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12 Tips to Beat Depression and Improve your Mental Health

12 Tips to Beat Depression and Improve your Mental Health

If you’re clinically depressed, you can’t cure yourself without help from others and drugs. I didn’t. And in fact I don’t think you can be cured of depression: I’m not.

At the moment depression is a life sentence without a cure; the best we can do is keep it in abeyance for as long as we can, and if we’re very fortunate, that might be for the rest of our lives. But there are many things we can do to help ourselves, and here are some of the things that helped me. Everyone will find them helpful; if you’re not suffering from depression, then maybe these will help you to live a better life.

1. Drugs

If you are really depressed, and if it has been going on for some time, you almost certainly need medication, and you have to see a medical practitioner to get it. In the UK that means your GP or a psychiatrist, who then writes to your GP. They will almost certainly start you off with an SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, such as Prozac). There are many anti-depressants out there, and they work in slightly different (and mysterious) ways. They take time – weeks, even months – to take effect, so don’t be too dismayed if nothing has happened the next day.

You should hopefully start to see an improvement within a few weeks. If the first one doesn’t work, then you will need to try another. It’s preferable that you have someone to monitor your mental state and behaviour, because you are often not the best person to judge if you are getting any better.

Different drugs have different side effects on different people, and if you find yours unbearable, again you should discuss changing drugs with your medical advisor. There are alternatives you can get without prescriptions (e.g. St John’s Wort) but see below for warnings. After many years and changes of medication, I have settled on Duloxetine (Cymbalta) for depression and Quetiapine for anxiety.

2. Other people

You cannot fight severe depression alone. You hopefully have already seen your doctor, but probably should be seeing a psychiatrist as well.

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I have tried different sorts of clinical psychology and therapy, and have eventually found a cognitive-based therapy system that looks at your childhood, attitudes, and relationships to be a revelation. Different things though seem to work for different people. You will need your friends too and you need to be open with them that you are depressed. Fight that stigma!

3. Changes

There are many changes I have made that I think have contributed to my shift towards wellness. The biggest is to do with “work” – for want a better name: that thing that someone else pays you to spend your time doing. In the first instance you might need a period of time off work – look into your sick leave entitlement, and do contact your Human Resources department. People with long-term mental health problems have rights, and you cannot be discriminated against just because you’re ill.

I took a long hard look at my academic job and decided I had had enough. There are many things I liked about it, but an increasing number of things I no longer enjoyed and that seemed to me to be pointless. On the other hand, I love writing and journalism, so I decided to “retire” and become a full-time writer. It’s a financial risk, and it might not work out. I might be poor for the rest of my life. But at least I feel that I am in control, and doing only what I think is worthwhile. You might say I’m lucky being able to do this, but what is your health worth? What big changes can you afford to make? Are the big house and fast car really worth what you’re having to endure? And big changes don’t apply just to work either: is that toxic relationship really worth staying in?

4. Exercise

I think you have to be starting to get well to make some of these changes, or at least not in the pits, but I decided I had to lose weight and get fit. I, like many depressed people, am pretty useless at self-discipline. So I joined a gym and signed up with a personal trainer. It’s one of the best calls I’ve ever made.

I’ve lost over 30 pounds so far and my weight is still going down. I feel so much better; I have more energy and after each exercise session my mood is lifted. There’s plenty of evidence for the positive effects of exercise, so get to it.

5. Light and air

Many of us who are depressed really benefit from more light. I try and maximise my exposure to sunshine, even sitting outside when it’s sunny but in the cold depths of winter.

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I have a light box that I use even in summer when it’s dull. I try and get as much fresh air and to get outside as much as I can even when I’m busy working at home.

6. Diet

I have tried many diets, and I find the science complicated, confusing, and contradictory. One certainty is that you have to cut sugar and refined, processed food right out of your diet. I have also greatly decreased the amount of carbohydrates I consume.

My breakfast will be something like prawns, berries, another piece of fruit, and nuts; my lunch fish, sweet potato, and homemade baked beans; dinner lean white meat or fish, lots of vegetables, and nuts. It’s a bit boring and expensive, as I don’t like spending large amounts of time cooking for myself. I also take good quality fish oil supplements. I have cut back on the amount of wine I drink but still find some each evening calms me down; it’s a fairly harmless self-medication in moderation.

There are supplements that might lift mood (I take methyl folate, sAME and vitamins B12 and D for this purpose) but these are no substitution for medication. It’s worth doing some research and seeking advice if in doubt: there’s evidence that St John’s Wort shouldn’t be combined with SSRIs.

7. Mindfulness and meditation

I find meditation difficult – sometimes it hurts my mind too much to sit still with nothing but my thoughts, even for as little as ten minutes – but I try. And I do gain a great deal from being mindful – trying to live in the moment and be present.

The evidence suggests that mindfulness training might be as effective as medication. There are many good books and resources on mindfulness training, so give it a try.

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8. Thoughts

I have tried to change my cognitive structure – saying “I am not my illness”, working out what the really important things are in my life and changing those things, trying to be honest with myself, and trying to be kind.

I try and push obsessive thoughts away, “kindly, but firmly.” I accept responsibility for things I do wrong and acknowledge the role of others when things go well. Or rather at least I am trying to do these things!

9. Routine

What is the best routine for doing creative work of any sort? A routine is essential if you are or have been depressed.

It’s boring and others might mock you for it, but you’re the one that’s ill or have been ill. It took me a lot of experimenting to find the perfect routine.

10. Sleep

My problem, with my medication, is staying awake at night and waking up in the morning. However, I used to have terrible trouble getting to sleep.

The most important thing is to choose regular times and stick to them, come what may. I have a particular problem with waking in the morning, so I set my alarm for 7.15 and get up at 7.25. Occasionally I really struggle, but I will always be out of bed by 7.55 am. Never sleep in and never have a late night.

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11. Gratitude diary

Keep a gratitude diary – somewhere towards the end of each day, you list three things that day for which you’re grateful, no matter how small.

12. Things change

And in my most desperate days, I remember that time passes. It has always got better in the past and will do in the future.

It’s important to do the things you have decided help you, particularly if you feel yourself becoming ill again. If you’re getting a bit down and start skipping your exercise, you’re going to be in trouble. So write out a list and tick the things off every day. Good luck with the fight.

Featured photo credit: Trevor Harley via trevorharley.com

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By Trevor Harley 12 Tips to Beat Depression and Improve your Mental Health

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Last Updated on September 16, 2019

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

More About Procrastination

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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