The American Psychiatric Association just released the first updated guidelines for depression in over a decade. The aim is to improve the lives of those suffering from depression. Each year, depression strikes more than 17 million American adults and approximately 4 out of 100 teens. The key signs of depression include loss of interest in normal activities, change in sleep and/or eating patterns; a profound sense of hopelessness; and an overwhelming sadness that persists for more than two weeks. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please seek help by consulting with a doctor or mental health professional.
We know from research that your thoughts and actions play a vital role in both alleviating and preventing depression. If you are in a slump, when you change your thoughts and actions you can change your mood. According to Dr. Lara Stepleman, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia, “The positive things that we do and think can have a similar effect on neurotransmitters in the brain as do prescription drugs used to treat mood disorder.” In other words, you can ward off depression by intentionally choosing uplifting thoughts and actions.
Here are some ideas to turn around a downward spiral and help you experience an upward one:
Cultivate supportive relationships. A social support network made of family, friends and peers can help you through the stress of tough times and enhance the joy of positive times. Building your social network helps ward off depression by providing a sense of belonging, increased self-worth and a feeling of security. So take the time to get together for a movie or concert, call or email an old friend, find an exercise buddy or volunteer for a cause of your choice.
Nurture yourself. In your busy, overscheduled days, it may be difficult to find the time to take care of yourself. But your mental health will improve when you make time for things you enjoy and schedule pleasurable activities into your week. This might include walking in nature, reading a good book, watching a movie, listening to music, or doing a crossword puzzle. Think about what would give you a boost and take the time to fulfill your needs. (Check out the short video below to hear from positivity researcher Barbara Fredrickson on the value and need for more positive activities in your life.)
Reach for Relief. When you are in a funk, slump or depressed, life appears bleak because your mind is putting a negative spin on everything, including how you think about yourself and the future. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult to “just think positive.” Instead, the key is to replace negative thoughts with less negative thoughts. In other words, you are reaching for some relief from your current negative mood, not striving to be positive. Acknowledge that things appear dismal and then ask yourself, “What can I do or think that will make things just a little less dismal?” In this way, you are turning yourself around and pointing in a positive direction. As you continue to reach for relief, you will gradually climb out of the hole. By reaching for relief, you take on faith that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, you will see the light. At that point, you can start to strive for a positive focus.
The very nature of depression causes you to isolate yourself, neglect your care and think the worst. By using these strategies (perhaps in conjunction with medication, therapy and exercise), you give yourself some control over your moods. These simple changes in thoughts and actions can produce a huge pay-off.