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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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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

13 Tips to Face Your Fears, Grow with Them and Enjoy the Ride

13 Tips to Face Your Fears, Grow with Them and Enjoy the Ride

Fear. I spend my life talking about fear — fighting fears, fixing fears and understanding fears. And yet I doubt I get 10 calls a year from people saying “Mandie, can you help me fix my fear?”

Why is this so critically important to you?

The realization for me is that fear is not the fundamental driving force in your life, it’s what regardless of whether I’m talking to a doctor, a teacher, a CEO’s, a senior citizens or teenager – every single one of those conversations has a direct correlation with your world.

Fear can range from the overwhelming desire to look away or stop in your tracks to literally fleeing your country and the life you knew. In this article, I will share with you 13 tips to face your fears and enjoy the ride.

1. Know That Fear Is Real, but Can Be Overcome

Right now around the world, people are facing fear — real fear. Fear that I pray my children and I will never experience. Does that lessen my fears or your fears in your relativity safe 21st century life?

When I look at the world we all live in, I find that fear, like so many other emotions, can mean so many different things to so many different people:

  • The child who has to be physically dragged to their first day of school.
  • The man facing the judge.
  • The woman with her hand poised over the buttons over her phone because she has to walk down a dark corridor late at night alone.
  • The man as the surgeon says “count backwards from 10 Mr. Smith.”
  • The woman that’s told “We are sorry, we can’t help you.”
  • The man that faces the empty circle of a gun and prays for his very existence.

These and a million more (Portrayed in every kind of movie, book or song you could imagine) are what make us human. We face fear and somehow move forward or are stopped in our tracks.

Like the rabbit in the headlights of the car that veers off through the field away from the tyres of the car, or stays still praying for salvation. Like someone will save them. Sound familiar?

Fear is huge. Fear is everywhere and yet fear can be overcome, controlled and can even be a power for good.

2. Accept Your Fear

Firstly, if you aren’t facing the barrel of the gun, atrocities that make the news or impeding death, that’s a good start. However, it doesn’t mean your fear is any less real.

We are quick to say “I can’t moan, my life is not as bad as X.” While in theory, that’s honorable your appreciation of Mr. or Mrs. X’s horrific life won’t change anything directly. So accept your fear is relative to you.

And here’s what can be done.

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3. Get Some Perspective

I found myself asking anyone that would answer “what is your worst fear”. The answer that intrigued me the most came from my daughter (15 years old and she usually has a copy of Fight the Fear – my book – in her school bag so she can help someone else be as positive and confident as her. No matter what life throws up.)

And her fear, surprised me — heights. I pointed out that we live in a sprawling bungalow (one storey) and the highest she goes is two storeys’ at school! She laughed but added, fear isn’t like that Mum. I know it’s not a real fear, but it’s like when you stand on a chair and feel unsafe.

That girl will go far. Because she truly gets fear.

We know something is scary and yet we still do it. Why? Because we have a perspective to the fear. When you lose perspective, it can feel too big, and too scary.

So look around you to get some perspective on your fear:

  • Are you really at risk?
  • Will this kill you?
  • Which leads us on to..
  • If the worst was to happen, what would it be?

4. Hold a Hand

As a coach, it is my job to hold someone’s metaphorical hand and help them face a fear.

Like the child petrified of the thunder storm, or the teen that can’t get back in a car again after failing their test, your job as a parent is to reassure, encourage, enable and motivate someone to face something that ideally they never would choose to again.

We know many of our fears aren’t real. However, it is only when someone guides us with love, respect, lack of judgement and safety are we able to get through fear. And trust me, you can get through your fears. I’ve seen it so many times.

Ask yourself:

  • If the worst were to happen, what would that be?
  • Could that really happen?
  • If the worst did happen, how would you recover?
  • If the worst were to happen, what would you need to do next?

By seeing fear as not the end destination but part of being human, you can see through its wily evil ways and move forward.

5. Know Whose Hand You Hold, Either Physically or Emotionally

This helps with fears for the rest of your life.

Think of someone you can always rely on (and ideally you won’t just answer yourself because that adds a lot of pressure to your existence!) And you will find that you’ve already found a way to get through fear.

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The beauty of this is that it means that fear becomes part of life not something to be feared and shied away from.

It means you know you can turn to your friend, partner, colleague, parent, sibling and say “Right, I need to deal with this, and I’m going to need you to help me.”

For one moment, think about it from the other person’s view point. When we get to help other people, we feel valued, loved, respected and lots of other positive emotions and we get a good dose of positive chemicals setting off in our bodies too.

Your fear, and your determination to fight it, helped someone else too. Now that’s cool right?

6. Understand That There Are Some Things Fear Will Never Touch

I like to find role models in life — people who have faced heroism, history changing moments, war, atrocities, miracles, life saving inventions.

Not everyone was looking for greatness, however, they all found it. And one of my favourite books to date is written about Alistair Urquhart, the forgotten highlander. If this doesn’t get turned into a film in the future, then no man’s story is likely to.

Alistair went through the most horrific experiences in World War II. If you think of one of the awful things that happened back then in our world, Alistair went through at least 3 of them! Asked afterwards, how did you cope? He talked about how whatever they did to his body, no matter how they starved, tortured, threatened or mocked him, they couldn’t have his mind. In his mind, he was free.

Of all the people’s voices I’ve heard in my head over the years, this is one of those statements that reminds me anything is possible if you have faith and hope.

Look for the things in life that fear can’t touch. They will create confidence and faith for the future, whatever you face. And they will give you a sense of why being you is awesome.

Of all the billions of people on this planet, no one will have an answer identical to yours!

7. Process Your Fears to Carry on with Life

Being brave is not about sticking your chest out and smiling regardless of what you endure. It is about finding a way to emotionally process your fears to be able to keep going.

I have a tool kit of things I can rely on – tools, strategies, techniques. They include people to hug or talk to, music, hobbies, walks on the beach and even my favourite food. It sounds mad but at the times where I have questioned “how will I get through this?” I’ve found immense joy in doing the most unlikely of thing that makes me smile.

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It may be a short lived moment of happiness. However, it reminded me that nothing stays the same and I can find a way.

One client told me that it was crazy when it felt like their world was falling around their ears to run a bath to the brim (you don’t waste water) get the best bath oils, light too many candles, lock the door and drink a glass of bubbly (champagne is only for special occasions.)

Did that moment fix the disaster that my client’s life felt? No. However, it gave them a moment of calm, and the brain is far quicker to find solutions, resolve and motivation to keep going when you do that.

It may feel like madness to do something you love, however, it can be a powerful way to help you find solutions to the fears you face in life.

8. Assume the Worst

If you read the statement from the client above. Notice how they assumed it was wrong to fill the bath up to the top? How bubbly is only for special occasions?

Think how naughty they felt to be doing something that was not allowed? Think about what age it may have made them feel?Think about how they feel about champagne? What special moments it’s been a part of in their lives?

And you can see how the assumptions they made about their “right” to have these things was not healthy.

When I drag the assumptions out of people’s words for them to see, they are often struck by how negative the words make them feel.

Don’t assume your words aren’t impacting on you. You can go through fear and actually enjoy the ride when you take the time to understand how you are letting words get to you.

9. Take a Fear That Feels Insurmountable Right Now

If you were to repeat it to me out loud, what would you say?

Would you have blame on yourself in there? Would you assume others can do it and it’s just you? Would you feel small, unsuccessful, useless, unworthy?

Usually, when you do this exercise, you are able to spot the untruths that run wild in your head, convincing you that you are doomed. And rarely when we are faced with our assumptions is there is a lot of evidence to them.

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10. You Are Not Defined by Your Fear

One fear does not define your life – be mindful of that. It is likely to lead you to thinking of all the times you’ve succeeded and bring a moment of calm, confidence and faith back to you.

11. Go with Fear

When you learn to go with fear, you could find yourself actually having fun, no seriously – having fun.

I have a few amazing clients I’m working with right now who would describe themselves as life long worriers, or pessimists. In the past, that has served them well, enabling them to keep safe, steer clear of risks and even develop strategies in the event of disasters. However, now they find it’s becoming hard to break the cycle and they really want to because it’s holding them back.

Notice how they’ve found their hidden fears and want to face them?

One client said “I knew this was going to be tough, and I knew I couldn’t fight it alone and I knew you would be the one to help me.” Before, I sat an incredibly successful, confident, capable business owner with a family and a social life to die for.

However, I’ve learned that the most successful looking lives can hide things that impact on life, success, love, happiness and business.

We didn’t start with the fear that they felt was holding them back, we broke the fear down, and found lots of little obstacles that had been deemed as “life” and “unchangeable” and “that’s just the way it is” by developing awareness to the little steps on the road to their obstacles to happiness and success they were able to tackle them in a different way.

12. Discover Great Skills in Your Scary Moments

And in that client’s words, “I came here to work with you to grow my company, and my own personal skills. I didn’t expect to get the children to be cleaning up after themselves and my partner being more attentive! It all feels a little magic.”

The moral is that out of the scariest of moments, we can find great skills we didn’t know we had. Find better, healthier, happier ways to live and find ways to enjoy life more. (And have a bit of magic!)

What a great place to be in ready for the next fear that thinks it’s going to get in the way of you, right?

13. Own Your Fear

Think back over these tips and come up with at least one example for each one. Write them down. Put them on your phone. Turn them into a piece of art. Turn them into a poem. Frame them. Go for a fast walk across the fields, beach, down town and repeat these things in your head to the sound of your feet on the ground.

We rarely take the time to appreciate how far we have come, how much we can achieve or what we are capable of – by really owning the tips in this article, you will have given your brain a big fat dose of “Damn right! I can do this!” and the motivation and accountability to say “Let’s find a way” through any fear.

You can’t help but feel good when you see that, can you? And fear doesn’t stand a chance, does it?

More Resources About Fighting Fear

Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

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