Although modern vernacular tends to use the words “sad” and “depression” synonymously, depression is more than just a case of the blues. Depression can loosely be defined as a persistent negative outlook of self, others and the world—a persistent fog that mutes the colors of life. Depression doesn’t discriminate and is the most common mental illness with significant but treatable effects. While none of these tips should supersede advice from a medical professional, here are some ways you can fight depression on your own.
Perhaps no other activity has such a proven anti-depressant effect as exercise. There are many reasons why: exercise improves mood, reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and stimulates lymph circulation…and that’s just for starters! Exercise also improves sleep, releases endorphins (natural feel-good chemicals) and boosts self-esteem. The type and duration of exercise is less important than the regularity. In other words, running four miles to exhaustion twice a week is less effective than taking a 20-minute walk every morning.
Many studies have shown that people who engage in volunteer work have less frequent/less serious bouts of depression and generally have a better outlook on life. Taking the time to help others apparently heals the volunteer. If you’d like to become a volunteer but don’t know where to start, there are many excellent resources on the Internet that list opportunities in your area and can pair you with organizations you support.
Everyone needs social support and a sounding board for their feelings, and this in particular benefits the depressed. Part of the pathology of depression is a feeling of isolation and loneliness. Depressed persons tend to withdraw from social interaction as a result. In fact, there is no better time to seek social outlets than when you’re depressed. Even passive socialization—attending a sporting event or going to church—has a positive effect and removes some of the negative self-scrutiny that accompanies alone time.
4. Sleep Right
While the restorative powers of sleep have been known since the beginning of time, its effects on mental illness have only recently begun to emerge. Most depressed persons (in the neighborhood of 80%) report sleep problems. Try to establish a regular routine and sleep schedule. Also, regular exercise is a key factor in healthy sleep. Alcohol and drugs interfere with sleep patterns in profound ways and should be avoided while recovering from depression. Also, refraining from caffeinated beverages after 2pm can help you fall asleep more easily.
5. Natural Supplementation
There are several over-the-counter remedies that have been studied and show promise as anti-depressants. The most popular are St. John’s Wort, 5-HTP, and SAM-e. St. John’s Wort is an herb that acts as a natural seratonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) reuptake inhibitor. 5-HTP is a naturally occurring metabolite of the amino acid tryptophan and a precursor to seratonin. SAM-e improves the functioning of several metabolic pathways. All three have shown promise in medical studies.
Because these supplements do effect your seratonin levels and monoamine oxidase enzymes, talk to your doctor before taking over the counter remedies if you are already taking prescription anti-depressants.