Top Tips to Fight Depression
Looking for a blue-mood pick-me-up? Don’t crawl back into bed with the sheets over your head. Check out our 10 ways to beat the blues. Plus, could you be depressed? Take our quiz to find out…
1. Unload Your Schedule
Between commuting, working, volunteering, and managing your daily to-do list, your life is a whirlwind. Not only is that exhausting, but it also can make even the fun stuff un-fun.
And work overload can cause depression, says Harold Levinson, M.D, a New York-based psychiatrist and neurologist.
So why do we say “yes” in the first place?
“As humans, we’re inherently social,” says Catherine Birndorf, M.D., founding director of the Payne Whitney Women’s Program at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “The problem is that party or bake sale is part of a week that includes 20 other things.”
What’s the solution?
Prioritize. “Look at the bigger picture,” Birndorf says. Which activities do you really want to do and will they realistically fit into your schedule?
2. Laugh More
Laughter really is the best medicine. Studies have shown that simply putting a smile on your face will make you feel better physically. It’ll send serotonin levels soaring, making you feel great all over.
So put some fun in your life, whether it’s reading a good book or learning to parasail. Even simpler, learn some new jokes and share them with co-workers – just keep it clean so you don’t get in trouble!
3. Avoid Alcohol
A drink or two may keep the mood festive, but they’ll also have you belting out post-party pity tunes. Why?
“Alcohol is actually a central nervous system depressant,” Birndorf says.
Besides, you’ll pay the next day with a hangover. “You’re not as functional as usual, which can make you feel even worse,” she says.
So pace yourself, experts say. If you have three get-togethers in one week, decide how many drinks you’ll have at each and alternate between cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. Also, fill your tummy with food to cut alcohol’s impact.
4. Accentuate the Positive
Focus on the good things in your life, especially when you feel buried under by stress and worry.
“You’re much more in control once you take a step back and look at what’s going on and what you might do to help yourself feel better,” says Donna Colabella, a clinician at the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester in New Hampshire.
Is work getting to you? Take a time-out: Turn away from the task at hand, close your eyes for a minute and think about something in your life that makes you happy. Hold on to the thought, and visualize something you’re looking forward to.
5. Food, Glorious Food
Certain vitamins and nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, play a role in changing the brain chemistry that affects your mood.
“Studies have shown that there’s some mood benefit from eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids,” says Jill Weisenberger, LifeScript nutrition expert and a nutritionist at National Clinical Research – Norfolk, Va.
Fatty cold-water fish, such as salmon, anchovies, herring and mackerel, are one of the best sources of omega-3s. But “women of childbearing potential or nursing mothers shouldn’t eat mackerel because of its high mercury content,” Weisenberger says.
B vitamins – especially B6, B12 and folic acid – may also help. So eat foods such as sunflower seeds, oranges, beets and leafy green vegetables every day to avoid mood swings.
Vitamin D offers a double dose of nutritional goodness. It can cut the risk of osteoporosis and may lift seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a depression that typically occurs in winter, when there are fewer hours of sunshine.
6. Don’t Deny the Pain
Trying to get through life when missing a loved one – especially the first year or two – can trigger depression and loneliness. The same holds true if your children are with the ex or a close friend or family member has moved away.
You can’t avoid the pain, says psychotherapist Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., LifeScript’s depression expert and author of Happy at Last (St. Martin’s Press, 2008). “What makes the difference is what you do with those feelings.”
Be honest with yourself. “If you try to deny the pain, stuff it away and put on a happy face, it’ll get to you, often as depression,” O’Connor says.
Instead, acknowledge that you’re missing someone and share your feelings with a trusted friend or family member.
Find a way to connect to your absent loved one, Birndorf says. Little reminders of them may help.
7. Try an Alternative Approach
Acupuncture, meditation and relaxation.
Many acupuncture practitioners also encourage meditation and relaxation during the session, which can help clear the mind of stress and negative thoughts. Acupuncture may also give some patients a new appreciation of their body’s capabilities and strengths.
Make sure your acupuncturist is certified; many acupuncturists are also medical doctors.
8. Understand Your Symptoms
If you are still having trouble beating the blahs, you may be clinically depressed. See a doctor if you have at least six of the following 10 symptoms:
- – Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety or emptiness
- – Decreased appetite and weight loss
- – Insomnia, waking up early in the morning or oversleeping
- – Restlessness
- – Fatigue or less energy
- – Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
- – Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness or excessive guilt
- – Loss of interest or pleasure in once-enjoyable activities
- – Difficulty concentrating, remembering and making decisions
- – Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
9. Talk to Your Doc
Your doctor can determine if medication is a treatment option, says Josh Klapow, Ph.D., associate professor of health care organization and policy at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and co-author of Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever (DiaMedica Publications, 2007).
Antidepressants relieve depression by working on brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Those chemicals – serotonin and norepinephrine – give you that “happy feeling” and raising their levels can help boost your mood.
Here are three classes of antidepressants your doctor may prescribe:
Selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSNRIs): These are the newest class of antidepressants − they include Cymbalta, Effexor and Pristiq − that increase the activity of both serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Unlike older antidepressants, SSNRIs can be prescribed at full dose immediately, so you may feel better faster. Common side effects include diminished appetite and sexual function and sleepiness or insomnia.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These antidepressants, which include Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft, boost only serotonin levels and have fewer side effects than other antidepressants. Side effects include dry mouth, nausea, nervousness, insomnia, headache and sexual dysfunction.
Tricyclics: Like SSNRIs, this older family of medications – including Elavil, Norpramin and Tofranil – affects both serotonin and norepinephrine levels. However, tricyclics are dosed gradually and take longer to provide relief. Side effects are also more severe, including dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, difficulty urinating, impaired thinking and fatigue.
10. Think about Therapy
Research shows that medication and therapy together are more effective than either by itself, says O’Connor.
“Medication can help more quickly than therapy alone and can help to prevent the out-of-control mood swings that will come during recovery,” O’Connor says. “Therapy can help us resolve the problems that led to the depression and teach us how to prevent future episodes.”
When looking for a therapist, consider these questions:
- Does gender matter to me?
- Does he or she accept my insurance?
- What is the attendance policy?
- Where is the office located?
For more information, check out: LifeScript-Depression Health Center.
Could You Be Depressed?
About 20 million people a year suffer from depression, a disorder that compromises one’s ability to function normally day to day. Find out if you’re just blue or clinically depressed with this quiz from LifeScript.