Before I get into the meat of how you can effectively manage depression, I’d like to add a little caveat to this post. I’m not a doctor or psychologist. I also realize that there are many people who suffer bouts of depression the depths of which I will (hopefully) never know. There is a portion of the population who may do all of this and still need pills to even begin to manage their moods.
That said, however, let me tell you just how deep depression has reached into my life. About a year ago, I was laying in bed watching TV. My mood shifted instantly and, like an avalanche, my entire psyche came crashing into myself.
I’ve faced depression off and on my whole life, but this made those bouts of depression seem like joy. It was a complete loss of control of my mood. When I say “avalanche,” that’s definitely the best way to describe it. One minute I was okay, and the next I felt intense fear and sadness. I cried harder than I have ever cried in my life.
From Bad to Worse
And then the suicidal thoughts crept in. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to live. I was pretty happy with my life. From the outside looking in, I have an amazing life (and I’m very grateful for that). But I couldn’t take this feeling. It was intense. It was dark. It was bleak. I felt hopeless. And I just wanted it to end. All I could think about was getting up, walking out to the nearest bridge, and throwing myself into the river. And, no matter what I tried, I could NOT shake that feeling or those thoughts.
That was the beginning of one of the hardest years of my life. I look back over 2017 as the year that really rocked the foundations of what I thought about life. I spent weeks after that in a haze, performing my daily tasks like a zombie, tears at the back of my eyes that could creep out at any moment.
I think the worst part of it was the feeling of utter hopelessness. It felt like nothing I did mattered. I felt like I was alone. I felt like that all that I had enjoyed about life had suddenly been stripped away and all that was left was this zombie-like state I found myself in. It was a rough time. And, while in the weeks following I started doing things to improve my mood, that feeling would creep back many times throughout the year. It was maddening.
I say all of that to say this: I am no doctor or psychologist, but I am someone who fights and has fought depression many times in my life. This article is a collection of the most effective things that I’ve done. As I write this, I feel that I am back to my old, happy self. And I feel that the things I suggest here have much to do with it. So let’s get started…
Action #1: Manage Depression Through Diet and Exercise
Every post you’ll find on depression will talk about this one. That’s because it’s one of the most effective ways to manage depression. One of the major factors in causing depression is hormones in your body that get thrown out of whack. Eating cleaner food and moving your body affects the chemical makeup in your body. An exercise session will cause a rush of endorphins that will improve your mood.
Eating better will also contribute to weight loss. Research suggests that weight loss can seriously reduce the effects of depression. If you’re overweight and inactive, your mental state is going to be less secure. When we carry extra weight, it can lead to insecurities that cause us to further retreat into the very habits that keep us locked in depression.
One of the first things I did after my bleak night was to start eating better. I also started going to the gym at least three times a week. This instantly improved my mood. It didn’t lead to a “cure” so much as it helped reduce the things that compounded my depression.
Action #2: Manage Depression Through Facing Your Fears and Insecurities
This falls into the category of “things that make depression worse.” In fact, psychologists now accept that there are many types of depression and that certain childhood traumas can lead to depression later in life. I’m a huge proponent of facing the “gunk” that we carry into adulthood. Pretty much all of us have it. Maybe we don’t all face major trauma as children, but there are thoughts, beliefs, and values that we make as children that affect us as adults.
The best way to face this is to talk to your therapist and work through it with them. You could also spend some time writing it out. Open a private Word document or get a journal and start writing about the things that upset you from your childhood. You won’t have to think too hard to remember them. Your unconscious mind keeps these thoughts right at the edge of your consciousness because they are things that drive your most negative emotions.
Byron Katie has an amazing (and free) process for deconstructing these old thoughts. There are things you believe about yourself that you decided at a very young age. With your adult mind you will see these thoughts as relatively childish. They will, however, create intense emotions because they have been unresolved for so long. Use Katie’s four questions to help you sort through these thoughts and emotions.
Action #3 Manage Depression Through Connection With Other People
This one was the hard one for me. I had spent so much of my life trying to prove my independence and decrease my reliance on other people, that it was hard for me to realize that connections with other people actual fulfill a fundamental need for us. Stephen Covey talks about the three phases that we move through as humans: dependence, independence, and interdependence. Here is a great article that talks about this spectrum.
Your depression might be telling you that it’s time to move up on the spectrum. If you are in a state of dependence, maybe it’s time to work on becoming independent. If you are relatively independent, maybe it’s time to start letting people back into your life in a more interdependent way. It’s necessary to assess where you are on the scale and take the steps to get to interdependence. Nobody is an island. If you cut yourself off from people, your emotional state will change.
This was probably my biggest wake up call when the shroud of depression fell over me. I had spent so much time pulling away from people, that I had weakened many crucial connections in my life. The idea is to create a network. I know the introverts reading this want to dismiss this, but I’m not saying that you need to be around people all of the time. You can still be a loner and have a network of interdependence.
One way you can do this is by joining clubs in your community. Join a meetup group. Start going to church. Become a volunteer. Get on Google and/or Facebook and look for groups that you can be a part of. The time commitment for most of these things might be, at most, one day a week. But the connections and (more importantly) the feeling of connectedness you get from this will seriously alter your mood.
Action #4: Mange Depression Through Brain-Stimulating Activities
This was a surprising solution. When I was facing depression, I decided to start doing jigsaw puzzles. I bought a puzzle board and everything. It was fascinating to me that this simple activity would pull me from my zombie-like state. Granted, it wasn’t a long-term solution. This activity by itself won’t change your depression.
These activities are best for breaking the cycle of negative thoughts that swarm you when depression hits you. They are effective because they do three things: they refocus your mind away from depressing thoughts, they give you a small sense of purpose, and they give you a sense of accomplishment. Completing these activities are intrinsically satisfying.
Other great activities you can do include: crossword puzzles, Sudoku, coloring, painting, and wood-carving/woodworking. Notice I left off things like video games and gaming apps on your phone. The idea is to interrupt the constant pull of technology on your life and bring you back to a simple, pleasurable, yet physical hobby. The tactile nature of the hobby adds to the sense of accomplishment you feel when you finish the task. It really is the simplicity of the activity that makes it so rewarding.
Action #5: Manage Depression Through Creating Purpose for Your Life
A huge reason for my meltdown had to do with a strong feeling of hopelessness. I was having a hard year anyway, so I was beginning to question why we ever bother doing things in life. My mind would trick me into thinking that if what I’m doing doesn’t really have any lasting effect, then why am I bothering to do them? If in a hundred years nobody is going to remember who I was or what I did in this life, then why bother doing anything at all?
The answer was a simple thought: all that matters is what is happening right now. In this moment many of the things that I do matter. You have to see this through the lens of your own life. The people who love you, the people you work with, the people you interact with…to them your actions matter a great deal. In fact, the only thing that saved me from my suicidal thoughts that night was the fact that I knew it would utterly devastate my children.
You must realize that your actions have meaning in this present moment. Meaning does not come from some future “sun will blow up and destroy everything so none of this matters” thinking. You have a good 70-80 years of constant “now-ness” to experience before that happens. You are throwing those precious years down the drain by thinking too far into the future.
Nobody needs to remember you for your actions to have meaning. You create meaning through your actions by doing the things that inspire you. There are things that you can do right now that will satisfy that hunger you feel deep in your core. You have a purpose in this life. Find it. I can’t stress this enough. This is probably the single greatest thing you can do for your depression.
You are not your depression. You are the person who is feeling depression. When you understand the difference, you will see things completely different. You have the power to break this cycle. And, more importantly, you are not alone.