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Tips for Dealing with Depression

1) Know that you’re not alone. And, one in 10 Canadians will experience depression at some point in their lives. That means for every 10 people you know there’s likely to be someone like you dealing with depression. Most of us know someone or several people who have experienced depression, either within our family, someone at work, or amongst friends. It’s likely you also know someone else who has experienced depression.

2) Understand that Depression is not about weakness or failure. I don’t know how many clients I have worked with who believed that they’re the only one with the kind of depression that is completely their fault. They often explain that its some kind of personal weakness or failure on their part. They hold this view that they caused the depression to happen. Whenever I’ve asked a client how they personally caused the depression no one’s ever given me a convincing answer. That’s because it isn’t your fault. You didn’t choose to be depressed and you never set out to cause your depression. The truth is it’s an illness. Advances in neuroscience show physical evidence of depression. There are changes in the brain chemicals that affect mood and thinking, there are significant changes in brain activity in specific parts of the brain, and there are markers in the blood that indicate depression. Depression like other illness shows actually changes in the body that we can measure.

3) Get the rest you need. If you’re not sleeping enough find ways to improve your sleep. Poor sleep lowers your mood and can increase the symptoms of depression. Look at improving your sleep hygiene. Hold to a regular time for getting up and going to sleep, if you don’t already. Create a regular bedtime routine that helps you mentally and emotionally prepare for going to sleep. This can include avoiding TV close to bedtime, doing relaxing activities such as going for a walk or reading a book, having a bath or shower if this relaxes you. Make your bedroom a place for sleeping and keep the TV, computers and smart phones out.

4) Eat a healthy diet. You may already do this. What’s interesting is that there’s increasing research on the link between diet and depression. A diet high in healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods effects how the the body functions and has been shown to improve mood. If someone is not used to eating a lot of processed foods it’s normal to experience sluggishness and fatigue and a meal of processed foods. A long-term diet of processed foods impact various parts of our body including energy and physical functioning, and mood. And it isn’t only the health benefits, it’s the improved flavours and the textures of unprocessed foods. It’s the enjoyment of eating itself.

5) Avoid overusing alcohol and other substances. It’s enjoyable to have a glass of wine or beer when eating or socializing with friends, but it’s a problem when alcohol becomes the way of coping with depression. It’s true that alcohol can get short-term relief from the painful symptoms of depression. Unfortunately alcohol is a depressant and long term use worsens the symptoms of depression. If you’re using alcohol to cope stopping it cold turkey probably won’t work. Look at what the alcohol is helping you cope with and try to find ways to cope in healthier ways.

6) Spend Time with Others. Remember depression thrives when you are alone. Isolation is like fuel for depression. And when you’re depressed that’s when you feel the least like being around people, that’s what it seems the hardest, but that’s when you need to be around others the most. Maybe you’re thinking you’d like to call someone, but you feel like you don’t have the energy or feel you don’t have anything important to say, that’s okay. You can be around others and just listen. Get together with family or a friend and watch a movie. Invite someone out for a cup of coffee. Offer to help someone. There are many scientific reasons why being around others reduces the symptoms of depression and improves your mood. At a basic level, when we around others we experience their presence, at the level of our nervous system, as a function of the awareness of the brain, and at the feeling level of emotions—we experience connection. Connection with others medicine against the negative feelings and thoughts of depression.

7) Physical Activity Really Does Help. It’s ironic that depression zaps your energy and motivation, and being active improves your mood and increases your energy. Trying to get up and do even simple activities can at times seem almost impossible. When you find yourself having to do something but it zooms to big and overwhelming, break it down. Break it down into doable steps. And focus only on the step you need to be doing right now. Depending on how severe your depression is at this moment will determine how small you have to break down the tasks in order to make them feel doable. If you’re on the couch and going to the supermarket seems like too much, for example, focus on just getting up off the couch. Remember when trying to get off the couch that this is the only thing you want to do now. If that is all you do—Great! That was better then not moving at all. If you do stand up and find that you can think about doing something else. Focus on the next task, going to the door. How did that feel? Do you think you can go outside? When you’re outside check how you feel. Maybe now that you’re outside, getting in the car won’t be so difficult. How do you feel now? Are you up for driving to the supermarket. You’ve made it to the supermarket and parked. Maybe going in doesn’t seem so difficult now. Or maybe going in feels like too much that’s okay. Look a much you’ve done and isn’t that a lot better than being in your house still on the couch.

8) Focus on One Activity at a Time. Being depressed can make it hard to to concentrate and focus. Whatever you are doing, make an effort to focus on that activity only, whether it’s writing a report for work or washing dishes. Focusing on the single activity that you were doing in the present moment intentionally is based on the techniques of mindfulness. Mindfulness has been practiced for almost 3000 years, and for good reason. Mindfulness improves emotional well-being and mental functioning and promotes calmness. Using mindfulness to pay conscious attention to what you were doing in the present moment has been proven to reduce many symptoms of depression. That means you want to avoid multitasking where your focus and concentration moves quickly between the things you were doing. Multitasking which is about giving limited attention while trying to do meant several things creates heightened anxiety.

9) Start Taking Care of Yourself. It’s common with depression to not treat yourself well. In fact it’s for people suffering from this illness to be impatient, very critical. It’s more common for people suffering from depression to punish themselves for having this illness rather than taking care of themselves in order to overcome it. Remember this is an illness, and you didn’t choose to be depressed. But it is having a strong negative impact on you. It hurts. It’s painful. So why keep treating yourself badly. Has that ever helped? It hasn’t for any of the client’s I’ve worked with. When you have an illness like the flu do you berate yourself for feeling weak and tired. Probably not. If you’re like most people you allow yourself to rest when the flu is at its strongest and you probably give yourself things that make you feel more comfortable like a warm blanket when you have cold chills, hot bowl of soup for nourishment, some orange juice for vitamin C. Ignoring your needs when you’re depressed only allows the depression to continue unchecked. Attending to what you need in a compassionate way is some of the strongest medicine against depression. Start asking yourself, “what do I need right now.” And pay attention to your answers. Do you need to get out of the house? Maybe there’s a movie at the cinema want to see? Or maybe you like to laugh an watching your favourite comedy show might get you laughing? Maybe you might feel better going to the park or a shopping mall? Do you need to talk to a friend or family member about how your feeling? Maybe you want to talk to a counsellor or other professional whose experienced in treating depression?

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