"I'm singing in the rain! 52 ways to beat depression. Image courtesy of digitalart at freedigitalphotos.net
52 Ways to Beat the Blues.
1. Exercise. It is well-documented that at least 20 minutes of regular exercise that causes you to puff, but not gasp for breath is leads to the release of ‘endorphins’ – ‘happy chemicals’ in the brain. This also has the effect of reducing anxiety.
2. Wise nutrition choices. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, one to two serves of dairy products, protein (whether from meat or vegetarian options), as well as ‘good fats’ – those high in unsaturated fat, and containing omega 3 are to the brain what fuel is for the car. As a follow-on from this analogy, just as your car won’t run with fuel, so your brain functions depending on the nutrition it is given. Specifically protein is a necessary precursor to neurotransmitters, like serotonin – which is important in relieving depression. Wise nutrition also includes adequate water – 6 to 8 glasses a day.
3. Adequate sleep. During sleep your body repairs itself. In the dreaming process your mind sorts out problems that may be below your consciousness. Indirectly, poor concentration resulting from inadequate sleep may cause depression because you cannot function as optimally as you desire.
4. Music. The choice of music depends on the individual. Upbeat music is often chosen to lift ones spirits. However, the pleasing sounds of relaxation or classical music may be preferable to others.
5. Connect with meaningful others, such as family and friends. Interactions with others remind us we are not alone in our problems, we can lift weight off our shoulders by discussing our troubles. Connecting can help you feel you have made a worthwhile contribution by listening to someone else, which also helps you realise you are not alone. We realise we are inter-dependent, part of a group, and the issue of sadness is one that is common to many.
6. Laugh! Having a chuckle can help alleviate depression by reminding us there is a lighter side to life, and it also can help anxiety – it is thought that the chemicals released when laughing help feelings of sadness and fear.
7. Gardening. Getting back to nature can help us feel peaceful when we are surrounded by the tranquil environment of plants, flowers and trees. Tending to a garden can be a pleasant past-time that helps us feel better by contributing to these oxygen givers that we all need. Admiring the beauty of flowers and gardens (even public ones such as in Roma Street Parklands) can inspire joy at the simple wonders of nature at work.
8. Being out in the sunshine. There are numerous theories, but there is evidence that exposure to sunlight can alleviate depression. There is a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that occurs during the winter months, and as the warmer weather approaches disappears. Sunshine can also help because blue skies are often visually cheering as is seeing the bright sun light up our surroundings.
9. Volunteering – feeling like you have made a meaningful contribution to other(s) can help us feel we have a purpose. When we feel useless it is hard to be cheerful, feeling we are without a goal reflective of our values.
10. Art. Whether we feel we have the gift for it or not, relaxing and engaging the right brain in a creative process can help us relax, and happiness can follow as if only for that time, we forget our troubles. We could draw, colour in (as in those mindfulness colouring books that currently have become popular) or make a collage (a cut-out of positive images, say from magazines, glued onto a large piece of cardboard)
11. Journalling. If we have a specific problem that is causing us to feel down, writing about it can not only be cathartic, it can help us to sort out solutions to our problems as they are clarified during the process of self-expression.
12. Talking it over. Whether it be a trusted friend, or a trained counsellor, talking about what is getting us down can help us get it off our chest. We are in a position to receive validation, encouragement and advice from a trained professional.
13. Having a good cry. Over-time, unexpressed emotions can build up us, and sometimes we may even forget what we are feeling. By allowing ourselves to have a good weep in a private place now and then can help us self-validate the way we are feeling because we are allowing ourselves to recognise that yes we are sad, and it is okay to express it. Crying can release stress hormones, and also let out all those sad feelings. We may still feel down after, but perhaps our self-expression was the first step to even recognise how we are coping, which can be the needed first step to then take action to feel better.
14. Self-nurturing behaviours such as enjoying a warm bubble bath, dressing in comfortable/our favourite clothes, or allowing ourselves a treat such as a make-over can help us feel better.
15. Grieving. If we have recently lost a loved one, or an important part of our lives, we need to recognise that sadness is normal, expected and a necessary part of the recovery process to feel better. By getting in touch with our sad feelings that accompany painful loss, we are self-validating that it is okay to feel sad – this in itself can help things be a bit better at first. If we suppress our sadness, it can turn into a vague inner pain, that may spiral into a more lengthy depression.
16. Pets. Whether it be a loving, loyal dog, cat or even a bird or fish, feeling and appreciating their unconditional love, observing their spontaneous and playful behaviour, as well as having something we love to care for can give our lives meaning and joy as we watch our pet’s simple, loving and wondrous outlook on life.
17. Appreciating what you do have perhaps through a daily gratitude journal can overtime train your brain to reframe circumstances, so you can see what is positive in your life.
18. Accepting you won’t feel happy all the time. There is a big focus in the Western World on ‘happiness’ rather than peace and contentment. Also there’s almost a myth that unless we feel happy most of the time, we are almost in a position to have some diagnosable mental health problem! No-one feels happy all the time. If we did, would we even know what happiness was anymore? We need to go through the mundane, the sad, the aggravating to appreciate happiness. (Of course if sadness overwhelming predominates in terms of your usual emotional state, there could be an element of treatable depression present).
19. Have a massage. Whether it be your partner or a professional, receiving a massage is one of the most enjoying sensual experiences you can have, leaving you feeling in an uplifted and more relaxed mood.
20. Try to regulate your sleep. Just as excessive sleep is unhealthy and can be a sign of depression, so as dicussed above can insufficient sleep.
21. Have a routine, and a plan and structure for each day. This can help depression by the fact you are keeping busy, as well as giving your purpose. It can also provide a sense of control by having a day outlined for yourself.
22. Lower your expectations. When you expect too much of yourself, depression can be almost inevitable as when we fail to reach impossible standards, we can self-criticise, and for those very hard on their selves, almost feel like a failure. During times of depression, treat yourself as you would if you had the flu – be gentle on yourself by adopting a simple, easy to maintain routine and have realistic goals.
23. Self-praise. When you are depressed, an inherent part of this state of mind is negativity, and associated with that, unnecessary and self-damaging self-criticism. Do don’t worry, you are not being self-indulgent by giving yourself praise – think of it as balancing out all the negative self-talk you will probably be engaging in.
24. Join a club or group you are interested in. This can help take your mind off the way you are feeling. The social outlet there can also serve to do this, and help create positivity in your life through pleasurable interactions, and the possibility of meeting new friends. Your new interest can be something to think about.
25. Do some spring-cleaning. Housework at first thoughts, may be the last activity you feel like participating in when your mood is low. However, if you set your goals realistically, the pleasure in seeing clean surroundings slowly reveal themselves can lift the spirits. It is pleasant to have tidy surroundings.
26. Re-decorate. Akin to point 25, after the process of cleaning, thoughtful assessment of how you would like to arrange your belongings, and how you might like to ‘pretty up your place’ can help inspire a creative state of mind that can feel exciting and help you forget your blues.
27. Reframe negative thoughts. These are almost universally present in a depressive disorder. They can be insidious in the sense that by the time we catch ourselves wallowing in negativity, we may have already had ten sad thoughts or more. However, the more we practice catching ourselves in the process the more automatic it will become to reframe negative thought processes into realistic or positive ones.
28. Self-help books. There is an absolute plethora of literature on behaviours you can engage in that put the power back into your own hands. Books exist about mindfulness, positive thinking, removing negative thoughts, changes in lifestyle – knowledge is power. Read as much as you can, but not everything will seem relevant to you so pick and choose what you know will help.
29. Enjoy a day of self-indulgence. If you are depressed, you may feel guilty or anxious about doing this. Practically also, home, family and work obligations may make it hard for you to arrange time to do this. However, at least to the extent possible given the other tasks in life that you can’t ignore, try to arrange a day, even a partial day of being purely kind to yourself. Plan all your favourite things to do, meals to eat, places to see, people to meet, and enjoy!
30. Put on your favourite clothes, make-up and perfume. Doing this can actually kid the subconscious mind into believing you are in a good mood. (Google “Bem’s self-perception theory to learn more about this).
31. Positive Affirmations. By repeating again and again (either aloud in front of a mirror), or on paper what you would like to be, achieve, think and do, the repetition over time reprograms the brain so that you actually believe in what you would like to be true!
32. Spirituality. Sometimes when you feel depressed, particularly in the context of feeling that life is purposeless, or you have guilt burdening you causing you to feel low, or a sense of being out of control of your life, spirituality can have miraculous results. By handing over these problems to a higher power, you can gain peace and a sense of security that can help uplift you.
33. Breathe properly. Sit up straight and breathe in and notice your tummy expanding as you inhale for the count of three, and relax as you exhale for the count of three. Poor breathing can cause fatigue, and our brain uses a disproportionate amount of oxygen for proper function. Breathing correctly may have beneficial effects on mind function, and outlook as you can have more oxygen to help your cognition.
34. Have plans and goals for your future that inspire you. When you have something specific to look forward to that has been made more concrete by a desired time-frame you would like to achieve these by, can help uproot depression. When you are inspired and excited by meaningful goals, this can kickstart the motor toward feelings of self-satisfaction and greater happiness.
35. Practice mindfulness as a way of being. Being mindful essentially means being focussed only on the present moment while engaging your senses of vision, hearing, smell, touch and feeling. It then is logically impossible to be thinking unwanted thoughts when you are engaging your sensory system. Also by refusing to live in the past, or worry about the future, but instead be mindful on the present, you invite a sense of peace and pleasure as you enjoy your surroundings. The present is all we have and thus this is where our power is. Use mindfulness to maximise this tool for yourself.
36. Write down your successes, achievements, what you have overcome. Also note your positive qualities. Document as well instances where you have claimed victory over your negative tendencies. This can give you a sense of satisfaction and self-esteem as you can recognise, validate and pat yourself on the back for positives achieved, and negatives overcome.
37. If there are negatives in your life, have a plan to overcome them. For example, your drinking alcohol may be causing problems in your life. If you write a realistic plan and the ways you can enlist help both from within yourself and supportive others of how you will overcome the things that cause you unhappiness. When change is gradual and made with self-awareness and self-reflection of personal strengths and weaknesses in mind, success and a sense of victory are far more likely than if you set yourself up to be perfect.
38. Have time to yourself now and then. This is necessary to rest brain and body, and as we learned this is necessary to give them energy and recharging time to continue being positive! It is also a time where stressors in your life due to expectations from others can be removed for a while, and you can enjoy a sense of peace. It can also serve as a time for reflection on how you are progressing toward achieving a more peaceful, positive and meaningful life.
39. Reassess your goals. Sometimes we think that we should be happy. For example, we may have a good job, loving family and supportive friends. We also have a few past-times. However, sometimes when these goals are purely or largely the result of what others have expected of us, this can lead a void and dissatisfaction within us. For example, our parents, very well-meaningfully, of course, may have expected us to be a doctor. We may berate ourselves thinking with such a fantastic job, why should you be unhappy? However, when you cast your mind back, you recall you wanted to be a music teacher. Pleasing others is comfortable and it is great getting validation from others. But, unless we are true to ourselves, true happiness is never possible.
40. A role for medication?. Sometimes, particularly when there is a family history of depression or bipolar disorder, a chemical imbalance in the brain may be playing a role in our frequent periods of being depressed. However, this needs to be discussed with a professional such as a psychologist.
41. Meditation. This can be done through a mindfulness routine that engages all our senses. Alternatively it may be achieved through a focus on our breathing, or by systematic awareness of our body parts – this is often done with the aid of a tape. For the period of time we are mindful, we necessarily let go of all wordly concerns. This may be hard realistically, so don’t be hard on yourself if you’re not perfect (perfectionism can lead to depression as discussed!). However, practice makes perfect, and mindfulness over time can lead to a realisation that there is so much in life that is not important, that we are human beings - mindfulness is essentially about being, not doing.
42. Let your inner child out from time to time. Colour in! Play hide-and-seek with the kids, watch an old favourite cartoon. The simplicity of childhood can help us forget and gain perspective on adult ‘worldly’ concerns that may be getting us done.
43. Be wise with your finances. Money troubles, such as not having enough for the bills can serve as a source of stress and depression when we realise we are under pressure to meet financial obligations. It can be tempting when depressed to spend money on activities and treats that don’t seem to represent a problem at the time, but that later we regret when we realise that long-term it has made us anxious and depressed.
44. Become interested in, and listen to others. This can be hard when depressed as this state of being naturally leads to inertia including socially and excessive introspection, often dwelling on what is wrong. However, when we listen to another, necessarily we have to forget about ourselves. Listening to others also helps us realise that problems are universal. They may have issues you don’t and this can help you feel grateful. They may share a similar problem, which helps you feel connected. Certainly, one of the easiest, yet unhelpful actions that a depressed person can do is isolate and stagnate – for example, lie in bed and stare into space!
45. Don’t worry too much about what other people think of you. It is unknown of course what they do think, but 1. Can you control it? No. 2. Is it any of your business? No. 3. Is it any of their business? Unless your actions impact upon them, no. Learning you only need your own approval can be one of the hardest things in life as we are essentially social creatures and desired external appropation is therefore natural. However, if we live our lives seeking approval from others, we can not be being authentic – we our not being ourselves, but instead what we perceive other people want us to be.
46. Sensory engagement with your body. For example, brushing your hair, feeling the comb gradually disentangle your hair as it smoothly run through it can be pleasurable. Smelling a favourite perfume we put on ourselves can be uplifting. Stretching can also be pleasurable.
47. Remember what you used to like doing when you were a child. Often our true natures are best remembered when we recall what we liked to do when we were young. Before external expectations, fitting in with the crowd, or pressures to conform took a hold on us, as they do for practically everyone, we were essentially us. Did we like to draw? Dance? Play the piano. Recalling what gave us pleasure in childhood can help deep-seated, hard-to-pinpoint causes of depression that has gradually overshadowed our lives as we lost contact with our true selves.
48. Plan. Planning may seem a little restrictive. However, when we plan ahead in our lives, we have structure which gives us a sense of purpose and control. When we have a structure for our day, it is less likely we will spend time in activities that later we recognised as being wasteful, or not really what we wanted to do, and we may become depressed.
49. Be clear about YOUR values, who YOU are. Being authentic is essential to happiness. When we live our lives like a puppet on a string, we feel controlled, even if this is not realised, and if it is, we may reason it is unwise to express this due to others’ disapproval. However, inside you can’t help but feel annoyed at best, angry and out-of-control of your life at worst. Avoid controlling people. Avoid people who don’t allow you to be yourself without attendant feelings of guilt. Don’t do things because you feel you have to. Do them because you feel you want to.
50. Try to avoid short-term bandaids to unhappiness. These can include the use of drugs, alcohol or gambling to suppress or avoid our pain – even if we are unware of where it came from. Over time, if we continue to use these short-term measures to achieve ‘happiness’ which is not really the case, but instead a false, chemical high, we may even lose sight of WHY we are down. When we know why, there lies the power to change it. This can be a difficult and long enough process without delaying it from running away. When we avoid pain, it grows. When we face it, we feel courageous. The good news is, whatever pain is causing us to self-medicate or gamble, even though it may feel even unbearable at first, the more we avoid these short-term measures to deal with it, the harder it can get.
51. Do something you’ve been wanting to do but been putting off, waiting for the right time. This may include a holiday, or something as simple as having your hair styled. When we make time for ourselves to enjoy these pleasures, we are allowing ourselves to feel we have a right to be happy.
52. Smile. When we smile, we kid our brains (as in self –perception theory, discussed above) into believing we are happy, and the feeling ensues. It may seem to simple to be true, but in uni last semester we were given scientific explainations as to why this really does work!
Firstly I want to say THANKYOU for this article it makes a lot of sense .
I am now a young at heart 61 year old.i feel sometime I wrestle with my aloness I am not lonely ....I have divorced for over twenty years.I am aware of my own short comings while realising I have some fine qualities to be proud of and learning to value my own self worth and say my gratitude matry each day and give in volunteering it different capacities .life is too short .so live and learn !
Focus on the half full not the half empty .try not to get bitter .by Lee
Great article. This is definitely an article I will refer back to from time to time. There are many helpful tips and much good advice. I particularly like the bits about being kind to yourself and not having unrealistic expectations.