An estimated 350 million people around the world suffer from depression, making this illness a leading cause of disability. Some of these individuals experience depressive thoughts or feelings after a loved one has passed; some after going through a bad breakup; and others for no apparent reason at all.
The causes as well as the effects and the symptoms of depression can vary, but there is one common thread: it’s treatable. Medication and therapy have proven effective in treating depression—from major depression to minor depression, postpartum depression, situational depression, and so on— but some individuals find other techniques to be helpful as well. Allison Johanson, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is here to explain a few of those techniques, which you can perform to alleviate the harmful effects of depression:
1) Get into a healthy routine.
Johanson’s first tip is to get into a healthy routine, which you can rely on each day. “Depression is often related to chaos in our lives. Finding any resemblance of routine can be very important for the brain, so that it knows what to expect,” she explains. “The problem is many times when you are depressed, the last thing you want to do is follow through with routine. This is why it is important to make a list each day of what you can accomplish and check them off as you go along. When a person is depressed it is difficult to accomplish any tasks. Routine allows tasks to feel less overwhelming and more manageable, since the brain is creating new habits and knows what to expect.” Your routine doesn’t have to be fancy or strict; it may consist of going to work, getting a few chores done after dinner, and going to the gym at 8 p.m. The key is to create a simple plan, one to structure your day around.
2) Work on accomplishing small tasks.
Another effective technique is to set and work towards small-scale goals, which you can celebrate at the end of each day. “If you are used to being a go-getter, it can be tempting to keep that go-getter attitude. The problem is, you may not be able to accomplish as many tasks in the day making you feel defeated,” Johanson explains. “Making small, accomplishable goals each day and giving yourself credit for accomplishing them can produce feel-good chemicals in your brain that combat depression. When you are depressed, your dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin are depleted. Through brain scans, we know that accomplishing these tasks increases the movement of all three neurotransmitters.” These goals might include catching up with an old friend or taking your dog to the dog park. Once you accomplish a given goal, check it off your list and pride yourself on getting it done.
3) Prioritize physical activity.
A third promising practice for alleviating depression is incorporating some sort of physical activity into each day. “Exercise was the first thing prescribed for depression before antidepressants existed. It produces neurotransmitters we need to feel good,” says Johanson. “Exercise does not have to be running a marathon. It can be walking around your building once, doing stretches, or finding an active activity you enjoy. The brain does not care how you move, as long as you move. Whether you are depressed or not, exercise produces norepinephrine through the adrenaline hormone that is produced. The increase of norepinephrine provides an increase in motivation, a primary symptom of depression.” My favorite form of exercise happens to be running. My feet hit the treadmill or the pavement and I’m immediately relieved of whatever’s bothering me that day—that’s the power of exercise. Find an activity you enjoy and experience these powerful, beneficial effects.
4) Practice grounding exercises.
And lastly, Johanson recommends you practice grounding techniques, which take you away from those negative thoughts and help you focus. “One of the symptoms of depression is a difficulty concentrating and focusing. This is because your brain is filled with depressed thoughts,” she explains. “Spending time focusing on the location you are in can be very helpful for regaining concentration and focus. Examples of this may be counting all the objects you can find that are a certain color in the room, or feeling what your feet feel like on the ground, and your body in the chair. Practice this for two minutes (you can even set a timer), then go back to your task. You will likely find it is easier, and you can do it more efficiently.” The examples Johanson described above are rooted in mindfulness. This practice is all about focusing on the here and now, which ultimately helps free you from negativity.