By Natalie DeYoung
You’ve received the diagnosis. You’ve tried the medications. There’s been therapy, periods of leveling off, periods punctuated with physical pain, panic attacks, manic episodes, or days when you couldn’t pull yourself out of bed. Sometimes it’s just a mental fog you can’t shed for weeks; sometimes it lasts months or even years. As time goes on, life with chronic depression or other mood disorders ebbs and flows with all the variety of a rich – if unstable – emotional life.
As of March 31, 2011, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 10 people have depression, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 20.9 million people over the age of 18 have some type of mood disorder. Thankfully, the past ten years have seen an increase in awareness of mental illnesses, particularly depression, and with this awareness has come an influx of coping mechanisms, support groups and self-help tools.
Part of living with a psychological disorder like depression is learning the language of yourself. Just as a diabetic must watch closely over her own health from blood sugar and eating habits to levels of fatigue, a person with depression must learn to see the signs of an oncoming episode. With time and practice, those who suffer from chronic depression can become familiar with the slow descent of the black fog over their lives. Though nothing can replace the advice of your mental health professional, this advanced warning can stave off a full-blown attack of depression, shortening the cycle significantly.
One of the most helpful ways of keeping tabs on your mental health is by journaling or keeping a mood log. By expressing and acknowledging feelings, you can maintain a finger on your emotional pulse and see when you might need an infusion of positive activities. This will also alert you to any aspects of your life that need change. As opposed to the melancholy associated solely with depression (that is, negative feelings not linked to any discernible cause), some negative feelings can be a key indicator that something is amiss in your life. You need to learn to read those feelings in order to know when you should change something, or when you should seek further medical advice.
Similarly, keep a regular exercise regimen of some kind. Even if you aren’t athletically inclined, yoga, dance or a simple walk can go a long way toward maintaining physical health. Why is this so important? Simple: when you learn to listen to your body, you can tell when something is “off.” The link between physical and mental health is well established in the medical community, and let’s face it, when your body feels better, your mind follows suit.
Meditation also keeps your body and mind in harmony. Depression can seem like a hamster wheel of negative thinking (which leads to negative feeling), and meditation can pull you off the treadmill of your mind. As if that weren’t enough of a case for meditation, it can also provide a blank canvas for inspiration to strike, as well as a way to develop sharper intuition. Intuition can be a vital tool in your depression-monitoring arsenal, as it alerts you to subtleties in both your life and your thought patterns.
Prevention is also a fundamental way to monitor your mental health. Doing things to keep you positive, even if you don’t feel like it, are essential to keeping your mind in shape. Pulling out the paint supplies, your guitar, or other favorite activities can mean the difference between a month of black moods and channeling emotions for a constructive purpose. Engagement in everyday creative activities can be a mood enhancer too, according to Psychology Today. You don’t even need to be what you might think of as a creative or talented person, although everyone has some level of creativity; you just need absorption in an activity you enjoy doing.
Tips for Fighting Depression
- Lifestyle changes can go a long way toward keeping your mental health stable. Avoiding sugar, eating plenty of fruits and veggies and eating small, nutritious meals will keep your body and brain healthy, limiting the power of a depressive episode.
- Limit alcohol intake and avoid drugs. People with depression are extremely vulnerable to addiction, with a tendency to look to these mood-enhancing substances as ways of coping.
- Go outside, or if that is not possible, look out a window for a period of time. Natural light is a mood elevator, not to mention a key supplier of Vitamin D, which gives you a boost.
- Two words: bubble bath.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Negativity in those around you can drain you of what little positive energy you have.
- Chuck the yoga pants and put on something pretty. There’s a reason cancer patients are encouraged to wear clothing that makes them feel good, and it’s because of the undeniable link between looking good and feeling good. If the yoga pants are a must, then at least fix your hair and put on a coat of mascara; every little bit helps.
- Keep your eye out for the beauty: a luscious bloom, a perfect latte, a fluffy-clouded day. By searching for beauty in everyday things, you keep your mind trained to see positively instead of negatively.
- Queue up those 30 Rock episodes, along with your favorite stand up comedians. Everyone knows that laughter is the best medicine, and
- that goes double for depression.
Last of all, and most importantly; be kind to yourself. Depression is tough to live with, and you don’t need to make it harder on yourself. By doing the best you can one day at a time, you deserve every bit of self-love you can manage.
This article is in no way meant to diagnose or treat any form of mental illness. Rather, it is meant as a helpful guide to do what you can to know when you need help.
That said, if you ever find yourself having thoughts of suicide, go straight to your doctor or psychiatric professional. The website below can be a useful starting point at helping someone who is considering suicide.