If you feel yourself sinking into a depression after your life has been turned upside down, you're not alone. Approximately 20 million American adults suffer with some form of depression every year. The good news is that depression and its symptoms are treatable.
Educate yourself about the signs so you can help yourself or be ready to help a friend. The most common symptoms are feeling sad, hopeless or helpless, a disruption of sleep, constant fatigue and an inability to concentrate, losing interest in everyday activities and having suicidal thoughts.
Here are some things to know and do if you're feeling anxious, sad or completely overwhelmed and unable to move forward. If your friend or loved one is struggling with depression, these things can empower you in helping them take the next step.
1. Try not to label yourself. Words like depressed, terrified, overwhelmed carry a huge load on them. They then create a slippery slope of behaviors and emotions. Just tell yourself you are human and you are feeling a lot of hard stuff right now, but it's not permanent and it's not who you are. Yes, you can feel all of this-sad, hurt, angry or fearful...let the emotions come and go, just don't let yourself think they've found a comfortable home.
2. Find the right therapist or medical professional to talk to. If you think you can benefit from therapy or a doctor's opinion, get a referral, make an appointment and be honest about how you're feeling. Find out if your insurance will cover the expense and ask if fees can be charged on a sliding scale to fit your budget. If you can't afford what's offered research other options, like speaking with a social worker affiliated with a local hospital, finding out what help might be offered at your job or even a through a religious organization in your community. Find someone who might have already been through the situation you are in. When it comes to dealing with depression, getting help sooner is always better than later.
3. Assemble your support team. Doctors and therapists aside, the most valuable support you can get right now is from your friends, family and the people you interact with daily. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You'd be surprised how many people are ready to do whatever it takes to stand by your side; they just need to know what to do. Also, don't be shy about calling your friends or partner out about a change in their behavior-it's the right thing to do when you care about someone. Though they may shut down, keep the lines of communication open. They need to know you're there to listen when they're ready to talk.
4. Take care of the basics. In stressful times people often overlook their most basic needs. Remember SEED: sleep, eat right, exercise and drink plenty of water to help keep your body strong as you face depression head on. Research has shown patients with depression tend to have low levels of folic acid, a vitamin found most abundantly in leafy green vegetables. Plus, boosting your intake of vitamin B6 and omega-3 fatty acids may also improve your mood. Foods rich in omega-3, like salmon, flaxseed and omega-3-fortified eggs may increase the neurotransmitter activity in your brain, thus brightening your day.
5. Express yourself. When you're experiencing such a broad range of emotions it's important not to keep them bottled up. Getting each feeling off your chest in a constructive way will help you and those around you better understand what you're going through. Consider keeping track of your thoughts and reactions to daily events in a journal. This might be something you want to share with a partner, friend or therapist at some point, but for now it's just for you. You can also make note of the things you are grateful for each day. Over time, a journal can help you see how far you've come and that you can move through feelings of depression into healthier thoughts and emotions.
6. Give yourself a boost. Find ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. If you haven't exercised in a while, just try a 10 or 15 minute "workout." This can be as simple as a walk around your block or playing with your pet or child. Gradually work your way up to 30 minutes a day for three or more days a week. According to a Duke University study, depressed patients who exercised regularly experienced mood-lifting effects similar to patients who were taking Zoloft, a popular antidepressant.
7. Practice positive thinking. Deepak Chopra says we have something like 50-60,000 thoughts a day and that 90% of them are negative. Practice replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Tell yourself "you can" and then really believe it. If you stay focused on what you believe you can become, you'll slowly notice your feelings and emotions changing for the better. Embrace hope and realize it's possible for you get through this.
8. Turn down the volume on stress. Experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest that chronic stress can put people at a substantially increased risk of depression, anxiety and many other emotional difficulties. Reducing stress in your life by avoiding stressful situations or using relaxation techniques can help you deal with depression. Experiment with different relaxation techniques like guided imagery, listening to music, meditating or taking a long walk in nature. Yoga, massage and deep breathing can also be helpful.
9. Do good. Volunteerism has been shown to improve health. By diverting your brainpower from your own thoughts to those in need, you're avoiding that constant self-examination that often occurs with depression. Plus, the sense of gratitude and goodwill you feel when you help someone is priceless. You might even find yourself laughing more, so go with it! A daily dose of laughter can boost your immune system, ease your depression and increase the production of the hormone serotonin, your body's natural antidepressant. But that's not all: it provides tension release, cognitive stimulation and distraction from anxiety and worry.
10. Live your life in the present. Depression can make you dwell in the past or obsess about your future. Do your best to remain grounded and focus only on what's happening today. No matter what, reassure yourself that you're doing the best you can. If you suddenly feel blue after a week of feeling better, have patience and realize that it's just a temporary setback that you will get past.
For more information about Dealing with Depression, read our article, visit with our experts or sign up for 30 days of email tips.
*The information here is not intended to replace that of medical professionals.
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