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Depression — Taking the First Step

David Spero

May 22, 2013

We know what lightens depression. Exercise, sunshine, social contact, laughter, and avoiding sugars are some ways supported by studies. But how can you start do things like that when you’re feeling down, hopeless, depressed?

I’ve been there, and I know a lot of our readers have too. Last time I wrote about this, Ephrenia commented,

When I start getting depressed, I want to “hibernate”… stay inside, in bed, I don’t want to be around people, not even on the Internet. When I start feeling that way, I KNOW I need to do the opposite of what I FEEL like doing. The hard part is finding the MOTIVATION to DO it when you are depressed!

If you’ve ever been depressed, you can recognize how difficult it would be to start exercising, for example. It’s actually hard to start anything new when depressed. Try new foods? Start keeping a log? I don’t think so; it’s hard to enough just to keep up with the basics of living.

We know that getting help is one of the biggest pieces of overcoming depression and most other problems. But where do you get the energy to find help, and the courage to ask?

When things go poorly, it’s easy to give up on ourselves. That negativity makes it much harder to make changes. On my blog entry, mellonie wrote: “I try to exercise here at home, but I get down on myself and do not stick with it. I think if I had a partner who understood or was going through what I am, things would be easier.”

If you’re like me and like most others who get depressed, you might feel useless or incompetent. You can’t do anything right. Why else would we be so sick? It’s especially common to think like that when our numbers or symptoms get worse.

We might feel powerless or hopeless. As I wrote about here, feelings of powerlessness are a core part of both depression and Type 2 diabetes. Or we might feel isolated, unloved, no longer a part of anything that matters.

So when life feels pointless, and we’re pretty sure we’ll screw it up anyway, why get out of bed at all? Why try to find people to hang with and soak up some sunshine? How do you take that first step?

Karen K. Brees, PhD, writes that first and most difficult is acknowledging you have a problem. “When you’re down and out, lift up your head and shout…’I'm down and out!’ Being honest with yourself is the first step toward relieving the symptoms of depression.”

This advice is actually deeper than it sounds. Naming a problem and accepting that it is real is the only way we can start changing it. In fact, a recent Scottish study showed that significantly more people given self-help books for depression, along with conventional therapy, recovered than people who received conventional therapy alone. First, take it seriously — it’s a health problem, not a sign of being a bad person. Then we can ask for help.

If you’re wondering whether you are depressed or not, a quick 10-question online screening tool is available from Mayo Clinic here. If you know you’re depressed, but you just don’t feel like doing anything about it, join the club. That’s part of the disease. But the problem is curable.

Reader Ephrenia wrote:

Support structure is [a] recommendation… I have keyed some friends into my ‘hibernation pattern.’ They know that if they notice me withdrawing, they can help me by creating a need for me to go somewhere with them.

Having friends like that is maybe the best thing. Family can play that role too, if you get along with them. Don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends, coworkers, or acquaintances.

Professional help is a phone call away. Although most psychologists and psychiatrists rely heavily on drugs, most of them can also point you to the things in your life that are contributing to your depression. So at least they can show you what the problem is, even if they can’t fix it.

Again, I’m completely convinced, and the evidence seems to show, that physical activity, laughter, sunshine, social contact, healthy (meaning very-low-refined carb) eating, and some positive reasons to live are the treatments for depression. Drugs have a lot of side effects, and their benefits tend to wear off over time.

For these reasons, I think drugs should usually be used, if at all, as a short-term jump-start to get you moving. With or without drugs, if you can find some purpose to your life — which doesn’t have to be important to anyone but you — things will start to get better, especially if you have people to do those things with. Remember to have some pleasure, and get some sunshine, if there is any where you live. Watch some comedy or do some laughter practice. Music can also help.

Read more practical tips for managing depression here, or here, or here. Start by admitting you have a problem. Pick one of the ideas listed in these articles and give it a try. Don’t forget to ask for help. The first step is the most important. OK?



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