best way to keep it from growing. Remember, the beast lives mostly in our minds. Bringing it into the light of day, either by talking to someone or by pushing yourself through the experience you're wary of, will help to weaken its power.

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5. Limit alcohol: In my opinion, there is really no such thing as a happy drunk. In fact, research shows that alcohol depletes serotonin, the feel-good chemical. Some people are happy when they drink small amounts of alcohol in social settings, true. But beyond an occasional drink...self-medicating with alcohol makes people miserable. Let's face it. Adding another problem to your depression is just not a good step to take.

Photo by Milton Clark

Photo by Milton Clark

6. Eat healthy: According to an article in Psychology Today by Mitchell Gaynor, MD, there is a clear connection between our diets and our brains. Makes sense, right? Though many of us think of our brains as something other and more than just another body part, that is in fact, what they are. The food that nourishes your organs and muscles, feeds our brains and our brain chemistry as well. The biggest no-nos for brain health? Caffeine, alcohol, and high calorie/low nutrient foods, says Dr. Gaynor. What do we need instead? Nutrient rich foods, healthy fats, and...Wait for it...Dark chocolate! Yup, chocolate really is what the doctor ordered!

7. Stick to a routine: Depression can be unpredictable and even life-stopping. It often removes the desire to perform the most basic self-care routines. This can make us feel purposeless and lethargic, and these feelings only make the depression worse. It's a vicious cycle. According to Tiffanie Verbeke in her article "Create a Depression Routine So You Cope and Live Well," a daily schedule "creates stability for an unstable mind." Find an app or a piece of paper and a pencil, and make a daily "To Do" list. Seeing manageable items concretely in front of you can help propel you forward when the couch is calling.

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If you are experiencing depression, it is important to remember that you are not alone and there are things you can do to find your way out of the cave of darkness. It might not be easy, but you can win and reclaim yourself.

Now go get some chocolate and talk to someone!

Photo by Eva-Katalin/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Eva-Katalin/iStock / Getty Images

This site is not intended to give individual advice for people currently experiencing depression. But please feel free to comment and share your ideas below. And as always, thank you in advance for sharing this article.

 

A Look at Depression In People Over 50

Photo by sayu_k/Essentials Collection / Getty Images

Photo by sayu_k/Essentials Collection / Getty Images

Recently, over coffee with my daughter, I mentioned that I wanted to quit my job and sell my house. "I don't even want my house plants," I explained. "They're too much bother. Everything is too much bother."

With a neutral expression, my daughter said, "You need to talk to someone about depression."

What??? I had no idea why she would say anything like that. I don't get depressed! But running through my mind behind the protests was the sense that she might be right. Almost every aspect of my life left me tepid. I had no energy. Comfort foods had become my best friend, and my weight was showing it. But depressed? I'm not that kind of a person! Right? Uh-Oh...

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Depression is a mental disorder that ravishes the lives of people of all ages, ethnicities, nationalities, and faiths. No one is immune. Depression is more than simple sadness. To meet the diagnostic criteria, a single episode must last for at least 2 weeks, but can continue for months or even years. True depression leaves people feeling hopeless or worthless. It causes a loss of interest in day-to-day functioning, and can negatively impact sleep, eating, hygiene, work habits, and almost every facet of life. At its most extreme, depression can lead to suicide.

One group experiences depression at a higher rate than any other. You guessed it! According to a 2015 Gallup Poll on the treatment of depression, approximately 14% of Baby Boomers are receiving treatment for depression. That's 1 in 7 of us! The national average is 11%. And keep in mind that older people are less likely to seek treatment for depression, so the number of Boomers actually experiencing the disorder is likely quite a bit higher than 14%. Across all groups, women suffer from depression at higher rates than men do.

Medical professionals all agree that people who experience this dangerous disorder are not to blame. They are not weak, lazy, or self-indulgent. They have a diagnosable condition. With that said, there is no single, clear cause. Among the many possible, Familydoctor.org lists hormones, brain chemistry, life events, medical conditions, and drug (including prescription drugs) and alcohol abuse, as potential culprits.

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I don't have any trouble understanding why our group tops the chart. In general, we have been active, health-conscious, engaged people. We redefined the world and our roles in it. We developed careers, raised families, explored spiritual paths, engaged politically. We did it all. But the youngest of us are in their mid-fifties, and while there is still much to do, it's easy to feel like we have to look behind us to find prime time. I don't know about you, but this isn't sitting well with me.

If you feel that you might be experiencing depression, there are things you can do to help pull yourself out of it. The number one recommendation is don't do it alone. Talk to someone, preferably a professional, but someone. One of the key symptoms of depression is withdrawal. Do not give in! You wouldn't fight cancer without the help of a doctor. This is no different.

In my next post, I'll go into some of the other suggestions for overcoming depression. In the coming weeks, I will be blogging about some of my own experiences with this life smashing disorder. I hope that sharing my journey might help others walking a similar path.

Please comment below to share strategies you've tried and how they've worked for you. Also, please list related topics that you'd like to hear more about.