Saturday, April 08, 2006

Depression: Ten Ways to Fight It Off, Part 2

Update 2016: This article was featured in my book
"Saying NO to Suicide"

Part 1 | Part 2

(cc) Douglas CooteyLast week I covered the first steps I found necessary to fight off depression. A good night's sleep, a balanced meal, and lots of exercise you ask? Well, I might try those someday, but mostly my steps involved developing self-awareness and a proactive attitude, or in other words, know when you are depressed and decide to do something about it. I found once I put myself in the proper frame of mind I could pull myself out of the funk. Sometimes, willpower alone was enough, but often I needed a bag of tricks to rely on.

Continuing my list of ten ways to fight off the black beastie, here are the six steps I use to distract myself away from depression, and who better to guide you than a Master of Distraction? After all, getting distracted was what got me in trouble in last week's example. I'm a natural.

5) Ignore it
Believe it or not, once you develop the ability to see your depression from the outside you can actually push it away like the annoying gnat it is. This technique requires self-confidence and willpower or hyperfocus on another project. I'd like to say I bat depression away by virtue of my manly will, but more often than not I simply procrastinate giving in to it by burying myself into a project. When I finish the project I usually come out well balanced having given my mind a chance to regulate itself, but sometimes ignoring the depression doesn't work.

6) Do something fun
Get up and go do something that usually cheers you up that doesn't involve high calories. In fact, it is important to have a preset list in your mind to pick from because depression shapes thought. Leaving that moment to pick something fun to do might yield such delights as going for a walk in the cemetery, eating an entire box of cookies, or rereading 1984. Instead, watch a comedy. Go to the movies. Work at one of your many hobbies. Get together with friends or give one of them a call. Anything that will be pleasant and get your mind off depression and on something more upbeat. Sometimes I may need to do several "somethings" before the funk is left behind.

7) Engage your mind
Read a book (NOT 1984). Read the news. Watch a documentary. Organize a messy drawer or your family photos. Too scary? OK, then play the daily Sudoku or Crossword puzzle. Call up a friend and discuss politics or religion if you like high energy conversations, or just discuss the latest Oprah and ragchew for a while. Do anything that makes you think. Deciding which TV channel to flip by doesn't count. TV itself isn't bad, but vegging out is. That only prolongs depression. Many studies show that taking up new hobbies, learning new instruments to play, making new friends, etc. can give us positive experiences and healthy endorphins while occupying our minds, all important activities to occupy one's brain with. Find something that piques your interest and pursue it.

I chose this method the other day. I read some news, which peppered my brain with new info. Then I experimented over at Newsvine - a recent but ex-distraction. When I was done, the depression was gone. It was a combination of step six and seven that helped stop the wave of sadness and turned my mood around. Sometimes, though, I need to do more to fully succeed.

8) Change your surroundings
The very act of changing your surroundings starts a sea change within your mind. I don't mean just changing the drapes, although sometimes cleaning up your surroundings can be therapeutic. I'm referring to something more active. Get out of the house. Get out of the office. Get up off the couch and walk away from the TV. Go for a walk in the park. Go for a drive. Take a different way home from work. Visit an art gallery. Attend a concert in the park. Paint "Take Me!" on the roof of your car and cruise out to Area 51. Whatever you do, break your routine. Give yourself something new to look at and experience. You may have to force yourself to do this one, but when the doldrums set in and everything seems bland, don't be blasé. Be bold. Otherwise you're stuck in a funk.

9) Pray or meditate
Many people find spiritual activities comforting and uplifting. Regardless of your religious beliefs, scientists have discovered recently that spiritual experiences access different parts of the brain than other activities. Although they would have you believe that "Finding Jesus" or obtaining Nirvana is simply a chemical aberration of the mind, scientists also tend to believe love is simply a chemical process. Consequently, they don't get many dates.

Prayer with Deity can be emotionally fulfilling and intimately satisfying, but most people seem to associate prayer with confession, guilt, and ducking behind bushes to avoid your local clergy. Try praying as a mental exercise for health. Keep it positive. Results may vary, but I have found prayer helpful during some of my darkest hours. Meditation can have healthy effects as well, though if you have AD/HD you may find long sessions of meditation impossible. I'm more likely to be able to walk on water before I can sit still and think about nothing. Still, if depression is caused by an overawareness to stress indices as some suggest, then meditation can be perfect for soothing the soul and calming the mind. Both prayer and meditation engage the mind. I have used both to my benefit.

10) Work it out
Although a healthy diet, consistent exercise, and proper amounts of sleep can help regulate the mind and prevent the onset of depression, all of that doesn't do squat when you want to crawl under the desk with the lights out while thinking miserable thoughts. Try taking some of that self-loathing out in the gym. You've heard before about the healthy release of endorphins we experience when exercising. I wouldn't recommend starting an exercise regimen for the first time when suddenly battling depression, but forcing yourself to exercise when you've been doing it regularly beforehand can work wonders for the psyche. I don't exercise as much as I would like, but I know many people who use exercise as medicine and they successfully thwart depression because of it.

There you are. My ten steps. Hopefully, I have made you think and smile here and there. If we find ourselves depressed unexpectedly, we don't have to remain victims. There are things we can do to drive depression away. Life is too short to spend it moping about and miserable. When medication fails us, we need to have other arrows in our quiver to strike quickly at the black beastie. We may need to unload the entire arsenal, but we can overcome it. Even if the victories are minor and the steps taken are small, we can eventually live a life of quality and mirth. That's what I believe, and that's how I live.