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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 January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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