Depression is a word that we tend to use far too loosely. If one is feeling sad, irritable, low on energy or appears to have lost interest in activities that they once enjoyed, we just say that (s)he is depressed. However, one should keep in mind that clinical depression is a serious condition. And if you feel depressed a lot, especially to the extent of thinking about ending your life or if you know of someone who talks about taking their life, then please do not ignore it and seek professional help as soon as possible. Surely you don’t want to be one of the approximately one million people around the world who, according to the World Health Organisation, take their lives while suffering from depression.
Of course this doesn’t mean that every time you’re feeling low you’re actually suffering from textbook depression. In fact, there are many ways to beat the blues, and these tips can also be used to good effect by those suffering from clinical depression as part of a holistic treatment.
Make a daily schedule
Life has its ups and downs but you don’t have to think about it all the time; engage yourself in healthy activities to uplift your mood off your blues
When you are depressed, you don’t feel like doing anything or making an effort. However, Dr Ian Cook, a leading psychiatrist, thinks that making a daily routine is an effective way to ward off depression. Make a daily To-Do list and check the tasks at completion. A daily schedule will keep you fairly busy not allowing you to sit idle and will prevent you from letting negative thoughts dominate you.
The link between depression and sleep is a complex one. Experts believe that while difficulty getting enough sleep is a major symptom for most people with depression, about 10 to 20 per cent of people sleep more when they are depressed. Therefore, it is important to have healthy sleep habits; ideally about seven to eight hours of sleep on a regular basis is an important factor in helping fight depression.
Exercise is known to be the easiest and the cheapest anti-depressant. Extensive studies have shown that exercise is an important tool to help fight depression. According to doctors, exercising for 30 minutes a day for three to four days a week significantly reduces depressive symptoms. Brisk walk, jogging, pilates, swimming or sports like golf or tennis are all useful as long as it suits you and you are doing enough of it. There’s science behind this as well: when you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in the body and may also serve to improve mood. Exercise also stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which may directly improve mood.
Maintaining a journal can also be an effective way to fight depression. Writing your thoughts and feelings helps you assess your problems without the fear of judgement or punishment. It provides an outlet to express yourself and can prove a helpful tool in managing your mental health.
Write everyday; give yourself a few minutes each day to make an entry into your journal. Let your words flow, don’t worry about grammar or spellings, this is your private arena and you don’t have to share your journal with friends or family.
Food choices have a definite impact on mental health and development. Studies have shown that those who consumed a diet of lean meat, vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, nuts and low fat dairy products had lower rate of depression and anxiety than those who consumed diet rich in sugar and fat. For instance, bananas are said to aid in relieving the symptoms of depression; they contain high levels of tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin which is referred to as the ‘happy mood’ neurotransmitter. They are also high in vitamin B6, which is necessary for your body to synthesise its own serotonin.
Comfort food may in the long run lead to weight gain and increase your risk of heart disease and other serious problems besides lowering your self esteem. The key is to maintain healthy weight, good hydration and balanced diet.
Enjoyable social interactions as a daily part of your life boosts your mental and physical health. If you are feeling depressed it is important that you do not isolate yourself. Instead, make an effort to interact with positive people, call up a friend, go to movies or a theatre or to a park with family or friends. Depression makes a person lose interest in activities and people, therefore it is important to surround yourself with loved ones, which helps you remain connected to the world and develop a sense of belonging.
Vitamin D and sunlight
That low levels of vitamin D are linked with depression is a relatively new idea. But research has shown that vitamin D may help play an important role to help fight depression, since it is shown to act on areas of the brain that are linked to depression, though more studies are required to establish a definitive link. Anyway, it is always a good idea to maintain an optimal level of vitamin D as it is an essential vitamin. A 10-15-minute walk outside in the morning is a good idea to energise your body with some sunlight and get some vitamin D as well.
It has been suggested that about 30 minutes of meditation daily may alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Meditation is about nurturing a state of mind that brings about calm and inner peace. It enables a person to focus on the present moment and not dwell on past mistakes or worry about unseen future.
Remember that these tips are just to lift you out from the dumps and do not offer treatment for clinical depression; if the symptoms continue seeking professional help is the best option.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 5th, 2015