Depression comes in many shapes and forms. While it’s perfectly normal to feel sad and anxious even hopeless, sometimes, a pervasive low mood might indicate depression.
Depression may be in reaction to a situation such as a relationship break up or job loss. It might be related to an underlying health condition or to hormonal changes in the body such as during pregnancy and childbirth. Whatever the catalyst, it is important to you see your GP and discuss your symptoms.
Most doctors will prescribe antidepressants. Many doctors recommend a course of counselling and psychotherapy in conjunction with medication. A study by researchers at Oxford University, published in The Lancet, shows that newer antidepressants tend to be better tolerated, and have fewer side effects. NHS England now maintains that depression is best treated with antidepressants and psychotherapy.
However, there are things you can do to help recovery. Dealing with depression requires action, but taking action when you’re depressed can be hard. Sometimes, just thinking about the things you should do to feel better, like exercising, eating properly, cutting down on alcohol or spending time with friends, can seem exhausting or impossible to put into action.
It’s the Catch-22 of depression recovery: The things that help the most are the things that are the most difficult to do. There is a big difference, however, between something that's difficult and something that's impossible. Here are the five areas – exercise, sleep, eating, drinking and socialising – where a small effort to change habits, can significantly improve depression.
Exercise: When you feel depressed, the last thing you might want to do is exercise. However, exercise has a number of health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, releasing endorphins – the brains natural feel-good hormones – as well as improving fitness and stamina, and some say, even sleep.
Exercise need not be intensive or exhausting. A study found that patients who did the equivalent of 35 minutes’ walking, six days per week, experienced a reduction in their level of depression by 47 percent. This study, conducted at the Cooper Research Institute in Dallas, Texas, shows that as little as three hours of regular exercise a week reduces the symptoms of mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressants.
Sleeping: In depression, we sleep too much or too little. It’s tempting to carry on sleeping, if we feel we can’t face the day, or to sit up if we fear we won’t fall asleep. Developing a good sleep routine is a vital habit for dealing with depression. Try to go to bed and get up at similar times. Avoid television, and gadgets in the bedroom. Some people have found meditation or listening to relaxing music, great tools for getting to sleep.
It’s important also, to avoid getting into a rigid expectation around sleep. The more pressure you put on yourself to fall asleep, the less likely it is to happen. Remind yourself that it is still useful to lie down and rest. Some people find it useful to write down a list of the thoughts which habitually bother them when trying to get to sleep, so they can set them aside to be dealt with the next day.
Eating: Another good habit to beat depression is a healthy eating regime. Depressed people tend to eat too little or too much, reaching for sugary or carbohydrate heavy foods as comfort. Erratic eating – whether too much or too little – destabilises blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar is linked to feelings of irritability and depression. Protein, particularly from oily fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, such as those found in wholegrains, pulses and lentils, should all be included in a healthy eating plan.
Alcohol: It’s tempting to use alcohol to medicate a low mood. However, even a moderate amount of alcohol can disrupt the delicate balance of brain chemicals and processes, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. This is partly down to ‘neurotransmitters’, chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another.
The relaxed feeling you can get when you have that first drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol has caused in your brain. For many of us, a drink can help us feel more confident and less anxious. That’s because it’s starting to depress the part of the brain we associate with inhibition.
But, as you drink more, more of the brain starts to be affected. It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in to start with, when high levels of alcohol are involved, instead of pleasurable effects increasing, it’s likely that a negative emotional state will take over.
Socialising: Depressed people tend to isolate. It can feel like an unbearable effort to have meet even close friends and family, but there is a link between depression and socialisation. If you are keeping yourself to yourself and not interacting with others, the isolation may worsen the feelings of depression. Therefore, managing depression requires some degree of socialisation, matter how hard this might seem at first.
Human beings are social at their very core, and a lack of socialisation can lead to psychological problems, including depression and anxiety. Research shows people who socialise often are less likely to suffer from depression. When it comes down to it, connecting with others makes life more meaningful. It also helps you to feel less alone.
Anytime you felt better after talking to a friend or loved one; you quickly realize how powerful and beneficial socialisation is. In fact, something as simple as a short phone call or a quick ten-minute coffee break with a friend can significantly and positively affect your mood.