1. Set small goals each day
Even small goals each day such as getting up at a certain time, going for a walk, or even taking a shower can help you feel better. There will be days where you don't feel like it, and often that's the depression talking. Giving up on your self-care and lack of goals creates a downward spiral though, where we feel more and more depressed because of inaction, and then feeling even worse as a result.
Your goals don't have to be big, Earth-shattering accomplishments (in fact, it's better if they're small since that makes them more achievable), and often accomplishing what we set out to day can be a small win that helps us realise that we do have control over our lives, and that if we try, quite often we might succeed.
Research often shows exercise as one of the best interventions for depression. Doing a little each day, or every few days releases hormones that help get rid of stress (cortisol) and releases pleasure chemicals (endorphins). Exercise doesn't have to be intense - even going for a walk each day counts! The ideal exercise for combating depression gets your heart-rate up and is enjoyable. At first, it might seem like too much of an effort but pushing yourself is well worth the benefit in terms of escaping the cycle of depression.
3. Be aware of your thoughts
One of the therapies that I use with clients (cognitive-behavioural therapy, or CBT) focuses on how certain situations or traumas trigger negative thoughts which then lead to us feeling bad. Often these thoughts slip under the radar and it's only during therapy that clients begin to notice the negative dialogue that has been going around their head for days, weeks, months or even years.
In many ways, we can be our own worst enemy - and most of us would think twice before speaking to other people the way we speak to ourselves. Without being aware of the thoughts going through our head however, we leave ourselves open to mindlessly buying into them and believing everything they tell us about how incompetent we are, how no-one likes us, or what a bad person we are.
Of course, our thoughts are not always accurate and a good therapist will be able to help you explore the role of your thoughts and help you change or deal with them better.
4. Mix with People
Often when depressed, we naturally feel inclined to shut ourselves away from others. This might be retreating to our bed, giving up hobbies, or simply not answering the phone or not replying to people that call us. The idea of being around people can feel like a drain, especially if we worry what they might be thinking about us.
This can be part of the vicious cycle that keeps depression going though and shutting ourselves away from others means that we also isolate ourselves and shut ourselves away from pleasurable experiences. Certainly, if it helps you worry less about how you come across, then let your friends know that you might not be feeling well at the moment and that you might be a bit distant or quiet right now.
One of the hallmarks of depression is the intense self-focus we give ourselves (usually coming up with negative and critical judgements) and being around people can help bring our focus onto the external world, and possibly even give us a small amount of pleasure that we wouldn't experience sat alone.
5. Get help
Whether talking to a friend, family member or professional, talking about the way you feel can help start the process of recovery. Though there are many different types of professional, some of which deal with medication (such as GPs and psychiatrists), and others that work with talking therapies (such as psychologists, like me, and counsellors), taking that first step to reach out for help can be a small change that makes a big difference.
Getting support from others means that you don't have to go through depression alone, and this is important when clients often tell me how isolated they feel. Sometimes taking that first step can be the hardest, but it can also be the most important as it means you are no longer trying to work this out by yourself. Talking therapies have an evidence base that shows them as better for longer-term recovery than anti-depressants alone, and often is the method of choice for many people wanting to get rid of their low mood.
If you feel that talking therapy might help, click here to contact me for further information.
When to See a Professional
It's never too early to make positive lifestyle changes, and if you find that self-help steps haven't helped, it might be worth seeking professional help. Needing additional help doesn't mean that you're weak - it means that you are committed to making the best of your life. Sometimes the negative thinking that comes with depression can make you feel like nobody can help (this is something I've often heard as a therapist), but depression can be treated and you can feel better!
Don’t forget about these self-help tips. Even if you’re receiving help from family, friends or a professional, these tips can be part of your treatment plan, speeding your recovery and preventing depression from returning in the future.
If you feel that you want to get more help with your low mood or depression, contact me using the form below, or via my email address, Stuart@newcastlepsychologist.com.