Even the unfortunate souls with the most severe cases of depression are happy sometimes. There are a few moments in the day when their depression fades and another emotion sweeps over them. They might be watching a comedy show and a joke snaps through their depression and gives way to laughter. They might be out for a walk and see some animals playing and experience joy. Or they might see the new political candidates speeches on Youtube and experience patriotism. However bad your depression is I guarantee that you are not depressed 100% of the time.
Reminding yourself that depression doesn’t last actually makes your stages of depression seem a lot less potent. I noticed this for myself – I went from having actual panic attacks complete with elevated heart rates and vomiting to just a few “down” moments. I used to be afraid of depression when it came – now I know it doesn’t last.
Be careful with the label “I have depression”
I have to be really careful here as I know a lot of people will kick up a fuss about this comment. Let me be clear, depression is an illness. In the words of Will Ferral, “…it has real doctors and everything!” But I sometimes wonder whether telling yourself “I have depression” really makes things better. From my own experience I can tell you that it actually made me feel a whole heap worse.
Because the diagnosis “you have depression” is very solid. It is very fixed. It seems unchangeable. But like I noted in the first point, depression is actually very transient. It is impermanent. It doesn’t last. But when you are told you have depression you run the risk of labeling yourself as a depressed person. And that is very solid.
Of course, diagnosing people with depression and depression related disorders is very important. It is vital to the health and recovery of that person. Without that diagnosis the person might not get the drugs or the counseling that they need. It is not the diagnosis, as such, that I have an issue with. My issue is with labeling yourself as a depressed person.
The title of this strategy is be careful with the label “I have depression” and that is all I want you to do. Be careful. Do not continually remind yourself of your diagnosis. You do not want to repeatedly tell yourself that you are depressed. In the same way that repeatedly telling yourself that you are fat leads to more problems, repeatedly telling yourself that you are depressed will make you even worse.
This is about avoiding extremes and using your mind to reinforce positive tendencies, not negative ones. It is not about pretending you don’t have an illness. You very well might have one. What I am asking is that you don’t let yourself get bogged down in your ideas and notions about that illness.
Learn the value of human contact
When I was going through a particularly bad rough patch after a tough break up one of my dearest friends came over to my house… every day. For almost the whole summer this friend rang me up in the morning to meet for breakfast, called me at lunch time asking where we were going to eat and in the evenings took me to the gym or martial arts center. For six weeks this friend of mine got me out of the house, off the couch and out with people.
And it was one of the best things that could have happened to me.
What my friend did was truly amazing. I don’t have many friends who would have gone to such consistent lengths to take care of me. And two things about this time stood out to me:
- Knowing people love you makes a difference
- Being around other people helps
The two lessons here are about helping people with depression and helping yourself when you have depression. If you are depressed you need to get out and be around people. It doesn’t matter how you do it, science has shown that having human contact helps depression.
The second thing is that if you know someone who is feeling down you should go and help them. Get them out of the house, take them out for a walk and get them out with people. This will not only help their situation, it will also help your depression.
Eat and drink healthy
Something that seems small but actually had a massive impact on my levels of depression is how I ate. By learning what foods make you depressed and avoiding them you can seriously change the way you feel.
I have written about this many times but it is something so important that I want to stress it again. Bad foods make you feel bad. Good foods make you feel good. Just like the saying goes, “you are what you eat“. If you want to feel better mentally start eating cleaner foods.
So what are we talking about here? What foods make us feel bad? The big ones for me are coffee and fatty foods. Coffee makes my mind run at a million miles and hour and I have trouble settling down. This is bad for people who are really anxious. And fatty foods that are really heavy cause your mind to be sluggish and sad.
Try to eat all natural foods like fruit and vegetables. Get lots of chili and ginger and other natural medicines. Eating a natural diet full of really fresh and tasty foods will absolutely change your life.
Get out in the sun and run
Scientists and doctors are now spouting the benefits of two things for depression: sunlight and exercise. Mix the two together and you have got a recipe for a better mental state.
Forget the gym with its stale air, televisions and plastic people – get outside in the sunlight and start running. Take your dog or your buddy and hit the dirt while the sun is shining on your skin and face. Go somewhere where the air is fresh and the view is inspiring. If you have a local park or forest then head out there. Spend as little as 15 minutes a day doing this and your depression will seem like a thing of the past.
Some of the happiest moments in my life have been when I was out alone in the woods running in the sun. Just me and the trees and the birds chirping away. I am particularly fond of jogging where there is running water – the sound is so soothing and magical.
If you aren’t a big runner it doesn’t matter. Walk. Or, join a football or soccer team. Play tennis on the weekends. There are so many amazing things to be doing out in the sunshine and all of them will have a positive and immediate effect on your depression.
Depression is not a fixed state. There are things you can be doing all the time to beat it. Don’t sit by passively and be a victim, start doing things that will really get you happy. Nine times out of ten your mild depression can be alleviated with some change in your behavior or lifestyle.