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Last Updated on January 14, 2021

15 Simple (And Practical) Ways to Overcome Depression

15 Simple (And Practical) Ways to Overcome Depression

Depression can be debilitating and is very different from just feeling unhappy. Usually, there is a reason for unhappiness, such as being rejected or not getting the job you wanted. Depression, on the other hand, is a pervasive feeling that may or may not have a root cause, so it can be difficult to learn how to stop being sad.

Unfortunately, the most common advice that people with depression receive is to sort themselves out and pull themselves together. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple, but there are useful ways to help lessen or alleviate the symptoms of depression.

1. Practice Mindfulness

People dealing with depression tend to mull over all that is wrong and worry unnecessarily about all the negative possibilities that may emerge in the future. This negative thought cycle reinforces misery and is not helpful if you want to overcome depression.

Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment and is a skill that needs to be practiced. More often than not, our brains are full of thoughts, and focusing on the present moment seems unnatural for our minds.

When you’re learning how to stop being sad, practice engaging with your senses in the moment. Focus on touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. Engaging the senses leaves less time for worry and places you in the moment, where you have the space to challenge any negative thoughts that come up.

You can start learning mindfulness with this simple guide.

2. Listen to Upbeat Music

I have always thought of music as food for the soul. An upbeat tune can change an atmosphere instantly and create a more positive vibe. Listening to upbeat, happy music alters brain chemistry and can improve your mood.

One study found that findings “indicate that music listening impact[s] the psychobiological stress system,” which means music has the ability to lower stress and regulate mood[1]. Both of these can help relieve some symptoms of depression.

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3. Use Touch

Science shows that touch therapies can help some people overcome depression, lower the stress hormone cortisol, and increase the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Therapies to consider include acupuncture, acupressure, massage, reiki, and reflexology.

Research shows that “Massage therapy is significantly associated with alleviated depressive symptoms”[2]. Massage can induce a quasi-meditative state that lowers stress levels and makes room for more relaxation, which is great as you’re learning how to stop being sad.

4. Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Your Diet

Research has shown that depressed people often have an imbalance of omega-6/omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). This imbalance is thought to worsen low-grade inflammation in the body, which can increase symptoms of conditions, such as depression.

One research review discovered that “Several epidemiological studies reported a significant inverse correlation between intake of oily fish and depression or bipolar disorders”[3].

Beyond helping with depression, Omega-3 fatty acids can also lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. You can get omega-3s through walnuts, flaxseed, and fatty fish like salmon or tuna.

5. Stop the Negative Self-Talk

Depressed people tend to see the world in a negative way. When things go wrong, they blame themselves, and when they go right, they put it down to luck. Depression reinforces self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness.

Monitor your inner negative talk and make allowances for this type of thinking by reminding yourself that your thinking is being clouded by your depression. Don’t take your thoughts seriously when you are feeling low. Acknowledge the thoughts, but this doesn’t mean you have to believe them.

6. Bide Your Time

When you want to overcome depression, accept that your mental state is not entirely balanced. During depression, we tend to see the negatives in everything and find it harder to be balanced about what is going on.

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Gently remind yourself that you are tuned into the “negativity channel,” and do your best to tune it out. It can be a comfort to know that you and your thoughts can be disconnected and that this type of thinking won’t last forever.

Remind yourself that change is constant and that you won’t always feel this way. Be patient and do your best to look after yourself while you’re learning how to stop being sad. Eat well and get a decent amount of sleep.

7. Distract Yourself

If possible, do your best to distract yourself from overthinking. Your thoughts are your enemy when depression sets in. Play with a pet or go for a walk, especially a walk in nature. Read a book if you are able to concentrate, or finish a puzzle.

Do anything that takes your mind off your fears and worries. Keeping busy is an effective way to overcome depression.

8. Use More Light

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is known for causing low mood over the winter months when there is less sunlight. Invest in a sunlamp—a 300-watt bulb within three feet for 20 minutes three times a day can help.

SAD symptoms can include problems sleeping, anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue, apathy, and loss of libido, and using light therapy can help to overcome depression and these other symptoms.

9. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be extremely useful in counteracting depression and is based on the principle that certain ways of thinking can trigger certain health problems, such as depression. The counselor helps you understand your current thought patterns and identify any harmful or false ideas and thoughts that you have that can trigger depression or make it worse[4].

The aim is to change your way of thinking to avoid these ideas, as well as help your thought patterns be more realistic and helpful.

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10. Write in a Journal

A journal can work in two ways when you want to learn how to stop being sad. Use it to write down fears and worries. Sometimes, having an outlet in this way can be soothing and ease your mind.

Another good way to use a journal is to write at least five things down every day that you are grateful for. This forces us to think more positively and can help to remind us that things are never that bad. In a gratitude journal, you can write about anything that happened in the day that made you feel appreciative.

11. Connect With Friends and Family

This can be one of the hardest things to do when feeling depressed, but it is one of the most rewarding activities. Isolating oneself from others may seem like a good idea, but put a limit on it and then get out there again. 

Confiding in friends and family members can have a huge positive effect on your mood.

12. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep and mood are closely connected. Inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress, while healthy sleep can enhance well-being. Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood[5].

Taking steps to ensure adequate sleep will lead to improved mood and well-being. The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort, so aim for between 7.5 and 9 hours sleep per night.

13. Forgive Others

When we hold a grudge, we are the ones that feel the anger. The person whom we are angry with is probably completely oblivious to your feelings. Don’t allow others to have this power over you if you want to learn how to stop being sad. They may have caused you grief in the past, but try not to allow that grief to continue.

Find a way to forgive—they are not worthy of your time. Lighten the emotional load, and you will improve your mood, which can help you overcome depression.

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14. Exercise

Regular exercise has benefits for helping to overcome depression. Exercise releases endorphins, which improve natural immunity and improve mood. Besides lifting your mood, regular exercise offers other health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, protecting against heart disease and cancer, and boosting self-esteem[6].

Experts advise getting 30 minutes to an hour of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, at least three to four times per week.

15. Don’t Give up

Depression can make you want to hide away from the world and disappear. It’s okay to take some time to be alone and re-center, but give yourself a time limit and then do something productive to improve your mood. Depression can be well managed, and there can be a wonderful life beyond depression.

Final Thoughts

Depression can make you feel like you’re living in a black hole that you’ll never escape. Fortunately, that’s not true, and you can learn how to stop being sad. One day, you’ll make it out and find that your life has a lot of greatness to offer you.

Keep in mind that although the above suggestions can be effective, depression that perseveres should be investigated further, and seeing a doctor to talk about any symptoms and get medical advice is a step in the right direction.

More on How to Overcome Depression

Featured photo credit: Randy Jacob via unsplash.com

Reference

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Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a Psychologist/CBT therapist who believes getting through life is easier with a robust sense of humour.

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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