Self-Managing Depression

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For the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about causes of depression. Now let’s see what we can do about it.

In my view, depression is a symptom of powerlessness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can manage and overcome depression, just like you can with physical symptoms. In this blog entry, I’ll give some ideas about managing and treating the symptoms of depression. Next week, we’ll deal with treating the causes.

Self-monitoring means keeping track of how you’re doing and how different things in your environment (such as foods, medicines, people, stresses, etc.) affect your symptoms. Just like you keep track of your blood glucose levels, you can monitor your mood and your depression by keeping a log.

A really good depression screening test is available online here. It will give you a score from 0 to 100, so you can see if you’re getting more or less depressed. It’s 85 questions long and takes about 30 minutes to complete. Kind of long, but you could do it once every two weeks or so. A shorter online depression screener is available here. It has 18 questions and takes about 10 minutes. You may also be able to get a depression screening tool from your doctor. By keeping track of your depression symptoms, you will learn how to get over them better.

It would be great if some of you could try these tests and report back what you find.

Physical activity is the best treatment for most kinds of depression, as has been shown in several studies. According to Mayo Clinic psychologist Kristin Vickers-Douglas, Ph.D., “It’s not a magic bullet, but increasing physical activity is a positive and active strategy to help manage depression and anxiety.”

The Mayo article continues: “Exercise may…boost feel-good chemicals like endorphins, release tension in muscles, help you sleep better and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. …All of these changes in your mind and body can improve such symptoms as sadness, anxiety, irritability, stress, fatigue, anger, self-doubt and hopelessness.”

To learn more about how to start exercising, check out the Mayo article, my blog entry about physical activity, or Diabetes Self-Management’s articles about exercise.

Sunlight is one of the best mood raisers of all. Rates of depression go up dramatically in the winter, when there is less sun. This is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

But most of us don’t get much sun, even in the summer! Try to get as much natural sunshine as you can. If sunshine isn’t available, or you have to work inside during daylight hours, there are special full spectrum light boxes that provide some of the benefits of sunlight. Look up SAD light in your phone book or on the Web for more information.

Social Contact
In one study, people with the least contact with other people had up to 13 times the rate of depression as people with the most social contact. Like all primates, people tend to be happier and less anxious when we have other people around.

Of course, it’s not easy to go out and meet people when you’re depressed. We may think nobody would want to be with us, or we may feel too tired to be with them. It’s usually easier to start with people you already know and like than it is to meet new ones.

You can combine exercise, sunlight, and social contact by arranging to go for a walk in the park or a window-shopping trip with someone you know.

There are also many medical and herbal treatments you might want to try, as I’ll discuss in the future. All these ideas are just treatments for symptoms, though. What about dealing with the root causes of depression: the powerlessness or hopelessness that so many of us feel? How can we self-manage those? Check out next week’s blog entry for some ideas.

For now, how have you managed or coped with depression? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? Let us know by commenting here.

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