What is depression?
We all have periods in our lives when we feel down. It is a perfectly normal part of human existence and, consequently, we need to be mindful about not always pathologizing feelings of sadness. However, depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or sad. It is an experience which can last for weeks or (without treatment) even years.
Depression can affect people in many ways meaning it can sometimes be difficult to spot. For example, whilst some people may look objectively sad, others may be extremely irritable. Other symptoms include…
Sleeping difficulties (insomnia, sleeping too much, sleeping during the day)
Lost interest in previously enjoyed activities
Excessive guilt or unrealistically low self-image.
Decrease in personal care (e.g. might stop showering)
Significantly worse concentration.
Changes in appetite (I.e. eating too much or not enough)
Severe agitation or panic attacks
Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviours (including self-harming).
These symptoms can range from mild to severe. At its mildest, you may feel low and struggle to find motivation to engage in the activities that you used to enjoy. At its most severe, you may have thoughts about ending your life. At times like that, it is essential to contact your GP, or call 999 immediately.
Ways to manage depression.
Depression likes to tell us that we “can’t achieve” things, or that “there’s no point”. However, what we know is that depression can very successfully be treated with some simply changes. The things that most people struggle with, is the behavioural changes have to happen first before we feel the emotional benefits. In other words, it may feel that you have to force yourself to engage in activities for a while, before you start to enjoy yourself.
Below are some strategies which you can start using today to help you better manage your symptoms of depression. I would recommend doing as many as you can at least once a day.
1. Helping others – Things like offering to make someone a cup of tea, taking a letter to the post office for them, helping someone empty a dishwasher, or helping someone struggling with their shopping bags etc are all small things that we can do. This may feel counter-intuitive. How can helping someone else help me? Human beings are gregarious creatures who are on the search for connection and meaning within their social group. What we know is that these small acts of kindness benefit both the receiver and the provider.
2. Scheduling events – Don’t wait to be “in the mood” for doing activities, rather think about scheduling in events and activities during the day. For example, at 8:00 Get up and shower, 10:00 go for a walk, 12:00 put on a load of washing. When thinking about scheduling activities into your day, try to consider activities which give you a sense of meaning, purpose/satisfaction, and happiness and giving yourself a range of these throughout.
3. Staying in the present – You may have heard the term Mindfulness spoken about a lot over the last few years. Mindfulness is the act of keeping our attention on the here and now rather than letting it wander to the past or future. In practise, this means focusing on the task in hand and, as best you can, just noticing any negative self-judgements without engaging with them. Apps like Head Space offer a wide range of mindfulness strategies which may be a good way to start practising this skill.
4. Exercising – Exercise is the most effective treatment for mild to moderate levels of depression. Physical activitie relieves stress and also provides us with a sense of accomplishment, boosting our self-esteem. This could include simply walking down to the local shops and back, going on a bike ride, or a gym class. Something which gets your heart rate up but leaves you able to talk.
5. Improve your self – Trying to get a good night’s sleep is extremely important (although not always easy for us all!). Making slight adjustments to your routine can have a big difference to the quality of your sleep. You could consider…
Cutting out all caffeine after 6pm (if not earlier).
Making your room as dark as possible.
Sticking to a schedule of when you go to sleep and when you wake up.
Drink plenty of water during the day.
Avoid all screen time an hour before bed.
6. Talk to a therapist – If things continue to remain the same, or you’re concerned that there is a deterioration in your mental health, it may be time to contact your GP. Your GP will be able to offer a range of pharmacological and psychological interventions to you. They will also be able to talk through the benefits and limitations of each of your options so that your are completely informed before making any decisions.
If you are struggling with feelings of low mood, please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I offer free initial consultations, and I am always more than happy to talk about various treatment options available to you, both through the NHS and with myself.