If you suffer from clinical depression, you’ll know how hard it is to cope. In serious cases, it can drain you of energy and motivation, deprive you of sleep and leave you unable to do anything to get yourself better.
You may be thinking: ‘How can I cope with depression on my own?’. Professional help from your GP and/or psychiatrist, and well-managed medication, can play their part in treating depression. But there is a lot you can do yourself.
In this blog, we look at four steps you can take now to help you get on top of your depression. With inner determination and by reaching out for support from those around you, you can use these practical techniques to help you win your battle with depression.
1. Exercise more
Exercise is not just good for your physical fitness. Research shows that regular exercise can be as effective as medication in tackling the effects of depression.
- Give the body and mind a natural energy boost.
- Stimulate the brain’s mood-influencing neurotransmitters.
- Enable the release of endorphins, which ease anxiety and lift mood.
- Promote the growth of new brain cells.
You may find it hard to motivate yourself to exercise, particularly if you’re suffering from low mood, fatigue or low confidence. But by taking small steps, and gradually getting into a daily exercise routine, your mood will improve.
Try not to compare yourself with other people, or you may feel overwhelmed and be tempted to give up. If you’re anxious about exercising in crowds, time your routine for first thing in the morning or later in the day when it’s quieter.
The great thing about taking exercise is that it involves the setting and completion of goals: ‘to walk for 10 minutes today’, ‘to go on a 30-minute bike ride tomorrow’, ‘do three work-outs this week’, and so on. The sense of satisfaction with achieving a goal has been closely linked with improved mental health.
Setting an exercise goal, then hitting it, feels good because you’ve taken back some control over your mental health. You’ve said you’ll do something, and you’ve done it. It’s a great feeling – and a proven way to tackle low self-esteem, pessimism and self-criticism.
Some ideas for upping your exercise game:
- Join a local gym.
- Exercise at home with a workout routine.
- Find a nearby conservation group. for some outdoor exercise planting trees or sowing meadows.
- Try your hand at tennis or squash.
- Use your local swimming pool to swim lengths or do classes.
- Join a walking group.
2. Reduce your alcohol intake
Drinking alcohol is a tempting way to relieve the effects of depression and anxiety. A drink can lift the mood, help you relax and shine some light through the darkness of depression. It can boost confidence and make you feel more extroverted.
However, alcohol is highly addictive and can soon become unhealthy and dangerous. It may give you short-term pleasure, but:
- It makes you less alert and impairs your concentration.
- It’s a depressant drug, likely to intensify existing feelings of depression.
- It can increase anxiety levels. This could lead to further use and growing dependence.
- Sustained use can lead to alcohol-induced psychosis.
- It reacts badly with a lot of medication.
- It can negatively affect your sleep.
There’s no known safe level of drinking, but if you’re looking to reduce your alcohol intake, following the low-risk guidelines is a good place to start.
3. Eat healthily
A healthy diet is as important for your mental wellbeing as it is for your physical health. Research shows that taking care over your food choices can lift your mood, reduce anxiety and ease depression.
Food is a way for you to take back control of your mental health. It’s all too easy to give in to the tyranny of ready meals, takeaways and junk food. These diet choices may be convenient, and are often tasty, but they’re filled with excessive levels of sugar, salt and other undesirable ingredients.
By filling your body with healthy and nutritious food, you’ll feel stronger and more energised, improving your ability to get out, exercise and socialise – all of which is good for your mental health.
And by taking control of what you eat and putting time aside to prepare your own food, you’ll boost your confidence and self-esteem and feel better about yourself.
For a simple transition to healthier eating:
- Stay away from processed foods.
- Eat plenty of nutrient-dense food – fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
- Avoid sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates like white bread.
- Enjoy preparing food for yourself and others.
- Follow NHS guidelines on healthy eating.
4. Take your five a day
In 2008, the New Economics Foundation coined the expression ‘five ways to wellbeing’, based on the well-known message of ‘five a day’ for fruit and veg. The NEF’s aim was to identify five key actions people could incorporate into their everyday lives to safeguard and improve their wellbeing.
If you’re looking for ways to cope with depression, take a look at the NEF’s guide and think about how you can build these lifestyle choices into your life.
- Connect. This is about connecting with the people around you. Friends, family, neighbours, strangers. Building relationships with others is an antidote to loneliness and offers us an enriched and purposeful life.
- Be active. As we’ve discussed, exercise is a proven remedy for depression. Get outside, move the body, and find a physical activity you enjoy.
- Take notice. Being observant, curious and mindful of your surroundings reminds you that you’re part of a bigger picture. It’s a way of helping you slow down, appreciate the world around you and take time to reflect on the good things.
- Keep learning. The brain is programmed to learn. But depression can shut it down, through loss of motivation, feelings of hopelessness and poor concentration. Learning new things will help restore your confidence and get your brain working again.
- Give. Experience the warm glow of helping someone else. If you’re always thinking about how to cope with depression, you’re bound to be looking in at your own situation most of the time. But looking out is helpful for your mental health too. Be kind to a stranger, volunteer, donate to the food bank. These kindnesses to others will make you feel better.
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