Life is looking up. Your depression is under control and you’re finally feeling better. You probably just want to forget about the whole thing and move on, but that would be a mistake. Unfortunately, depression is a chronic illness. The fact is if you’ve had one episode of depression you are much more likely to have another. In addition, after an episode of depression your mind and body are not the same. Depression rewires your brain to a new depressive normal and this change persists even after you’ve got a handle on your depression. This means you may still be thinking, feeling and acting like a depressed person out of habit.
Consider this, when the cast comes off after you break a bone there is still work to be done. The muscles around the bone have weakened from lack of use. You need to do physical therapy to strengthen them again. Healing after depression is similar.
You may continue to think in a negative way. Depression shapes the way you see yourself and others. It might make you believe you’re undeserving or others don’t like you. You may shy away from social contact. Depression is exhausting and paralyzing. It keeps you stuck when what you need is to connect with friends and family. You may continue to sleep, eat or drink too much, or use other problematic behaviors to self-soothe. You may just not feel like yourself and have no idea what to do about it.
The good news is there is something you can do about it. Just like you go to rehab after a physical injury you need to do rehab after depression. The following are some strategies that can help. Look at the list and figure out what works for you. With regular effort, you will start to feel more like yourself. You might lessen the likelihood and/or the severity of future episodes of depression.
1. Improve your diet: A healthy diet can enhance your mood, increase your energy and improve your overall health. Take a look at Therese Borchard’s article, 10 Foods I Eat Every Day to Beat Depression. It’s a great guide to good mood foods.
2. Exercise: Walk, run, bike, etc. Do something to get your heart rate up and those endorphins pumping. Studies show that doing 30 minutes of exercise most days can improve your mood significantly. If you’re new to exercise check with your doctor before starting a routine, and go slowly at first.
3. Keep a Journal: Symptoms of depression can sneak up gradually infiltrating your life without your awareness. Keeping a journal can help you stay on top of changes in your daily habits and emotions before they become a problem. Start by taking stock of how you’re feeling now that your symptoms are under control. If you notice that your emotions or habits are starting to stray from this baseline, call your doctor and/or your therapist.
4. Practice Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness can do amazing things for you mind and body. It can help relieve emotional stress, boost confidence, improve energy and boost concentration, lessen minor aches and pains and decrease depression. It’s a great addition to your depression treatment plan. For more information on practicing mindfulness read my post, Mindfulness in Three Easy Steps.
5. Write: It doesn’t matter if you write poetry, prose or stream of consciousness nonsense. What matters is that you get your thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto the page or the screen. Sit for at least 20 minutes and just write what comes to mind. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation…just write. Believe it or not writing on a regular basis can be as effective as psychotherapy, and who knows you might find a new passion for writing the process.
6. Talk talk talk: Like writing talking gets uncomfortable thoughts and feelings out of your head where they are festering and into the world. When you allow a trusted person to be sounding board, you gain new insights and a different less judgmental perspective. Airing worries and problems can make them feel much less overwhelming. You don’t have to suffer in silence. Call a friend, call a family member, call your priest, minister or rabbi. Pick-up the phone and talk about it.
7. Find your passion: We are all passionate about something. However, those passions often get buried under the detritus of depression, and remain forgotten. Take a moment to remember the last time you did something that filled you with pure joy. It may be cooking, singing, hiking, acting or sculpting. If nothing immediately comes to mind think back. Maybe it was playing on the high school volleyball team, taking ballet as a child or coloring in a coloring book. Figure out what you are passionate about and do.
8. Get Social: Human being are social creatures. Though we no longer need human contact to survive we still it to be fulfilled. During your bought with depression, you likely paired down your life to the bare necessities. You probably got out of the habit of socializing with friends and family. It’s time to get out there again. Start slow. Call a friend you haven’t seen in a while, have a coffee, see a movie or just talk. You’ll be glad you did.
9. Connect with Nature: Nature can be very healing. Fresh air and sunshine are natural mood enhancers, and they are free. Go for a walk in the woods, sit by the water, do some gardening, go stargazing, go to a park or just sit on the porch. Do something to connect with nature.
10. Get therapy! While it may be tempting to take your medications, and get on with life a more comprehensive approach will likely be more effective at staving off depression in the future. That is why the recommended treatment for depression is a combination of medication, lifestyle changes and psychotherapy. Seeing a therapist helps in so many ways from helping you manage your stress to helping you improve your relationships to helping you create a plan for coping with crisis. If you need help finding a therapist ask your psychiatrist, call your insurance company or feel free to contact me, 917-721-2257 or firstname.lastname@example.org Together we can work to retrain your brain after depression.