Q: I have been in a major depression for months and I’m taking anti-depressants from a psychiatrist. I feel like I am improving slowly. Is there anything I can do to improve my mood while my doctor is adjusting my medicines? I feel like I’ve lost interest in my hobbies and in socializing. I’m tired and I just want to stay home most of the time. I’ve never felt like this before.
A: First of all, you are not alone. Depression is a very common mental illness that affects as many as 5-11% of American adults in a given year (varies by age, sex, and race). The incidence is even higher in adolescents.
Chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, stressful life events, and even diet and lifestyle may contribute to developing depression. Please give yourself credit for seeking treatment. As many as one half to two thirds of people with depression are untreated.
Some of the most common reasons are poor access to treatment, or fear of the social stigma associated with mental illnesses. Depression is not a weakness of character that you can just snap out of, but actually a disease.
Depression is a serious condition that can result in loss of pleasure, diminished ability to function at home or at work, or even suicide. Seeing a psychiatrist for medical treatment is strongly advised. Symptoms include not only depressed mood (for more than two weeks), fatigue, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, and social isolation, but also changes in sleep, appetite, sex drive, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating or even physical symptoms. Depression also makes you more prone to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States.
When you are depressed, it may feel like it will never end, but with treatment, you can recover. In addition to taking your prescribed medications, there are other things you can do that may help elevate your mood. A combination of psychotherapy and medication is proven to be more effective than medication alone. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or positive psychology are some examples.
A recent article from Family Practice Management magazine stated that staying shut in at home, avoiding activities and socializing, actually makes depression more severe and it lasts longer. There is a technique known as “behavior activation” that research has proven to be equally effective to CBT, costs nothing, and you can do it on your own. You literally have to force yourself to do pleasurable activities (and exercise) whether you feel like it or not.
Start small if necessary. Get up and take a shower, then groom and dress yourself in a pleasing way.
Spend time with upbeat friends, get outdoors for some fresh air and/or take a walk with a friend (or a dog!). Try dancing, singing, laughing, watching some comedy, eating healthier food, and getting enough sleep (but not too much).
Prayer, meditation, going to your place of worship, doing yoga, and/or reading inspiring books may help. Look for the good in your life.
Try to find gratitude for the people and things in life, and better yet, write it down. Spend time in nature.
Get out and be active doing hobbies you previously enjoyed instead of isolating yourself and ruminating.
Massage or acupuncture may increase feelings of wellbeing and diminish anxiety. Even getting a haircut or a manicure can make you feel better.
Try doing some volunteer work for disadvantaged people to help focus your attention on others instead of on your own suffering.
Avoid drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs to self-medicate.
Don’t watch too much television or spend hours alone on the internet.
See your doctor or therapist as recommended.
Fake it until you make it!