Depression is a crippling mental illness, which leaves many of its sufferers feeling lonely, unmotivated, empty, and generally unhappy. Fortunately, these individuals can combat this disorder and its harrowing effects by undergoing therapy and/or taking medication… but what about their loved ones?
Depression doesn’t just hurt those who are diagnosed with the disease, it negatively impacts their mothers, their fathers, significant others, brothers, sisters, friends, and children—it can even cause them to fall into a depressed state themselves. Therefore, it’s important to take a little extra care of your mental health whenever a loved one is depressed. And Aleya Littleton, adventure therapist at Wild and Wonderful Life Counseling, is here to share how you can do just that. Here are her 5 tips for caring for yourself and staying happy when a loved one is depressed:
1) Don’t take it personally.
Littleton says it’s important to realize you are not the problem or the root of your loved one’s depression: “This might be the hardest aspect to actually accomplish. We may begin to believe that our loved one’s depressed state is due to our own failures in relationship to them. This is not usually the case,” she says. “Depression is a complex problem with biological roots as well as mental and social roots. Being able to pull back from the situation a little bit and realize that we are not the cause also gives us permission to not be the solution. While there are many things that we can do to support our loved ones, we cannot take responsibility for their healing. This is the surest way to become depressed and anxious ourselves.”
2) Consider talking to a therapist.
Another way to take care of your own mental health when a loved one is depressed is to open up to a therapist. “The effects of a depressed loved one can easily cause us to question our own life satisfaction and contentment,” Littleton says. “It can also be exhausting and disheartening. Rather than deal with it on your own, model good mental health choices, and go get your own therapist. Not only will it help support you, it may inspire your loved one to get the help they need as well.”
3) Stay active.
It’s also important you exercise, so as to stay healthy physically and mentally: “Exercise is the only clinically-proven, drug-free remedy for depression. It’s easily accessible and free. Exercise helps our brain produce the neurotransmitters necessary to process experience in a clear and integrated way, which will help shore you up against depression as well as fight any symptoms that you may be experiencing,” Littleton explains. “A very wise person once told me, ‘if nothing is going well in your life, focus on your physical body. Work out, eat well, sleep. Then the clarity will come.’”
4) Make nature your ally.
“As an adventure and wilderness therapist, this is my number one suggestion,” Littleton says. “Time spent in the outdoors has mental and physical health benefits that far outreach our ability to quantify them at the present moment. Current research is focused on time spent in nature, and how it contributes to our overall level of happiness. Just five hours per month will do it. That comes down to about 30 minutes, two or three times a week. Spending time surrounded by green space, away from technology, cars and the distractions of urbanized life will improve mental clarity, creativity, the ability to focus, reduces rumination and worry, and supports a positive outlook on life.”
5) Pick up a new hobby.
Littleton’s fifth and final tip is to pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill—particularly something you can enjoy in nature. “To take things a step further, actually doing something while out in nature compounds its benefits. For example, gardening. Caretaking for plants gives a sense of accomplishment and responsibility. Plus, there are actually bacteria in the dirt that help combat depression. I am a rock climbing guide and love to use both roped and unroped climbing with my clients. Learning to rock climb gives you time in nature, combined with technical mastery and movement (exercise). Things may feel out of control in your life, so learning a skill like rock climbing can provide that important sense of stability and control. It also gives a sense of pride and accomplishment, self-sufficiency, and community.”