Depression: Re-Building the Self

Depression can be a tough topic to fully grasp without going through it, or at least have a loved one who’s been strongly afflicted by depression. People who haven’t been through depression have sometimes questioned depression as a state of laziness, while a person suffering from depression is going through a deep emotional struggle with their existence. Depression can be triggered from life events, and it can also have a biochemical component, or both. Whatever the trigger for depression (and whether acute or chronic), it’s never easy for the person struggling. Most times, a person suffering from depressive symptoms wants to improve and feel well, but the nature of the struggle makes it difficult to be motivated to take the necessary steps.

This is a two-part post: The first part deals with personal depression; the second part will discuss how to support someone who is struggling with depression.

If you’re suffering from depression, there are many different types of symptoms you may be experiencing. While you’re the only one fully familiar with your struggle, there are options that exist to help — some may take a little more effort than others, but a combination of treatments is usually the most helpful.

1. Psychotherapy

This one tops the list because having outside emotional support during depressive episodes is crucial. A therapist can help to process the emotions you’re dealing with, and also provides you someone to be there for support during your struggle, even just as a listening ear if that’s what’s needed. A therapist can also offer techniques to help move forward, whereas on our own it can be easy to get stuck in a cycle of negative emotions when we’re unsure of how to productively process in a forward motion.

2. Medication

Medication can also be helpful (to be determined in collaboration with a psychiatrist). It should be known that medication is not necessarily meant to be a perfect fix on its own. Studies have shown psychotherapy to be as effective, if not more effective, than medication. However, especially with more severe depressive episodes, a combination of medication and therapy together has shown to be the best approach. By doing both concurrently, the eventual idea would be for the medication to no longer be necessary.

3. Diet

Believe it or not, the foods we eat can impact our emotions and moods. Different foods can trigger different emotional changes for people, depending on each person’s biology and food sensitivity. It’s possible to become in-tune with how food impacts you by monitoring how you feel for the next 24-hours after eating. Try to notice when you feel more symptomatic, and write down the foods you’ve eaten over the past day. After tracking your food history over a period of time, patterns may be revealed.  For help with this, try talking with a nutritionist or a naturopathic doctor.

4. Opposite Action

This is a common DBT (Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy) technique. It’s similar to doing the opposite of what your emotional instincts tell you to do, when you know your emotional instincts are working against you. For example: if you are invited out and you feel like you’d prefer to stay home by yourself, and you know that creating motivation to go out is a struggle for you, taking opposite action would tell you to push yourself to go out even if you don’t feel like doing it. Opposite action can be a highly effective method, if incorporated wisely, and it can be used for many things. Examples: I want to eat lunch alone for the fourth time this week…I’ll invite someone out?; I’m afraid to go outside…so I’ll make myself take a walk; I can’t stand the thought of getting out of bed today…so I’m going to get up, get dressed, and run errands; and so on. It takes a personal commitment to use this technique since motivation can be a struggle when feeling depressed, but it can be a very positive and powerful technique.

5. Exercise

Going to the gym or for a jog is often a great way to elevate a mood. Regular exercise and physical activity can help decrease depressive symptoms (as well as other chronic symptoms). These also include things like yoga, pilates, and other forms of physical exercise or mind/body work.

6. Meditation

Meditation comes in many forms. There’s meditation that focuses solely on the breath, and meditation that can use imagery, as well as other types. Find and learn a meditation that resonates with you and do it often — after waking up, before bed at night, or during the day to relieve stress. Meditation works to balance thoughts and emotions, and with good practice can be an effective mood stabilizer.

7. Reward Yourself

If you know activities of daily living are difficult for you, set up a reward system for yourself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a financial reward, as much as something that can help motivate you to do things like shower, eat, go outside, do errands, and work. Write a list of rewards you can give yourself that will be motivating for you — examples: watching a tv show, eating a type of food, watching a movie, taking a bubble bath, etc. You can also remove things that you may over-indulge in and use them as rewards — like if you watch too much tv, start using tv as a reward for getting other things done.

The list above can be a good place to start for re-building our emotional relationship with ourselves and the world around us. With dedication, time, and patience,  it is possible to overcome a struggle with depression.

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