Depression can feel overpowering at times. Medication can help, but it certainly does not do everything. So what else can you do? I suggest the following interventions to many of my patients. Try adding one or two at a time to see what helps.
Most of us just feel better if we are in an environment that is clean, organized and pleasing to the eye. Try to keep your main living areas tidy. If you are like me and have a husband, children and pets, that is not always easy. At lease designate the area that you spend the majority of your time as a safe zone. Nobody can clutter your area.
Colors are another issue. White is very bland. If you have to have white walls, use other colors for your furniture, curtains and accessories to brighten it up. Behr has a brief little primer (forgive the pun) on colors for decorating http://www.behr.com/behrx/inspiration/emotional_8.jsp. Another discussion of color is http://www.thespiritualfengshui.com/feng-shui-color.php Regardless of what these sites say, think about the colors you like. What makes you feel relaxed? Cheerful? What colors feel “institutional?” What feeling do you want people to get when they walk into a room? Many of us ponder this question when designing our nurseries, but not when we decorate the rest of the house.
It is also important to have balance. Blue, green and purple are calming but can make you feel over sedated. Yellow, red and orange are bright and energetic, but can overstimulate you if used too much. Think about the purpose of the room. You probably do not want your bedroom to have bright yellow or orange walls.
A third issue is lines. If your house has mainly harsh lines and square corners, it is less relaxing than if it has softer corners. Think about webpages. Do you perceive the page differently if the corners are rounded and softer? Valances, draperies and cornices all soften the harsh corners of windows. Tablecoths can soften edges of a table. Add rounded elements such as an oval mirror, have the corners in your picture matting rounded or scalloped. Additionally, a variety of depths and heights adds interest and attracts the eye. Again, cornices and drapes add “depth” to the window by setting it out from the wall a bit. Good picture frames really jazz up a picture when they add depth and interest.
Smell has extremely strong ties to memories. Aromatherapy can help you increase smells associated with good times and get rid of the wet-dog odor at the same time. Experiment with candles, soaps and shampoos, cleaners, potpourris and fabric softeners. Put a dryer sheet under your pillow while you are awake, so when you go to sleep your pillow smells dryer-fresh.
Finally, sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. Sunlight does wonders to help set our body clock and improve our moods. Open your curtains, go outside (wear sunscreen of course). Bright lightbulbs just do not have the same effect.
If you pay attention to your environment and make it pleasing to be in, you will feel more relaxed.
We all talk about adjusting our internal “clock” each time the time changes. We often fail to recognize ways we can use that “clock” to our advantage. When my son was young I learned that schedules and routines really helped him (and me). We started a 6pm dinner, 6:30 bath, 7pm story and 7:30 bedtime. Before I knew it, his body “expected” this routine. If I let him skip bath, it threw him all out of whack. So what does that have to do with depression? When people get depressed, they feel tired. They stay in bed all day and feel more tired. Their body has not gotten the “wake up and do something” cue. Likewise, they are in bed so much during the day, they have difficulty sleeping at night. Their body does not realize the day has passed. People who are prone to depression usually find it helpful to have some sort of morning and evening routine. It does not have to be super involved.
A morning routine might look like: Get up by 8am. Eat breakfast. Get dressed. Go out. The reason I have people go out is because if they stay at home they often do not get exposed to real sunlight which helps wake the body. Additionally, if you do not leave the house, it is very tempting to lay down on the couch and be a blob. Going out can mean go out for a walk, go work in the yard, go shopping whatever. An evening schedule would start with a routine dinner time. For my mother, that would be 9pm. It really does not matter when your routine starts as long as it works for you. So, dinner followed by some winding-down activity such as reading a book, watching television, taking a bath whatever, then bed. Try to go to bed around the same time every night, give or take an hour.
Eliminate, delegate and simplify!
Many of us get stressed out and overwhelmed by all of the things we have to do. We get exhausted just thinking about it. Make a list of all of those things. Go back over the list and highlight all of the things that cannot wait (pay the gas bill etc.). Look over all of the things that cannot wait and delegate as many as possible. Finally, simplify what is left. Do you need to make a 5 course meal, or can you cook a frozen pizza? Reducing some of the demands on you will help reduce your level of exhaustion and your depression.
In reality, most of us are not really going to change our eating habits, especially when we are depressed. Let’s be practical.
Drink water. Dehydration leads to feelings of fatigue and depression. If you cannot stand water, then try lemonade or some other non-caffeinated, no-sodium, non-carbonated drink.
Stop caffeine after 12pm. Caffeine stays in your system for 12 hours. Even though you don’t feel it as much anymore, it will still impair your sleep quality. Don’t do this cold-turkey. Wean down your after-lunch buzz over a period of a few weeks, so you don’t make yourself feel worse.
Eat carbohydrates. Ahhhh, music to my ears. Quality carbohydrates found in whole grains are theorized to be necessary for the production of serotonin (happy chemicals). People who are depressed do not have enough serotonin in their brain. This does not mean that gorging on carbs will make your feel better…at least not for long. It does mean however, that restricting yourself to less than 125grams of quality carbs a day will probably have a bed affect on your mood after a while. On the other hand, refined carbs (sugar) will goof around with your blood sugar leading to a “crash” and a sense of depression. The moral to the story, eat healthy, reduce sugar…everything you have heard a dozen times.
Yes, I could not write this article without taking about the “E” word. Exercise means movement. For most people, any movement is more that what they are currently doing. If you are just starting our, make exercise something you enjoy: playing with your kids or dog, going on a walk, gardening, rock climbing, bike riding, playing basketball…If you make it something you look forward to, you will be more likely to do it.
Exercise helps burn off the extra fatty acids released by your stress hormones, it helps get oxygen throughout your body and, when done with enough intensity and duration, can release endorphins—your body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
Finally, Change Your Thinking
A saying in AA is “Fake it until you make it.” If you walk around all gloomy, you will feel gloomy. If you walk with your head held high, try to find the good in things, smile and look happy, you will probably start to feel happy.
Nix the negativity. Try going for an entire day without being negative. Every time you start to have a negative thought, stop yourself and replace it with a positive one. Ask yourself, what is the silver lining to this?
Write a gratitude journal. Add to it every day. When you are feeling blue, review your journal
Commit random acts of kindness. Send a card for no reason. Make cookies for a neighbor. Whatever. If you give away kindness, kindness usually comes back (Oh, and you feel better too.)
Make a plan. If there is something in your life that you are depressed about, make a plan to change it. Ask yourself, if this problem was gone, what would be different? Once you have the answer, identify all of the steps you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Some people have biologically based depression and truly do need medication, but medication can only do so much. I have worked with many patients whose lifestyle and habits kept them depressed despite their medication. Once we started making small changes, they started feeling better.