Recovering from Depression


Image: A Coign of Vantage by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

A Coign of Vantage by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

So you have successfully come out of your depression, either because you have received treatment, or because the depression went away on its own. How can you stack the deck against it coming back? What’s the best way to celebrate this renewal of life?

Keeping Depression Away

Your enemies are stress and illness – either of these can bring on depression, at least temporarily. Your tools for fighting both stress and illness are eating right, exercising, and stress reduction. There’s a good chance that you weren’t paying much attention to your diet or exercising properly when you were in your depression, so this is a good time to get back on track.

Eating Right

Eating right doesn’t necessarily mean dieting, although eating the right foods can result in weight loss. Many people who are depressed tend to gravitate toward comfort foods that include a lot of sugar and carbohydrates. Changing your diet to cut down on or eliminating certain substances and replacing them with nutritious ones will improve the way you feel. Good nutrition provides fuel not only for your body, but also for your mind. Conversely, nutritional deficiencies can rob you of your recovery.

Definitely consider eliminating as much sugar as possible from your diet. The rush of energy you get from consuming sugar inevitably leads to a crash a short time later, leaving you feeling tired and possibly crabby and looking for your next sugar “fix.” You also should cut down drastically on the amount of liquor you consume. Remember, alcohol is a depressant. Also, if you are taking antidepressants, alcohol may hinder its performance. Alcohol can also interfere with your sleep patterns, and lack of sleep can lead to depression-like symptoms, like fuzzy thinking and irritability.

Caffeine is another substance you should think about cutting back on or eliminating altogether. Caffeine is a drug which affects your central nervous system and can cause instabilities in your blood sugar. Try fruit juice instead, which will give you an energy boost without the crash when it wears off.

Exercise

If you aren’t doing do already, start exercising. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Exercise not only makes you look better, but it also makes you feel better in many ways. Exercise gives you more control over your own body, and the strength you develop empowers you. In addition, exercise will lower your stress level. The 1996 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health concluded that physical activity could protect against depression.

Unless you are completely disabled, you can do some form of exercise. Start off slow by walking a few times a week. If you are older or disabled to some extent, a possible exercise is tai chi. It’s low-impact, although a vigorous workout. You need no special equipment, except probably a video tape or book to teach you the moves. Another possiblity, if you are not interested in aerobic exercise, is yoga. It increases strength, balance and flexibility.

Stress Reduction

Stress in some instances is a life-saver. It triggers the fight-or-flight response in us by producing adrenaline, which can literally save our lives. However, the modern being rarely really needs this response, and triggering this response too often is hazardous to our health.

Set aside some time every day to bring your body back on an even keel. Learn a relaxation technique such as progressive muscle relaxation or meditation. Again, tai-chi and yoga are good for relaxing you. They both focus part of your attention on your breathing, and this is very effective for relieving stress. Plus, both are enjoyable, and who can’t use a little more enjoyment in their life to balance out the stress?

Celebrating Your Life

If there’s one effect that depression seems to have on everyone who has it, it’s that it drains the joy from life. Not only that, but it seems to drain the color from the world, sap the taste from food, and deaden the notes in music. When one is depressed, it’s possible to notice that the sky is blue, but impossible to enjoy the brilliant color. Now that you’ve recovered from depression, you owe it to yourself to re-awaken your senses and your joy in living and to re-discover the world. This is a chance to experience what is almost a rebirth from the darkness into the bright light and sensations of the outside world.

One very important thing that you need to do is to go outside! I know that when you were depressed you probably retreated to the safety of your bedroom as much as possible. You have to be pretty sick of those four walls. No matter what season it is in your part of the globe, you should get outside and enjoy all the world has to offer. There’s a school of thought that believes some modern ills are due to our dis-connection from nature. Whether that’s true or not, spending time outside in a garden, on a beach or in a forest goes a long way toward healing and revitalizing your spirit.

Go for a walk after work every day, or every morning. Look at everything around you, listen to the sounds, and stop and smell your neighbor’s flowers (if they won’t mind). If you’re so inclined, start your own garden. That will give you both time outside and something to enhance your enjoyment of the outside. Consider bringing your exercise outside, especially if you are doing tai-chi. If you have kids, go outside and play ball with them, even if you’re not particularly athletic – they won’t care.

Chances are that your appetite was also a depression casualty, and you didn’t think too much about what you were eating or how it tasted. Take the time now to re-awaken your sense of taste. Enjoy sensual taste combinations like fresh strawberries and (real) whipped cream, ripe tomato slices with fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette, and fresh bread with unsalted butter. A very tasty (and nutritious) accompaniment to your exercise routine is a fruit smoothie – fresh or frozen fruit, yoghurt and juice blended for about a minute.

The idea of holistic health, that we need to consider the condition of the whole body if there is an illness, is becoming more popular in the West. Depression, as a whole-body illness, needs to be treated with more than just medicine or therapy. By keeping your body and soul in the best shape you can, especially by lowering your stress and staying healthy, you reduce the chances that you’ll fall back into the pit of depression.

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