Approximately 9% of people in the U.S. experience a depressive episode, with 3% experiencing major depression. Women are 70% more likely to be affected than men, and depression costs an estimated $34 billion annually. Depression is a major complication in chronic illness such as chronic pain, diabetes, and heart disease, and depressed people have a higher rate of early mortality than non-depressed people. Depression is more than just feeling blue or being a little sad. Depression is a serious illness that requires attention, compassion, and proper treatment. Here are 10 ways to manage depression.
1. Go for a walk
You may hear this so often that you are tired of hearing it, but research continues to prove that one of the best ways to manage depression is through exercise. A study at the University of Bern has found that the neurophysical changes that occur as the result of exercise are the same changes that antidepressants cause. This means that for those who would like to manage depression without prescription drugs, exercise may be the answer. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden even found that exercise gets rid of a chemical in the blood that accumulates when life is stressful, further protecting the brain from stress-induced depression.
In his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey recommends exercising six days a week for 45 minutes each time for maximum effect. The timing of exercise and the workouts themselves should be tailored to the condition being treated (e.g., focusing workouts in the morning for those with ADHD, long walks in the afternoons for depression).
2. Change your diet
While sugar can be particularly hard on the system when it comes to mood regulation, there are positive changes you can make for better managing depression. A balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals is best for overall health, and eating for a stable mood is no different.
Including antioxidant-rich foods like berries and vibrant red and orange vegetables helps eliminate free radicals from the blood, damaging molecules that intensify aging and dysfunction in the body. Cravings for sugar and carbs may be linked to the production of serotonin in the brain, so choose whole-grain carbohydrates to avoid the crash of empty carbs with sugar and white flour.
In 2014 researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine analyzed previous studies on meditation as a treatment for depression and found that just 30 minutes of daily meditation can reduce symptoms of both depression and anxiety. The type of meditation that proved most effective is called mindfulness meditation. This involves focusing non-judgmental attention on whatever is happening at the moment, slowing down the breath, and letting the moment go. Mindfulness meditation also showed promise as a treatment for chronic pain. One of the stand-out features of this practice is that trying it can’t hurt. There are literally zero side effects.
Madav Goyla, M.D., M.P.H. had this to say about what meditation is for people who have never experienced it:
“A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
4. Take your vitamins
While new research shows that vitamin D deficiency may not cause or exacerbate depression as previously thought, there is evidence that some types of supplements can be used for managing depression. These include:
- Folic acid: A review of research involving over 15,000 study participants found a link between depression and low levels of folic acid in men. Another study in 2003 found that both men and women with low levels of folic acid were 67% more likely to suffer from depression.
- St. John’s wort: St John’s wort has been proven effective for mild depression but is not recommended for severe depression or bipolar disorder and should not be taken with prescription antidepressants.
- B vitamins (1,3, 5, 6, and 12): These vitamins are crucial for energy and production of serotonin and melatonin, the feel good hormone and the hormone that helps us sleep. Deficiency of any B vitamins can cause fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
Before taking supplements for depression, it is imperative that you talk to your doctor, as some supplements can cause prescriptions to be less effective or cause serious side effects.
5. Turn off your screens
There is rising evidence that exposure to screens (TVs, cell phones, computers) during adolescence causes a rise in depression as teens get older, especially among men. This may be due to the way in which visual stimulation via screens work on the brain, the disruption in sleep patterns, or the electronic media itself. Using computers at night is especially linked to a rise in the risk of depression among adults. Turns out, even Facebook can make heavy users depressed. Best to limit screen time altogether or download a software like f.lux that changes screen lighting according to the time of day.
6. Visit with friends
Social isolation has long been a contributing factor in depression, but there are easy ways to combat that. Turning off your screens and heading out into the world is a great way to engage with the people around you. For those suffering from depression, this can be easier said than done, but even just a little human connection daily can help.
If leaving the house is tough, try a regular daily phone call to a friend or sitting outside. Many people turn to social media for connection both literal and figurative, and there can be good tools available online, such as the KindVoice subreddit. Nothing can truly replace the connection of a face-to-face interaction for helping to manage depression, so work towards that whenever it is possible.
7. Get some support (therapy or a group)
Talk therapy has long been a staple treatment of depression, and with good reason. On its own, talk therapy is as effective for treating depression as medication but without side effects or risks. Whether it is the human interaction of a therapist who cares for the patient or the ability to set aside time to confront any issues you may be experiencing, talk therapy with a therapist or in a support group setting can be a great tool for managing depression without prescriptions. Finding the therapist that is best for you can be difficult, but talk to your doctor for suggestions and referrals.
8. Talk to your doctor about medications
There is no shame in turning to prescription medication for help with depression and anxiety. You wouldn’t deny a diabetic access to insulin, a life-saving treatment, and depression medication can be a lifeline for major depression and bipolar disorder. It is important to access all of the tools available when managing depression, and research continues to fine-tune prescription combinations and other medical breakthroughs to help treat depression while minimizing side effects. These breakthroughs and new understandings of how the brain works with antidepressants can help minimize drug intervention for maximum results. Prescription medication for managing depression can be a powerful tool in the fight against depression and help you get your life back.
9. Stay focused
You might think that taking some time off when feeling depressed is the best way to handle it, but new research suggests just the opposite. Whether it is the sense of purpose to be had from getting up and going somewhere every day or the financial security afforded by continuing to work rather than using sick leave or taking no pay, working through depression seems to have more benefit that taking time off. Dr. Fiona Cocker from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health:
“…found that continuing to work while experiencing a depressive illness may offer employees certain health benefits, while depression-related absence from work offers no significant improvement in employee health outcomes or quality of life.”
Employers should pay close attention to this research, as employee absenteeism has high costs. Designing flexible attendance policies and offering health insurance with mental health benefits can go a long way to keep workers healthy and happy!
10. Try to stay hopeful
While no one is suggesting that you just shake it off, there is evidence that even faking optimism helps manage depression better than giving in to feelings of hopelessness. Optimism can help protect teens from depression in adolescence, and it can be taught to those who are not naturally positive thinkers. It can be hard to muster up some positive thinking when you are in the throes or depression, but even just a little effort in that direction can go a long way.
Unsure if you are depressed or just feeling sad? Read about the 5 signs that indicate you should see a doctor for depression.
Image by Kalyan Chakravarthy via Flickr