Not sure what depression is or whether you suffer from it? How can you learn to cope better? This article offers some depression tips and how to help yourself.
I felt the need to address this topic today as I know that many of you reading this have or will be affected by depression at some point.
Mental health is a very big topic right now but I know I’ve not written much on this topic.
So, in an effort to provide you with the best, free content around mental health, today we’re talking depression.
As you know, the main area I struggle with is anxiety. But, when I was first diagnosed with anxiety (and was subsequently signed off work for 4 weeks in total), depression had taken it’s hold.
My doctor told me that those who have suffered from anxiety for a long time tend to suffer from mild to moderate depression as a result of this.
They said that this was normal, and that the effects of anxiety would bring anyone down after a long period of time. It meant that I’d been trying to stay strong for so long, it had come crashing down.
So although I’m not professing to know everything about depression, I know how it feels.
What is depression?
Although there is not a simple definition to depression, the NHS explains:
Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days.
Most people go through periods of feeling down, but when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days.
Some people think depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong – it is a real illness with real symptoms. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”.
This is a fantastic explanation of the way that depression affects us. MIND (the mental health charity based in the UK), goes on to explain:
If the depressing feelings are interfering with your life and don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back over and over again for a few days at a time, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing depression.
For me, the depression I felt expressed itself as below:
- Dragging yourself out of bed can feel like climbing a mountain
- Depression makes you feel like you’re a burden to everyone, even if you know in your heart this isn’t the case
- Your relationships with other people suffer because you can’t muster the energy to talk to anyone
- Chores and hygiene go down the drain
- Your appetite is either huge, or none existent (and trying to get yourself to eat means energy you just don’t have)
As you can see, depression can affect you both physically and mentally. Much like human characteristics, depression symptoms also range massively from one person to another. What I might experience may be completely different to you.
Please do bear in mind that although you may find similarities in you, it is ALWAYS recommended to speak to your doctor. If you suspect you have depression, Googling your symptoms is not the best way to go.
Treatments for depression
So now you know how depression affects us and what it is, let’s look at the treatments that are available. The details below come from my own personal perspective, meaning I have had direct experience with the below.
Oh and these are in no particular order here! Here goes:
If you’ve kept up with my blog for some time now, you know I talk candidly about the medication I take. Currently, my medication is called Citalopram, and is classed as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It is basically an antidepressant (as some antidepressants work well for anxiety too).
I was prescribed this after being signed off work for 4 weeks, following a mini breakdown at work.
More info on SSRIs
The brain naturally produces serotonin (the stuff that keeps our moods regulated), and SSRIs work at blocking the reabsorption of it. The effect of this is that the serotonin stays in your blood stream for longer, which equals a more stable mood.
For me, this worked. Although there were some pretty rocky events following being prescribed the medication (resulting in a higher dose), I have been taking it ever since. My doctors surgery was incredibly helpful and understanding, and I couldn’t thank them enough for the support they’ve given me.
I’ve now since lowered the dose slightly (now my life is stable and doesn’t involve people/situations that cause high stress), and so far it’s working fine.
There are other types of medication available to treating depression, and it’s really important to remember that medication doesn’t work for everyone. Although it has worked for me, it may not for you. Plus, all medication comes with side-effects, and must be seriously considered before starting it.
Just as an FYI… I know that when the time comes to stop taking Citalopram, I’m going to have to deal with some side effects. I also felt more anxious when I first started on the medication (as well as other unpleasant feelings).
Make sure you know everything about the medication you’re going to be taking, and ask your doctor about any questions you have.
This is also something that I tried on a few occasions. In the UK, if you get referred by your doctor or employer, you normally get 6 sessions with a therapist. It’s up to you whether you decide to finish the programme or not (some I followed through, some I didn’t).
The Mental Health Foundation describes talking therapy as:
Talking therapies involve talking to someone who is trained to help you deal with your negative feelings. They can help anyone who is experiencing distress. You do not have to be told by a doctor that you have a mental health problem to be offered or benefit from a talking therapy.
You usually spend about an hour per session talking through any issues you might have at the time. They are professionals, and can usually offer guidance and support when you need it. I know that some people find this sort of therapy useful as they won’t judge you. Nothing leaves the room unless it is of major concern.
For me, talking therapy didn’t really help. I already knew what my issues were, what I needed was help in changing the way I dealt in situations. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.
If you struggle to open up to the people around you, this might help. Oftentimes we spend a lot of time in our own head, and getting your thoughts and feelings out can relieve the stress related to that.
In addition, if you don’t feel like you could open up to the close to you, speaking to someone who is completely unbiased could be good for you. They won’t judge you, they will listen to you and help you explore your problems in a safe place.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is something that I’ve personally gone through and found it so so useful.
CBT is a form of talking therapy that is described as:
CBT is a type of talking treatment that focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems.
It combines cognitive therapy (examining the things you think) and behaviour therapy (examining the things you do) (Mind website)
The idea is that you turn your negative thoughts around certain situations, into more positive ones.
Naturally, as human beings, we are programmed to avoid conflict or danger in certain situations. But when you actively avoid such situations again, or become fearful that something might go wrong, this is where it becomes a problem.
It is important to notice when you find yourself avoiding situations that used to be fine for you. For example, being around large groups of people, or going to the supermarket. If you don’t address your avoidance, it is likely to get worse.
So, CBT works at changing your thoughts and behaviour. In turn this can change the way you feel about situations, and enable you to change your behaviour in future (Mind, 2015).
Natural routes – exercise, change in diet and mindfulness
Along with the above, there are some other treatment routes you can go down to help you with your depression. Personally, I tried all of the above – exercise, a change in diet and mindfulness. Neither of them helped to lift the depression or anxiety initially, but they do now.
It’s all about striking a balance, really.
Here are some of my best tips for the natural routes:
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise
- If you can’t get 30 minutes exercise, use apps like 7 Minute Workout or Freeletics to work out for short bursts instead
- Reduce the amount of junk food and sugar you eat – these type of foods don’t regulate your blood sugar and can cause mood swings
- Practise mindfulness when you find yourself in the past or future – focus on the here and now. Read my how-to guide here.
There are other controversial treatments to depression but I’m choosing not to discuss those here. If you want to know more, I’d recommend reading MIND’s page on treatments.
How can you help yourself?
Although for some, medication may be the answer (please do speak to your doctor for advice if you think you might have depression), there are steps you can take to help yourself, too.
As with anxiety, learning to cope with depression (and working out what works for you) is something that can help you deal with it. Although these tips may not get rid of the physical symptoms of depression, they might help.
Please do remember – your journey to a depression-free life is a long one. It may never be one that ends, either. Some never shake depression, they just learn to cope when it hits. But if so many people can learn to cope with it, so can you!
I hope you’ve found this useful! Let me know what you think in the comments.