Written by Philippa Walsh
Depression is often presumed to be sadness. Sadness is an emotional state that we can usually move beyond without too much difficulty. Depression is a more enduring state of sadness - usually accompanied by a distinct sense of hopelessness and a reduced desire to participate in day to day activities.
Depression is therefore very different from the odd 'down' day and is not something that responds well to well-meaning but insensitive comments such as "pull yourself together, things will look better tomorrow".
Whilst depression can persist for weeks, months or years at a time, this does not mean that it can't be overcome with the right approach. Research shows us that talking therapy or medication can significantly improve symptoms, but taking just a few small steps a day at a time can also help to improve mood.
Take things one step at a time
A common symptom of depression is having no motivation to do simple day to day tasks and feeling overwhelmed. Even getting out of bed and dressed can seem like a daunting task. Inactivity has been shown to maintain and prolong depression.
The best way to overcome any feelings of being overwhelmed is to break down the activity into small, easier chunks. This can be done by writing a step by step list or visualising yourself doing all the actions you need to in order to complete a task.
Rather than thinking about every task you need to do - picture each step of each task individually, and feel proud of yourself for achieving just some of them, even if you are unable to complete everything in one day.
As depression becomes more severe, many people become increasingly withdrawn. Depression can make you want to hibernate and avoid social contact. This can lead to a vicious circle in which the less time you spend with others, the less time you want to. Social connection is one of several of our basic emotional needs and it is essential not to neglect it, no matter how tempting complete isolation feels.
Maintaining a strong support network is important - this could consist of family members or trusted friends. Being able to discuss how you feel and the problems you face makes it easier to deal with them.
Exercise has been shown to encourage the release of 'happiness' chemicals in the brain. Dopamine and endorphins lift mood - just getting out for a walk can enhance how you feel.
Take back control
This is not about "pulling yourself together" or "getting a grip" - this is about thinking about what you could do to put in place changes that will make you feel happier and more empowered.
Whilst depression can make you feel out of control, it is helpful to realise that you are the one who can make things happen, rather than taking a passive role and allowing things to happen to you.
Challenge negative thoughts
Negative thinking or brooding thoughts are a common symptom of depression. Shifting the focus of the mind is essential to reclaiming power over your depression.
When you start challenging rather than believing your thoughts to be statements of fact, you will start to get a more balanced and more positive perspective of your situation.
Whilst this can be hard at first, keeping a journal of your negative thoughts and trying to think of more balanced less biased ones can help you get started.
Learn relaxation techniques
Deep breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation can be helpful to use if you find yourself becoming anxious alongside your depression.
Learning how to relax on cue is not the same as being inactive. Inactivity does not always lead to a relaxed state of mind. Relaxation techniques can help reduce anxious or brooding thoughts.
Having four to six small healthy meals throughout the day can help stabilise blood sugar, giving you more energy. This will also help you if your appetite is reduced and you are struggling to eat 2 or 3 large meals everyday. It is important to fuel your body sufficiently to improve motivation and activity levels.
Although comfort eating may be tempting, giving in to the biscuit tin or take out meals will only make you feel sluggish.
Self-medicating may seem like a useful coping strategy but is far from helpful. Both alcohol and even caffeine affect brain function resulting in changes in mood, thinking, behaviour, perception and consciousness. Alcohol is particularly dangerous if taken alongside prescribed anti-depressants, as it makes them ineffective.
Use of substances such as cannabis and cocaine may feel like a quick fix, but only numb out emotions or increase anxiety.
The underlying source of your depression is not getting dealt with while self-medicating. Illegal substances have also been shown to worsen the symptoms of depression.
Seeking comfort or stimuli just to get through the day shows that a fundamental need is not being met - it is this that needs to be addressed.
Maintain a good sleep routine
When feeling depressed, it can be easier to sleep too much. Try and maintain a normal sleep routine even if you feel that you have no need to get up in the morning. Go back to basics - set your alarm, create a proper routine and introduce a calming ritual before you go to sleep.
Many studies have shown that regular sleep routines have a positive effect on mood and actually reduce depressive symptoms over time.
Find out more about counselling and psychotherapy in Manchester, by reaching out to me today.
If you feel in crisis you may contact The Samaritans for free confidential support on 116 123 - this is a 24/7 helpline and calls to their number will not show up on your phone bill.