The following is Part 1 in a two-part series on the tools for tackling depression. To make sure you don’t miss part two, sign up for Meridian’s daily updates by CLICKING HERE.
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You can see it in their eyes. You can feel it in their countenance. It’s far too common and can happen to anyone given the right stressors and situational circumstances. Approximately 25% of adults in the U.S. (1 in 4) experience anxiety or depression. Whether depression shows up as sadness, hopelessness, irritability or anger there is hope and help to feel happiness and contentment again!
Underlying causes of depression are a combination of nature and nurture. There can be genetic susceptibilities to biochemical imbalances in the brain and/or life experiences like neglect, abuse, or trauma that contribute to depression. These tend to train you to believe some very depressing or anxiety-inducing things. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are diseases of the mind just like diabetes is a disease of the body. Depression has nothing to do with one’s personal character or faithfulness.
It’s been encouraging to see efforts within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help members who are dealing with the difficulties of depression or anxiety. First Sunday meetings have been dedicated to help de-stigmatize the disease and offer encouragement, outreach and support.
Like addiction, infertility, health, marriage or parenting challenges, depression is such a common difficulty in many peoples’ lives. As a therapist, I’ve compiled the following suggestions to help you get out of the mental muck of depression and into a life of peace, contentment and even joy. My hope is to provide a comprehensive toolbox of easy and practical tips—all in one place—that you can immediately put into practice to make things better as you overcome your depression.
This toolbox of tips for tackling depression includes the following 15 suggestions:
- Get Active
- Get Enough Sleep
- Eat Healthy
- Connect with People
- Get Some Sunlight
- Engage in Process Writing
- Do Meditation, Mindfulness or Yoga
- Stop the Stinkin’ Thinkin’
- Try EFT Tapping
- Smile and Laugh
- Accept Yourself and Practice Self-Compassion
- Get Educated about Depression
- Take Supplements and/or Medication
- Participate in Counseling or a Support Group
- Turn to God
- Get Active. Whether you’re more likely to go for a walk, a run, play tennis or dance, just get your body moving. This helps get the feel-good hormones flowing and helps distract you from the ruminating thoughts in your mind.
Exercise can be as effect as antidepressants for those with mild depression. Start small and find something you are likely to enjoy. Just getting out and doing something different than you normally do can jumpstart your mind and your mood.
- Get Enough Sleep. Getting sufficient rest so that your mind and body can relax and process the experiences and emotions of your day is essential in maintaining good mental health. Your brain will have an even harder time thinking positively when it’s in a state of sleep deprivation. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep you might consider reading a book before bed (not electronically), listing out 10 things you’re stressed about, or trying Melatonin supplements that can be a safe way to get a better night’s sleep. If there’s just too much going on in your life, see if you can think of just one thing you can cut back.
- Eat Healthy. Feeling depressed tends to encourage an easy slide into eating unhealthy, self-soothing foods. If you can change even one eating habit to be a little better, it can make a difference in how you feel. It is true that you are what you eat.Cutting out one sugar or one soda and the caffeine and adding one vegetable or an extra glass of water instead can help you combat the “stinkin thinkin” in the brain.
- Connect with People. Depression tends to make us isolate ourselves. That just exacerbates the loneliness and “loser-ness” we are already feeling. Solicit the help of a few good friends or other family members to assist you and help you avoid disconnecting. Let them know you are struggling with depression or anxiety and just need someone you can talk to without feeling like they need to fix anything. Push yourself to reach out to care and attend to them as well so that neither of you will feel like it’s a one-sided relationship.
Depending on the depth of your depression, rather than staying home, push yourself to go out with friends or family members to activities or join a group or a volunteer organization to have pre-scheduled social opportunities. It can pull your mind out of depressive thinking even just temporarily and help retrain your brain by getting out with people.
In the presence of caring people, you also have more chance to touch, hug and have eye contact (whether you are the receiver or the giver). This can create oxytocin, which is the bonding hormone that can make you feel more connected. Any appropriate opportunities you may have to give or receive an 8-second hug or other touching moment (i.e. someone’s arm around you or your hand on someone’s knee) is particularly potent in releasing that wonderful oxytocin.
- Get Some Sunlight. Sunlight stimulates feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters. The winter months can make feelings of depression even worse because of the lack of sunshine. Getting out in the sun when it does shine can do wonders, as can getting a full-spectrum light to use indoors. Opening up your blinds or curtains to let the sun shine in can also be a part of your regular depression-busting routine.
- Engage in Process Writing. Sometimes no one is available to talk to when you need to talk. And sometimes there is simply too much to say. Journal therapy, though, is a way to always have someone to help you process what you’re thinking and feeling. It’s like having an ongoing written conversation with God.
Sometimes free-flowing written conversations are needed and other times it’s easier to just write out a list of “I…” statements to express the anger, frustration, guilt or sadness you are feeling. Giving your genuine thoughts and feelings a voice has a way of giving them light and air. It validates the feeling and allows it to begin to dissolve. Negative feelings buried alive don’t tend to die on their own. They need some processing to go away.
Some clients have said that they find it helpful to alternate their anger lists with their grateful lists in order to keep things in check. Developing a habit of listing expressions of gratitude increases feel-good hormones, strengthens the immune system and improves personal relationships.
Other clients find that they won’t or can’t stomach any positives until they truly feel heard. Those who try to skip the step of identifying and acknowledging their inner demons often find they don’t really get better. See what works for you.
If you can share your honest pain with your loving Heavenly Father and Savior, it can help you feel closer to them and help you heal. They already know what you are thinking and feeling, so being honest and open with your feelings—even the unpleasant ones is vital for beating depression.
These writings are just for your own processing. Many people find it additionally therapeutic to burn or shred them as a symbolic way to let it all go.
- Do Meditation, Mindfulness or Yoga. Each of these clinical treatments have been empirically studied for help with anxiety and depression. To meditate and connect more deeply with God, simply close your eyes and focus on your breathing for a few minutes every day. While doing so you might repeat in your mind something like, “I’m listening.” These practices can also help you develop greater communion with your Heavenly Father in a much more personal and profound way.
Mindfulness is basically being more mentally, emotionally and physically present in the moment and more engaged with your senses—sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Even five minutes in meditation or mindfulness can do wonders for slowing down a racing mind and calming both mind and body.
The practice of meditation and mindfulness develops mental discipline, which helps you gain greater power over depression’s negative thought patterns. Every time you pull your thoughts back to your breathing or to the statement “I’m listening,” it’s like calisthenics for the mind.
Developing greater mastery over your thoughts is a vital step in overcoming anxiety or depression. Meditation, focusing on your breathing, being more mindful, and practicing yoga can all help with the next step of stopping the stinkin’ thinkin’ that tends to run rampant in the depressed mind.
- Stop the Stinkin’ Thinkin’. While depression is a physiological ailment of the brain it creates a psychological ailment of the mind. Depression becomes a mental habit of negative or depressing ruminating thoughts. Research shows that depression is best beaten by both medical or physical help (medicine and/or supplements) and psychological help (counseling – to help change how you see things).To stop the depression, train your brain to stop the stinkin’ thinkin’ of unrealistic expectations and other unproductive habits of the mind. Watch for and stop the self-defeating and self-sabotaging patterns in your brain.
Start to catch yourself when you are thinking in extremes or all-or-nothing ways. Catch yourself when you assume negative intentions or outcomes and over-generalize them to everyone and everything. Ask yourself, “What if a positive outcome were to occur instead?” and let your mind ponder the possibility. Catch yourself when you minimize positives that happen in your life. Just say, “Stop!” when these intruders show up and send them on their way. Don’t give them a place to stay.
Adding to your grateful lists each day can help highlight the positives in your life and counter the negatives. Actively watch for 5 to 10 specific things that you can jot down each day for which you are grateful.
- Try EFT Tapping. One of my favorite self-help tools for letting go of negative thoughts and feelings and reprogramming more positive perspectives is something called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It’s an energy therapy technique using the philosophy of energy meridians used with acupuncture except you tap on certain spots on your face and body instead of use needles. You might think of it as “psychological acupressure.”You can find information and videos about EFT tapping online or here is a simple handout I use with clients. Next to process writing, this is one of the tools that helped me most in overcoming my own depression. It is a powerful tool in your toolbox for healing.
Click here for “Your Toolbox for Tackling Depression – Part 2” by Laura M. Brotherson for the rest of the suggestions to help you overcome your difficulties with depression.
About the Author — Laura M. Brotherson, LMFT, CST, CFLE
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified Sex Therapist, Laura M. Brotherson is the founder of The Marital Intimacy Institute with a mission to help couples create “Sextraordinary Marriages.” She counsels with couples, individuals and families in private practice (and online). Laura is the author of the best-selling book, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, and her latest book, Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage.
Laura is actively engaged in providing marriage education through Couples’ Cruises, articles, newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, and presenting at conferences and workshops. Laura is passionate about helping couples navigate the intricacies of intimacy to help build strong marriages and families. Laura and her husband are the founders of StrengtheningMarriage.com—your trusted resource for education, products and services to strengthen marriages … intimately!
Connect with Laura:
 “Mental Health By The Numbers,” National Alliance on Mental Illness, accessed September 20, 2012, https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers.