Lower your stress levels
During periods of high stress, your body produces a substance called Cortisol, which in the short term can help your body cope with difficult circumstances. Over the long term, however, side-effects can be extremely detrimental. Long term cortisol exposure has been linked with muscle weakness, osteoporosis, a lack of sex drive and relevant to this article, a heightening of the symptoms of a number of psychiatric conditions including anxiety and depression.
If possible, remove the source of the stress entirely, or alternately engage in stress reduction techniques.
Have a nighttime ritual
A study in ‘The Journal of affective disorders’ found that 80% of people with depression suffer from disturbances in their sleep patterns. In order to combat this your sleep rituals need to be as effective as possible. Avoid electronics an hour before bed, try to read to unwind, and use dim lights at bedtime. Use your bedroom only for sleep. If you work there you may begin to associate it with stress, which can disrupt your ability to get a good night’s rest.
Having a ritual for different things can help with depression in general but doing the same thing every night before you go to sleep is perhaps the most valuable ritual you can engage in. Try to get to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time every day.
Different people react to depression differently. Some find it impossible to eat, while others binge eat comfort foods and put on weight. Neither of these helps. If possible try to eat healthily every day. Your meals are what will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to help you recover, whereas eating badly can give you something else to worry about.
If you feel you can’t prepare healthy meals for yourself consider ordering meals for a week or two from a ready meal service or asking friends and family to help you out, you may be surprised how keen people are to step up. This leads to the next point.
Cultivate a strong social circle
Lay the groundwork when you are well for building a strong social circle. Make time to spend with friends and family. Apart from the fact that they will be there for you when you aren’t feeling well, numerous studies have shown that simply knowing you have people around you, who have your back, will help to prevent future depressive episodes.
Drink less alcohol
For many people going through depression, alcohol can become the crutch they feel they need to get through the day. According to the American Addiction centre, “People can be drawn to the sedative effects of alcohol as a kind of medication, helping to distract from persistent feelings of sadness. While alcohol may temporarily relieve some of the symptoms of depression, it ultimately serves to worsen depression on a long-term basis.”
Regular drinking lowers your levels of serotonin2, which is the brain chemical that helps to regulate your moods. Regular drinking to try cope with the depression, may then, in fact, have the opposite effect.
Watch your inner conversation
If you are suffering from depression it is really easy to be hard on yourself. The words you think, and the things you say to yourself matter. A study published by Case Western Reserve University in 2012 showed that negative inner thoughts can literally lead a person into a depressive episode, and once there, keep them there for longer.
Thoughts identified with depression include those in which a person identifies with concepts of hopelessness, purposelessness, worthlessness, powerlessness, loneliness, emptiness and meaninglessness. So telling yourself things are hopeless, or that you are worthless over a long term can be extremely damaging.
While it’s not always possible to control what you think, you can learn to identify when you’re sinking into a negative pattern, and then change your thinking to closer match a more constructive or hopeful path. Try to catch yourself saying negative things, and then immediately, out loud if possible, speak the opposite.
Set small goals and reward yourself for achieving them
Very few people know how difficult it can be just to do the basics when you are feeling depressed, but you do. Set yourself simple goals for the day and then recognise when you manage to achieve them.
Setting the smaller goals of “Get out of bed”, “have a shower”, “get dressed” and “eat breakfast”, can lead to a much larger overall accomplishment. At each step reward yourself for being brave, being strong, and overcoming your depression. Tell yourself you are doing well, and at the end of the series of small goals, where you have managed to get out of bed, shower, eat and get ready for a day at work, don’t be afraid to take a minute to appreciate just what a success that is. You are going through a tough time, and you are winning.