4 Things You Can do Right Now to Combat Mild Depression
Laura Hull, LMFT
“Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” -'The Road Less Traveled”
This statement by M. Scott Peck is profound. But for many, this statement is hard to internalize. Life is difficult, and with difficulty can come uncertainty and at times, sadness. Everyone experiences sadness, grief or depression at some point. Assuming we live long enough, life throws things in our direction that can, at the very least, wound us enough to cause pain that makes it difficult to experience joy. At other times, the trials of life can bring us to our knees, making it a herculean task to even get out of bed or go any length of time without crying our eyes out. Life happens to everyone. We lose loved ones to death, we experience the loss of relationships for various reasons, people and circumstances we are invested in and count on let us down. It happens to everyone. Most people who experience depression tied to specific events (loss of loved ones, divorce, job losses, and things of this ilk) go through a period of time where they struggle with feelings of depression, but ultimately time helps the process, wounds heal, normalcy is restored and life moves on. Others experience severe depression tied to chemical imbalances, genetically driven mental illness or severely traumatic events. These individuals often need medical intervention and long-term counseling. The focus of this article is for the individuals who fall in the middle….mild to moderate depression that impacts mood and potentially, happiness.
For individuals struggling with feelings of sadness and being overwhelmed with their circumstances, there are some specific things I recommend to those I counsel who feel “stuck” and are struggling with “the blues”:
- Spend some time outdoors, particularly on a sunny morning. According to WebMD (Dec, 5, 2002) “A sunny day may do more than just boost your mood -- it may increase levels of a natural antidepressant in the brain. A new study shows that the brain produces more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin on sunny days than on darker days. Researchers found that regardless of the season, the turnover of serotonin in the brain was affected by the amount of sunlight on any given day. And the levels of serotonin were higher on bright days than on overcast or cloudy ones. In fact, the rate of serotonin production in the brain was directly related to the duration of bright sunlight.” Those of us who are reading this article from sunny Florida are blessed with an abundant amount of sunshine. Because sunlight naturally boosts serotonin, many people find it helpful to spend time outdoors in the mornings (before the heat of the day kicks in). Whether it is taking a walk or simply sitting on a park bench, being outdoors can help elevate our mood. If you are struggling with mild depression, make a point to incorporate outside time into each day.
- Exercise now. It’s hard to muster the energy to exercise when experiencing the fatigue that often goes along with mild depression. This will take a deliberate effort on your part and a determination to do the things that can potentially combat depression. In a study published by Harvard Medical School, the effects of exercise on mild to moderate depression were impressive. “A study published in 2005 found that walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes a day three times a week had a significant influence on mild to moderate depression symptoms. How does exercise relieve depression? For many years, experts have known that exercise enhances the action of endorphins, chemicals that circulate throughout the body. Endorphins improve natural immunity and reduce the perception of pain. They may also serve to improve mood. Another theory is that exercise stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which may directly improve mood.” (www.health.harvard.edu) Please understand that combating depression does not require becoming a world-class athlete. But becoming physically active, at least a few days a week can be a key ingredient of self-help in many ways. Motivation may be an issue at first. But over time, exercise does have the potential to impact mood in a positive way. As an added bonus, many forms of exercise require us to leave the four walls of our homes or office space, which does seem to help, as well. Getting out and getting engaged in physical activities will likely make us more motivated at some point to engage more with others (also potentially a nice mood elevator in many ways).
- Seek counseling. Let’s be honest. We’ve all had times (regardless of how good our lives have been overall) where we could have benefitted from counseling to help us through a rough patch. It can be very comforting and empowering to bring our issues into a counseling setting, and work through those issues with someone who is caring and educated in our struggles, without fear of repercussions in our personal or professional relationships. Oftentimes, just talking with someone in the safety of a counseling office can be a very freeing experience. A counselor may be in a position to offer insights or perspective that could aid the process of working through the issues that are impacting our lives in negative ways.
- Have a medical evaluation. If at least some relief has not been experienced by the above recommendation, an exam by a physician may be in order, particularly if a thorough, overall physical exam has not been performed in a long time. Some physical conditions, such as thyroid problems (which are treatable), can cause depression and fatigue. Additionally, a physician is the only one who can make the determination of whether or not mood-altering medications should be considered. Even if this is the case, this is usually only temporary, and certainly not anything to be embarrassed about.
Though we all experience sadness at some points in our lives, it is important to recognize when we have become “stuck” in those feelings and address the issue. Life is hard at times. This is a great truth. Life is short…this is an even greater truth. The ability to be happy is within all of us. Don’t give away your joy.