A perpetual thundercloud is following me. I’m surrounded by darkness. My feet are stuck in quicksand and I’m slowing sinking. These are common ways people suffering from depression describe their symptoms. Depression is a mental health concern that is often misunderstood because family or friends, who have never felt sadness cannot understand the constant feeling of unhappiness. Many sufferers will say, I have a good job, house, family, and car, why am sad? Depression affects marriages, relationships, and careers. It can affect a busy professional as well as the stay-at-home parent. It does not discriminate against age, gender, or ethnicity. Depression strikes anyone and everyone. A simple definition of depression is feeling sadness or emptiness to the point where no activity brings pleasure. Other major symptoms of depression include sleeping more than usual or lacking the motivation to get out of bed, having no appetite or eating more than the recommended portions, feeling a strong sense of hopelessness or helplessness, and finding no joy or pleasure in favorite activities.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2019), many people with depression fail to recognize the signs of depression and never seek treatment. Major life transitions can cause undue stress, which is a normal reaction. When the stress becomes out-of-control it can trigger a depressive episode. An episode may last a few days or months depending on the severity and the individual’s coping strategy. Depression can cause heightened conflict and stress within marriages and relationships. Below are five strategies to help reduce depression.
- Physical exercise is one of the best strategies to use when feeling depressed. Release endorphins from physical exercise stimulate brain growth and create new nerve cell connections which reduce depressive symptoms. Going for a 20-minute jog or working out in your own home can decrease feelings of sadness and increase feelings of pleasure.
- Activity scheduling is another good way to lessen depressive symptoms. It is creating a daily schedule of activities in 2-3-hour blocks. This might be reading for two hours then taking a walk for an hour, and then folding clothes. It is structuring your day with activities in order to avoid isolating or sleeping. These are the two common activities people with depression will perform. Reaching out to family and friends and scheduling time with them is one of the best treatments for depression.
- Creating small goals and logging sense of accomplishment help depressive people see themselves as a contributor instead of a worthless individual. Write two small goals at the end of the day in a journal for the following day. The next day write down two accomplishments that occurred during the day and two goals the following day. The accomplishments and goals do not need to match. An example of a small goal might be trying a new flavored coffee drink or a new place for lunch.
- Guided imagery exercises help individuals refocus positive energy by reexperiencing a calming place. The individual thinks of place or activity that they enjoy visiting or doing. Starting with sight the imagine everything about the place, for instance, if they are visualizing Multnomah Falls, they would imagine water falling down a mountain. They would see the footpath leading up to the bridge. Next, they begin to hear the sounds of the water gushing, people talking, and dogs barking. They would begin to smell the air. Next, they would feel the coldness and smoothness of railing of the bridge or small drops of water as they splash up. Lastly, they may taste a drink or food they purchased at the restaurant. The idea is evoking a pleasant experience by engaging all five of the senses.
- Petting and talking to an animal can lower the sense of worthlessness. What is the one thing we know to be true with animals? They know when people are hurting and want to make us feel better. The act of petting a dog and share thoughts with the animal can make us feel better even though their only response is to lick our hands or face. Talking to the dog does not make you crazy! Getting thoughts and feels out by sharing them with the dog can reduce the chances of spiraling into destructive thought patterns.
- Seeking out a professional, who can help you identify thoughts and feelings associated with the depressed mood is another way to relieve depressive symptoms. A mental health counselor may use cognitive-behavioral therapy to teach you how to reframe sad thoughts into positive thoughts.
Depression takes many forms. Clinical depression is the most common and often inhibits an individual’s ability to eat, sleep, work, and interact with family and friends. Postpartum depression affects many women between one and six months of giving birth. Seasonal Affect Disorder is a kind of depression brought on by weather changes. It usually begins in mid-fall and ends in early spring. This is very common to inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest due to the numerous months of dreariness and rain.
If you like to learn more about any of these types of depression please call, text, or email me.