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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

6 Self-Help Methods to Help You Overcome Depression

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6 Self-Help Methods to Help You Overcome Depression

Depression is something that so many of us experience, and something that so many of us struggle against. How do we help ourselves through self-help methods?

Depression can last quite a long time, crippling a person’s ability to live their life. If you’re suffering from depression, you’re not alone – it is the most common mental health difficulty in the world for both men and women.

Depression is not simply a matter of feeling sad. We all have “normal” periods of feeling sad, or low, and most of the time these will pass after a few days. Actual depression is often consistent with other significant symptoms, including these:

  • Apathy
  • Negative thoughts
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Self-loathing and/or a lack of self-esteem
  • Fear
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Procrastinating

The Depression Cycle

Our thoughts produce feelings, and our feelings dictate the behaviors we choose to engage in. Depression causes negative, automatic thoughts to be fired off at a near constant rate. These thoughts contribute to an increase in depressive feelings, which in turn leads to negative behavior choices.

This, of course, feeds back into this vicious cycle and increases the negative intensity of thoughts, feelings, and the resulting behavior. It’s a hard cycle to break, but these 5 self-help tips could be a way out of this.

1. Cultivate Self-Acceptance

When people feel depressed, they often set high, unrealistic expectations for themselves, striving for perfection. Trying to be perfect means you are putting yourself under constant pressure, and will constantly be criticizing yourself, which will make you feel bad and believe less in yourself. This will lead to a lack of motivation, which will make things seem unachievable and can lead to feelings of failure.

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In depression, this cycle can go round and round, keeping you locked in a negative and exhausting pattern. Accepting that making mistakes is an important part of building confidence, resilience, and self-compassion can be helpful.

For the first of the self-help methods, spend some time thinking about people you know and admire; do they make mistakes? Do you think less of them for their mistakes, or do you accept them as they are?

Now, try to apply the same acceptance to yourself. Understanding that we all make mistakes can free us from the struggle of trying to be perfect and mistake-free, which will always make us feel more depressed.

2. Manage Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are a frequent occurrence in depression. They cause you persistent pain, and you can feel as if you are being bullied by them. We often believe what our negative thoughts tell us, especially when we are feeling depressed and hopeless. Not only that, but we might join in with them and beat ourselves up more.

Try to remind yourself that thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are simply our ideas, opinions, or judgments that we are making because of how we are feeling, and that when we have felt differently, we haven’t drawn the same conclusions. You have the choice to consider an alternative perspective to the one you are being told by your negative thoughts, and I highly recommend trying this.

For example, if your negative thought is telling you that you are failure, examine that thought by looking at reality. Do you have any achievements or accomplishments? Are you right to believe the negative thought you are having, or does your evidence show that you need to reword it to something more reflective of your actual reality?

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3. Try a Visualization Exercise

Visualization is a self-help method where we imagine certain images, scenes, and pictures in our minds that help us unwind and relax. Visualizing helps move our mind away from depression, so we are not giving negative thoughts as much attention, which can obviously make them grow.

You can visualize using all of your senses. Choose a scene, place, or memory that you find comforting. For many people this is a special holiday or a childhood memory. Once you’ve pictured this place in your mind, use each of your senses to go into as much detail as you can about what you see, as if you were there again.

Start by looking all around. Turn yourself around slowly, walking around, noting in detail everything you see. What sounds can you hear? What smells do you notice? Find something to touch; what is it and what does it feel like?

If you’re not sure where to start, check out this article to learn about several simple visualization techniques.

4. Process Your Emotions

Depression brings with it lots of complicated emotions and reactions. Our natural tendency is to avoid facing up to these awful feelings. After all, who wants to think more closely about the things that are making them feel bad? However, you can’t process or gain control over your emotions without paying closer attention to them. Try dealing with your emotional pain using these techniques.

Accept Your Emotions

Accept the emotions you are experiencing, and know that they are there for a reason. Allow them to be present so you can work with them. Remind yourself that discomfort is a normal part of life for everyone, and it is not dangerous, though it might feel unpleasant.

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Label the Emotions

One of the great self-help methods you can practice is to identify and label the emotion you are experiencing by saying “I am angry,” “I am overwhelmed,” “I am very anxious,” etc. Then, identify what has caused that emotion. Giving it a name helps us distance ourselves from it, allowing us to realize it is separate from who we are.

Remember That Emotions Are Temporary

Recognize that the emotions you have right now are temporary. Emotions arise and fade, which can be hard to remember when they are very intense.

Practice Self-Compassion

Ask yourself “What do I really need right now?” “What does this emotion want/need to help it?” “What can I do to nurture it/myself?”

What would be a compassionate response, and what would be self-critical response from me; which one will help me work through this best?

Let Go of Control

We don’t need to control our emotions. Instead, try to be compassionate to what they are telling you. Observe what is happening and be mindful of your experience by giving yourself what you need instead of punishing yourself further.

5. Tackle Avoidance

Depression can cause negative avoidance. This includes withdrawing from society, ignoring the phone, ignoring family and friends, avoiding your emotions, oversleeping or hiding in bed, refusing to engage in chores or tasks that might challenge you, etc.

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These behaviors lead to consequences – you avoid seeing others because you’re ashamed of your presentation or because you can sense their frustration, you grow more annoyed with yourself. You get caught up in a vortex of trying to escape shame or feelings of being a failure. As a result, depression deepens, and the downward spiral continues.

Try to tackle the negative behaviors you’ve retreated into with self-help methods. Set yourself small goals that you can build on day by day, like committing to sending one email, or making one phone call. Then, the next day commit to one more thing.

Start to plan out small but achievable steps that you can take to help lessen the avoidance. Don’t try to do everything at once. Go slowly, and make it easy for yourself – schedule goals you can manage for the short term. It’s not a race; you are trying to gradually move yourself away from avoidance.

6. Get out in Nature

When people are feeling depressed, they retreat inside themselves, and often indoors, too. Ask yourself how much time you have spent in nature lately. When was the last time you went outdoors for your mental health and wellbeing, rather than just to complete tasks?

Being outdoors has huge mental health benefits and is a great self-help method for depression. Research shows that spending 120 minutes a week outdoors can really help us feel better mentally[1]. This doesn’t have to be all at once.

You can go out a few times a week, or even every day for a short periods of time. Try walking around the park, taking a photography walk, or heading over to an open field to watch a sunset.

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The Bottom Line

Depression is powerful, but once you begin to practice some self-help methods, it will get easier to bear. Pair these methods with professional therapy and you will be well on your way to overcoming this disease once and for all.

More on Overcoming Depression

Featured photo credit: Caroline Veronez via unsplash.com

Reference

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Dr. Kirren Schnack

Dr. Kirren Schnack is an experienced clinical psychologist.

self help methods 6 Self-Help Methods to Help You Overcome Depression 7 Mental Health Tips on Coping With COVID 5 Things That Will Help You Sleep Naturally

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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