I have heard depression described as an angry black shadow that follows you wherever you go — and this is a description I agree with wholeheartedly.
I mean, if you take a second to think about it, it just makes sense.
You are forever in its presence, constantly aware of it, but not often within its dark embrace. You feel it creeping away at the edge of your consciousness, but every time you turn to look at it, it disappears into nothingness.
Then it suddenly engulfs you at the slightest provocation, and you are rendered completely and utterly incapacitated.
During these times it feels as if the world is ending. It feels as if no matter what you do in your lifetime, it will amount to nothing. That you are worthless, that you are alone, and that you will never escape.
But often this isn’t the case at all.
In fact, I would argue that you are capable of so much more than you think — all you have to do is take notice of what you are actually achieving every single day. There is a myriad of things you should be proud of when fighting off depression.
All you have to do is stand up and take notice.
1. Getting up and facing the day
When the black shadow strikes, even the smallest task can feel like a giant challenge — and to be honest, it is.
But even still, you get up out of bed and face the day.
You slowly creep out of the covers, despite every fiber of your being telling you not to. Putting one foot in front of the other, you drag yourself into the kitchen, take a mug out of the cupboard, and make yourself a coffee.
Some days you will leave the house, and others you will not — it doesn’t matter.
Simply getting out of bed to face the day shows a level of strength and resilience that most people will never understand. You are literally standing up and laughing in the face of your demons.
This is tough to do, and you should be proud of every single time you do it.
2. Seeking help
Over the last few years, we have seen the stigma surrounding depression change for the better. It is no longer swept under the rug and ignored, but spoken about openly, and acknowledged as the serious condition it is.
However, for whatever reason, those of us suffering from depression tend to have a hard time seeking help. We seem to think that it is a sign of weakness. Or that by speaking out, we will be perceived as attention seeking — or even worse, a burden.
But in my experience, this is never the case at all. Which is why challenging your fears (even unfounded as they are) and seeking help is something that you should do. And more importantly, it is something that you should be proud of doing.
3. Moving your body
Did you know that there is a direct link between your physical health and your mental health? Well, there is. More importantly, there is also a heap of evidence to suggest that if you exercise and move your body, it can actually help treat your depression.
But, there is a caveat here — it is a whole lot easier said than done.
You already know just how incredibly hard it can be to get out of bed and face the day. And to actually get outside and exercise?
Well, there are times when it can literally seem impossible.
Which is why you should applaud yourself for getting out and moving your body at every opportunity. Even stepping outside and going for a brisk walk can make a world of difference — so make sure you pat yourself on the back when you do.
4. Fuelling your body (with the right foods)
When you are in the depths of a depressive bout, comfort foods tend to take priority. Simple snack foods that are easy to consume, taste sweet, and require zero effort to prepare.
However, did you know that these foods can actually make your mental health worse?
I know, it is scary — but that doesn’t make it any less true.
This is why when you take the time to prepare yourself some decent food (you know, that includes something that grows in the ground), you should be very happy with your effort. Not only is it hard, but it is good for you.
So make sure you act like it.
5. Accomplishing a task
Our lives are filled with small tasks that need to be completed on a daily basis. Things like washing the dishes, doing your bed, hanging out the laundry, or feeding the dog. Little tasks that seem menial at first glance, but are actually integral to our survival, and often the survival of others.
During the bad times, these tasks can seem like a monstrous challenge. And as a result, they should be treated like one.
Every time you achieve a task (no matter how small it may first appear), be proud of the fact that you are taking a positive step towards better health. That you are staring a monster right in the face and then choosing to slay it.
How to Best Handle Your Depression?
During these bouts of darkness, it can feel like there is no escape. But it is always important to remember that there is!
While being proud of your daily accomplishments is certainly a step in the right direction, it is just that: a single step. With this in mind, it is important that you build on this first step and continue to handle your depression to the best of your ability.
And fortunately, there are a number of things that can help.
Talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy) is a tool that you can use to educate yourself about depression. In doing so, it helps you find ways to manage your individual symptoms.
In this manner, talk therapy is a powerful mental health strategy that teaches you how to change your thoughts and behaviors.
See, depression often develops through an uncontrollable change in mindset. This mindset forces you into a negative feedback loop, where you begin to develop an extremely negative outlook on normal everyday situations.
But talk therapy teaches you how to replace these with a positive mindset, positive behaviors, and effective coping strategies. By doing so, it can cause some improvements in your mental health.
Did you know that there is actually a scientific basis as to why people tend to get down in the winter?
See, light from the sun stimulates your body, causing a number ‘feel-good’ hormones to be produced and secreted. As I am sure you could have guessed, these hormones improve your mood and increase your sense of wellbeing.
However, often getting enough sunlight is much easier said than done — which is exactly why I like using light therapy.
This unique mode of treatment gets you standing near a little machine known as a ‘light therapy box‘ for 30-60 minutes per day. In short, this box emits a light that is exactly the same wavelength as sunlight, in which it causes an increase in the secretion of these same happy hormones.
As a result, light therapy has been shown to act as a powerful depression treatment.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
ECT is a powerful treatment that is often used to help cases of depression where other treatment methods have failed.
Now, before I dive into the nitty-gritty details, it is important to note that ECT is typically performed in an operating theatre. The reason for this is actually quite clear — see, ECT it is performed under general anesthesia, which means you are knocked out cold before treatment starts.
Then, once you are fully asleep and in a state of complete relaxation, a doctor will give an electrical stimulus to your brain (lasting around five seconds). This shock will induce a small seizure, which lasts about a minute.
As terrifying as this may sound, this seizure is important, as it acts to reset your brain. Through this process, ECT has been used to successfully help people with treatment-resistant depression, whom haven’t responded to traditional medications.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Keeping with the ‘brain shocks’ theme, we will move onto ‘transcranial magnetic stimulation’ (or TMS for short). TMS is a relatively new mental health treatment that uses magnetic fields to treat depression. It may sound similar to ECT, but there are quite a few major differences when we compare TMS to ECT.
In short, during a TMS session, an electromagnetic pad is placed on your forehead. It is then turned on, in which it starts to send small magnetic pulses directly into your skull. These pulses stimulate the nerve cells in your brain that control your mood and emotions.
This not only leads to lasting improvements in mood, but has also been shown to help treat some more serious cases of depression.
Improve your diet
It should come as no surprise that every single thing you choose to put into your body impacts your health and function. To put it simply, if you choose to eat a high-quality diet full of nutrient-rich foods, then it will function effectively.
Conversely, if you eat nothing but junk, then it will function like junk.
See, there is a very obvious reason as to why a diet rich in junk food has all been linked to an increased risk of depression. Because they literally fill your body with inflammatory compounds that interact with your brain in a negative manner.
So make sure to steer clear of them when possible.
More importantly, you should also make a conscious effort to eat a diet full of whole grains, beans, eggs, cheese, yogurt, green leafy vegetables, fish, poultry, and red meat. In doing so you will actually put your body in the perfect place to start fighting depression.
I guess there is some truth to the saying ‘you are what you eat’.
Take Home Point
Escaping the black shadow of depression is no easy feat, but using the above strategies, it is very possible. More importantly, by making sure that you acknowledge your daily achievements, battling your inner demons will become easier by the day.
So be proud of your efforts, no matter how small they may first seem — because they are the first step to unlocking your mental health for good.
Dr. Lindsay Israel is a board-certified psychiatrist. Her goal is to help patients feel empowered because their symptoms can leave them feeling powerless. She specializes in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy for the treatment of various psychiatric disorders. TMS is FDA-approved for depression and is a non-invasive, non-medication alternative to traditional treatments. Dr. Israel’s depression treatment center, Success TMS, focuses on this advanced therapy which allows patients to achieve remission from depression and return back to their best lives.
Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books–written by men–barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.