You have trouble getting up in the morning; every day seems the same; you don’t feel like doing anything, and you’re so tired. You’ve lost your appetite and you’re avoiding your friends. You feel useless and hopeless and it doesn’t matter what you do; there’s no point anyway, or so you think. These are the symptoms of depression. You may already know this and you may have seen your GP for help. He or she may have given you antidepressants and even referred you for therapy. But there is a waiting list. What can you do?
The following tips are practical and work to change your body balance. This, in turn, changes your mind chemicals. You may notice I have ordered them from easiest to hardest. Be nice to yourself and don’t try to implement them all at once; you will be daunted. Just take one step at a time and prevent yourself from feeling like a failure. Increase your strategies by one a week or so. There we go.
1 Have a blood test Most patients that have come to see me for depression had low levels of certain vitamins and minerals. There are a few that are important for depression. The body needs the building blocks to create the neurotransmitters that keep your brain healthy after all. Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesium, and Iron, -in that order-, are the main ones. Take the test, supplement the lower ones and notice the difference.
2 Fish oil If you start taking any of those vitamins and minerals mentioned, make sure you add fish oil. Fish oil, or even better: krill oil, contains essential fatty acids, basically the stuff your cells are made of. So if you haven’t got enough of it, how can your brain function? It’s almost like wanting your car to run without lubrication oil. If you’re a vegan, use linseed oil.
3 St Johns Wort You may consider taking a supplement that has received evidence from scientific research to fight depression: St John’s Wort. I would highly recommend consulting a nutritionist about dosage and duration as well as interaction with other medications. It has been established that St John’s Wort interferes with the uptake of e.g. contraceptives and possibly other medications. Not so nice if you’ve beaten your depression but have died from a heart attack… Another consideration is that when the depression lifts, you may contribute it to the meds. This will leave you less empowered than when you have dealt with it yourself. Just a thought.
4 Change your password When you’re feeling low, chances are that negative thoughts are coming from everywhere, all of a sudden. Some people try to suppress them. But that works like the infamous exercise of not being allowed to think of a green elephant. Exactly then the thoughts of a green elephant will pop up like a pest. Whereas, when do you ever think about one otherwise? Exactly. A simple trick is to use affirmations. These are positive statements about yourself and your life. You may find it too much of a thing to sit down and cite them to yourself (in silence). If so, try using them as passwords. You would have to type ‘Markisagreatguy!’ several times a day, or ‘sureIcandoit123’. What about: ‘MyfriendslovemeforwhoIam+++’ or ‘Ihavedoneitbefore£££’. When you use them like this, they will find their way into your subconscious very subtly and without any effort. Almost unnoticed they will exert their positive influence, and counter the negative ones that are so rife.
5 Gratefulness Write a list of at least 5 things you are grateful for every night before you go to bed. This one seems a bit wet. But it isn’t really if you look at it closely. Research has found that thinking about things makes for strong connections in the brain. Literally, you walk a narrow path so often till it turns into a highway. This happens with both negative and positive thoughts. So, repeatedly thinking you’re so down and everything sucks, gets you into that groove that becomes deeper and deeper. Reversely, making happy thoughts over and over again makes it easier to be happy every time you think them. But… you may think you have nothing to be grateful for. So start little. Maybe, you’re grateful that your bed smells nice, or that you managed to do something today that you were resisting. You may think of having good music in your life or the fact that you love your siggies. And slowly but surely the ‘happy’ neurochemicals will start to increase and you’ll be able to think of bigger things more easily. Every little bit helps.
6 Get outside One of the main vitamins for depression and really also some sort of hormone is Vitamin D. I already mentioned it in the first tip. Without it, you are defenseless against depression. Especially when you suffer from SAD (Seasonally Affective Disorder) that is caused by a lack of vitamin D, you will need your hours of sun. So go out! Just sit on a bench or go for a stroll. In winter you may want to get yourself a daylight lamp. There are many on the market: big ones and portable ones. They work wonders.
7 Plan your day the day before It is well known that motivation isn’t the greatest skill of depressed people. Procrastination, however, is. There is a way of dealing with that. It helps to avoid sinking into a swamp of dissatisfaction due to apathy. What’s the idea? Make a plan of what you are going to do the day before, latest. It’s better to plan the whole week so you don’t miss things. Missing things is going to make you feel miserable again and gives way to negative thoughts. And then you have to stick to it! That may still not be too easy, but at least it is much harder to put things off or forget something in this way.
8 The three degrees When you plan your week there is something you need to keep in mind. There are three things that are the sworn enemies of depression: A sense of 1) closeness; 2) achievement and 3) enjoyment. When you schedule those in on a regular basis, depression has much less of a chance. And again: Do stick to them! Your depression is going to resist as much as it can; don’t let it. Motivation comes after the road bump; after you have started moving, not before.
9 Exercise Now, depression isn’t the most motivated state of being. I realize that. Yet, exercise is going to help you big time. One of the symptoms of depression is fatigue. Your cells contain little energy factories, called mitochondriae. Now when you give in to the fatigue, these energy centers will decrease in numbers. And so when you have less of them, you will be more fatigued. You will be less prone to exercise and the numbers will go down even more. Hello, vicious circle, or rather, downward spiral. Exercise will generate more mitochondriae and you will have more and more energy. So activate your willpower and get over that road bump. And… you will feel better about yourself for having been active. This will fit perfectly in your weekly plan. Another advantage of getting moving is, your memory and concentration will improve. The brain center for spatial processing is the same as the one that deals with memory (very roughly put). And so by moving, you will have a spin-off effect, making you sharper again.
10 Change your diet I mentioned it before. Your brain needs building blocks to create the necessary neurotransmitters for optimal brain functioning. Healthy food is essential. In fact, there are many professionals who say it is better to get it from food than from supplements. There is another side to this too. When you eat healthy food, your digestion will be better. This has a direct effect on your energy and mood. In the long run, it will help you stave off degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia. Stop eating processed food and start cooking yourself. It will give you satisfaction too and it tastes so much better.
11 Change your sleeping pattern Often, when we feel so dissatisfied with our day, we tend to stay up later. It's as if we want to get something more out of it still. However, it is now known that quality of sleep is not only dependent on the number of hours, but also on when you sleep. This is to do with your hormonal levels. To use your hormonal levels optimally, you ideally want to go to bed around 10 pm and get up around 7. There is a reason for that. After 10 pm your cortisol levels are declining, decreasing the energy in your cells. As such, your sleep will be more restful. After 7 am your cortisol levels are rising again, to get you ready for a day of action. This causes your sleep to be significantly lighter. Napping during the day, a habit well known by depressed people, has the same effect. As such, the same number of hours produce a less refreshing effect. You may object: but I get so tired during the day! Noted, but…the criterion here is not tiredness but feeling sleepy. The tiredness comes from something else (see item no 9) and is not solved with napping. On the contrary, it makes it worse. And it will hamper your sleep during the night as well. When you’re actually feeling sleepy, you will want to obey and find a pillow.
These are a few tips on dealing with depression in a practical way. I will write more extensively on each of the topics listed here in later blogs, one each. They deserve it! Just like you. And then, when all this doesn’t work (enough), you may consider talking with a professional about what is getting and keeping you down, and eradicating it forever. Hope this helps. And remember, it takes 66 days to make a habit.