How do you handle depression?
February 16, 2005 12:44 PM   Subscribe

How do you handle depression? [+]
posted by edgeways to Health & Fitness (48 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: A week or so ago I went through a few days of soul draining depression. I went about my day as needed, but was exceedingly introverted and avoided contact with as many people as I could. This happens infrequently, but not enough to warrant looking at drugs or extensive therapy for. Having worked in and around the mental health field for awhile I know the standard tricks/answers for dealing with depression, exercise, distractions etc. But as those with depression know, sometimes this isn’t really an option. How do you deal with depression that is not continuos? What works for you?

Also curious what triggers your depression, but feel free to ignore that part as it may be too personal. For me it is anticipation of seemingly inevitable future events.
posted by edgeways at 12:45 PM on February 16, 2005

I take meds, but when the inevitable bout of self-loathing invades my personal space, I just ride it out. It takes a day or two, but I come around.
posted by bryanzera at 12:57 PM on February 16, 2005

I think recognizing it is the key. When you're feeling down just tell yourself "this is that depression thing I sometimes feel. The world is not ending and I'll get over it in a day or two."

That's not going to "cure" you, but it helps me to remember that it's only temporary. You can't "just be happy" when you're depressed all the time. That's what meds and therapy are for. But for short stretches it's just a matter of getting through it.
posted by bondcliff at 1:08 PM on February 16, 2005

Science fiction epics, beer and exercise are three of my favorites, although maybe not simultaneously. Sometimes I go to the Goodwill, buy a stack of 25 cent paperbacks and just go to bed for a couple days.

I also keep a stash of lexapro samples that the doctor kindly gave me, and although it has to be more than a few days of down before I take them, somehow, knowing that they're there is helpful.

Triggers: PMS, February, stress - and - I don't know, I wish I did. They seem almost random.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:08 PM on February 16, 2005

Someone very close to me has had amazing success with a depression that was regular as clockwork and debilitating as hell for his entire adult life without resorting to medication.

How? Yoga. He goes to at least four yoga classes a week. We know that "exercise" and "stress reduction" help depression, which is obvious in theory, but yoga offers both of these up in an at least moderately convenient hour-or-so package. He finds that, when he treats getting to those classes with the same diligence one would use in taking medication, it works for him. And it has wonderful side effects -- frustration and anger become much more manageable and less intense, not to mention the physical benefits.
posted by jennyjenny at 1:10 PM on February 16, 2005

I get severely depressed at least 3 or 4 days a week. Faulty brain chemistry.

A half-rack of Pabst usually works pretty well at getting me through it.
posted by cmonkey at 1:10 PM on February 16, 2005

I like to write stories. Then when I cheer up, I go back and read the stories to see if there is anything worth keeping and working on, and whereupon I realize how awful they, which then throws me into another bout of depression, and then I take a pen and write stories. Then when I cheer up...
posted by xmutex at 1:10 PM on February 16, 2005

Music + Marijuana.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:12 PM on February 16, 2005

But as those with depression know, sometimes this isn’t really an option.

I don't know...I've had three serious bouts of depression in my life, all lasting a couple of months, and exercise actually kicked them every time.

Are you sure you want to describe your few days as depression? Having a low or sad mood for a few days isn't necessarily the same thing as being depressed. Sometimes that's just the result of disappointment, lack of sleep, a few other things coupled. Definitions of depression usually incorporate an extended amount of time that does not lift by itself. Below is an excerpt from a clinical resource page on depression:
Everyone feels "blue" at certain times during his or her life. In fact, transitory feelings of sadness or discouragement are perfectly normal, especially during particularly difficult times. But a person who cannot "snap out of it" or get over these feelings within two weeks may be suffering from the illness called depression.
I've found that depression, since it really is largely a physical illness, responds really well to physical treatment. The difficult thing is that when you are thinking in a depressed way, it's terribly hard to convince yourself that running a couple miles is going to make you feel any better. It definitely does, especially when you repeat it day after day. Sometimes when you're treating depression, you have to consciously override all the negativism your mind is spewing ("I'll never feel better...that'll never work...I'll be unhappy forever...what's the point of all this exercise crap anyway, we're all gonna die anyway" know what I mean). You have to recognize that that is the voice of depression, and start ignoring it.

So again -- exercise has been found to be as or more effective than any drug which is used to treat depression. I recommend it - make it 'an option'. Also, here we are at the end of February. Light exposure is important to maintain a healthy mood. Get outside during daylight hours, walk around, get some oxygen and manufacture some Vitamin D.
posted by Miko at 1:16 PM on February 16, 2005

I either spend a few hours writing mediocre music on my keyboard, or get in my car and drive somewhere random I've never been. Then I sit down and take in the world. Absorbing the world takes me out of my inner depression.
posted by JZig at 1:17 PM on February 16, 2005

Telling yourself it'll pass in a couple of days and riding it out in the privacy of your own chocolate ice cream home, is a good strategy. Getting distracted is also surprisingly useful. One time a friend of mine, who is not necessarily good at "talking through" things, but who wanted to help, took me to the Elephant Car Wash just because I thought the sign was cool. It was such a silly thing to do that it kind of shocked me out of the wallow.

Unlike some who posted above, I choose to stay away from mood-altering substances until I'm in a stable enough mental place to handle them.
posted by matildaben at 1:20 PM on February 16, 2005

I write, stories or poetry. I ride, either my bicycle or my motorcycle. Getting outdoors helps, and I've joined a gym. When it's raining (like it is now), I try to make sure I have as much light as possible. I force myself to sleep and eat on a regular schedule. Listening to music is my absolute failsafe. But I'm really just starting to explore this with a therapist, so I can't say I've answered your question. But I'd like to echo that you are not alone. The most important thing, I think, is to make sure you have plenty to do, and that you congratulate yourself for your accomplishments. It's easy to turn into Sisyphus and never say to yourself, "Phew, that was hard work, but I did it."

I don't take any medication.
posted by Eideteker at 1:21 PM on February 16, 2005

Mostly been said up above, but worth reiterating. Depending on its severity (YMMV) working out is usually the best for short term relief. The endorphins you get from a vigorous workout (weights as opposed to cardio for better effect) can help lift the gloom a bit. Also, staying away from alcohol is also a good idea, since, getting hammered may help a bit, but the hangover the next day will make you feel 10x worse than you would had you not gotten drunk. Also, getting out and being social helps, as does training yourself not to express yourself in "catastrophic" terms, e.g.: my life is a disaster, this is the worst day ever, etc.
posted by psmealey at 1:26 PM on February 16, 2005

Response by poster: Well I have always differentiated between clinical depression and... other things.

I know I am not clinically depressed. But it is more than feeling blue, or feeling down after a bad day.

I like to think of things along a continuum line, where 10 may be debilitating chronic depression and 1 being moody for a day or so. I would fall perhaps as a 5 or 6. With about a week of hopelessness, mindless, almost automatic functioning. Risk of suicide is fairly low (for odd reasons), and have only experienced (direct) self injurious behavior once (as a 35year old), but that was under some pretty sever circumstances so doesn't apply in general.

I by no means wish to imply that my situation is the same as those that battle with depression every day. But I can empathize.

Most times I can feel it "lurking" if I stop and reflect, but really this doesn’t affect my general mood.
posted by edgeways at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2005

Music + Marijuana.

Those are always good.

Sometimes I just put on something really pretty (A Brahms intermezzo or a Beethoven string quartet, perhaps) and lie down and cry for a little while, just to face it and get it out of my system. Holding it in for too long tends to make me feel worse. Afterwards I'm often able to take a nap, which usually feels nice. Then when I get up, I feel as though I've released some of the pressure, and I try to go about business as usual. This is only really good if you have a place to be alone for a few hours.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:42 PM on February 16, 2005

Maybe it's the exercise thing. Maybe it's the distraction thing, but sex usually helps me.

Even when I'm low and miserable and unattractive and horrible. At least I'm good in bed, and that's something.

Of course, hot baths, brainless movies, listening to a friend geek out about an art movie or playing Play-Doh with the 5-year-old help as well.

Even if I'm empty and dying inside, being forced to hold my shit together forces me to hold my shit together. It's like faking it turns into reality after a while.
posted by Gucky at 1:45 PM on February 16, 2005

St. John's Wort has worked wonders for me and for a lot cheaper than prescription drugs (+ no visit to a professional is needed). I just paid $11.00 for a 50 day supply.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:57 PM on February 16, 2005 on St. Johnswort.

NIH on St. John's Wort.

Since you say you "can feel it lurking", maybe you have low-grade mild depression that occasionally flares up. In any case, much of the "take a hot bath, listen to music" advice is good for a mood lifter and may help reduce stress enough to ward off a depressive episode before it is full blown. But to lift yourself out of a depressive episode, I still say, move yer butt. And much as I like marijuana, it only accomplishes a temporary delay of depressive symptoms, not a cure of any kind.
posted by Miko at 2:18 PM on February 16, 2005

Feeling Good : The New Mood Therapy, by David Burns. Hokey title, great book. Very rational, cognitive therapy. Helped me a lot, though not as much as Zoloft&therapy.
posted by callmejay at 2:26 PM on February 16, 2005

Man, my depression scale must go to -273, if zero is just "moody for a day."

Pot's a nice break from depression, kind of like how sleeping is a nice break from being awake, but it's not any sort of cure.

Music on its own is great. Especially the blues. :-)

So's a nice walk. Or even better, an explore.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:32 PM on February 16, 2005

I want to second (or third,or fourth, or whatever it is) the call for exercise. Rigorous physical exercise can be an absolute mental life saver.
posted by xmutex at 2:36 PM on February 16, 2005

Like everyone's saying, one of the things that helped me get out of a two-year funk was starting to hit up the weight room. I mean, I wasn't making it to class or work on any sort of regular basis anyway, and I had a weight room in my building so it wasn't hard to incorporate it into my schedule of sleeping and writing music. But it really did work wonders, although I stopped as soon as I started feeling better, and I wish I had kept it up.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2005

For me it's a matter of catching when it's been triggered and not waiting until I feel awful. Whatever sets me off, it's usually my own thinking that brings it down further - I find that there are a few repetitive cycles of thoughts that I automatically slip into, and if I can stop that cycle I can consciously work to bring myself back out. A friend who talked to me during some of my worst times pointed out when I was doing it and since then I have been far more aware of when it's happening and also far less likely to stay depressed for long.

Once I've recognized what's happening I generally go the distraction route. Art and cooking are both areas where I can produce something and focus more on the end product than myself. Even if I'm not feeling much better when I finish, hey, at least I have fresh cookies now. Exercise can help but for me it needs to be intense and focused rather than just a walk. I've had times when I wandered around town and came home more down than when I started.

Of course I've been hiding out in an introverted funk all week so I guess I don't listen to my own advice.
posted by jheiz at 3:13 PM on February 16, 2005

The sooner I spot a bit of depression coming on, the more easily I can head it off, or at least make it less serious. My friends were invaluable for figuring out the early signs, and continue to be for spotting them.

Moving helps. Walking outside is best, pacing inside if I can't manage that. When that doesn't work, crawling inside some favourite old sci fi or fantasy books can break the cycle. Or a few hours of mindless computer game playing. Showers. Eating, especially spicy or salty food. Making something, like spinning yarn (with a handspindle), carving stone, sewing something, anything where I can see something concrete after a few hours.

Things that don't work for me include drinking or drugs, pounding walls (or people), shopping, doing nothing or eating sugar.
posted by QIbHom at 3:22 PM on February 16, 2005

What bondcliff and others have said works for me. When I went through a period of postpartum depression, the incompatibility of my reality (perfect new baby) with my mood (utter despair) made me realize that what I was feeling was the reverse of being drunk - in other words, chemically-induced and totally artificial. If I can keep that perspective and remember that depression now means peak soon, then I can get through the day - not happily, but successfully. It keeps me from writing off my entire life like I used to do.

Pot always made depression worse (my brain wants to examine, in detail, every dumb thing I've ever done in my life), and alcohol drives me into self-pity, but exercise and work both provide a temporary respite. Guess I've got more of the Puritan in me than I'd like to admit.
posted by bibliowench at 3:44 PM on February 16, 2005

I hit a serious down spot on a semi-regular basis, and the only way I have of coping with it is to ride it out and some serious crying. The other thing I've found is that the longer I ignore the initial symptoms, and the longer I force myself to stay upbeat the harder it is when I finally become depressed. This probably isn't the same for everyone, but for myself I've found that allowing myself to sink earlier (rather than later) makes the whole thing easier to cope with.
posted by seanyboy at 3:48 PM on February 16, 2005

Weird thing, alcohol. It numbs you, which is a perfectly acceptable short-term solution to depression. But, as we all remember from high school just-say-no classes, alcohol is a depressant.

I've found depression is much easier to handle and it goes away faster when I stay away from the booze. As always, YMMV. I work with a bunch of drug/alcohol counselors, though, and "alcohol is a depressant, stupid" is one of their mantras.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:50 PM on February 16, 2005

i went through a pretty major depressive state, which it sounds like you don't have, so keep that in mind. I also believe that my depression was mostly physical/chemical and not something "in my head". The first doctor i went to told me: "there are three ways to fight depression: therapy, drugs, and exercise. i recommend all three." which i still agree with for the most part.

I went to therapy for quite a while (and quite a few therapists, maybe 8 in total), but i didn't really get anything out of it. My thinking is that i didn't get anything out of it because it was a chemical problem in my brain, not something i just needed to talk out. Of course, this could be the Pygmalion Effect.

I've tried several drugs, some of which have worked and some haven't. currently i'm on lexapro + welbutrin which is working quite well. i don't like to be dependent on drugs, but they're easy and they work well. One of my old doctors recommended: "for every year that you were depressed, you should have one year on medication to stave off recession." for me that means about 4 years of medication, which seems like an awful long time but i'm already a year into it.

exercise, for me, is the single best cure i've found. Not weight lifting, not going on walks, but cardio raise-your-heart-rate exercise. When i get lazy and exercise less than 3 times a week i can start to feel it. Makes a great motivation to go to the gym.

Pot & alcohol definitely makes things worse for me, so i try to stay away. Science agrees.

Like others, if you feel something coming on you have to deal with it immediately before it gets worse. I have to get up and do something, sitting won't do me any good. So i'll go for a walk, go engage in a good conversation, something to get the blood flowing (so yes, sex helps).
posted by escher at 4:15 PM on February 16, 2005

Not to snark, but I don't like that "alcohol is a depressant" mantra. Because, you know, depressants and depression are not the same thing. Depressants slow your heart rate and whatnot, depression is an emotional state. . . but that is just my pet peeve. It's probably still good advice not to use alcohol to numb the pain too often.

My triggers are PMS, winter, and missing people who are gone. And, what do you know, I've been feeling blue of late. It never interferes with me keeping up in school and carrying out all of my responsibilities, but it does keep me from doing my best thinking and it also makes it hard to interact with people, even if I want to.

A big part of getting out of it is attitude. After awhile I realize that I have gotten attached to my depressed mood, because it's comfortable and because the cynicism that comes along with it can give a nice superior feeling, like I've uncovered some great secret about how many ways the world sucks.

Then it is time to talk myself out of that attachment and really decide to try to be happy again, and say to myself that there is no reason that I shouldn't feel happy. You know, give myself permission. Often I don't feel like I deserve it and I have to try to forgive myself for all the bad things I feel I've done, and all my flaws.

After that it is all about keeping enough fun in my life to make getting out of bed feel worthwhile, having some creative outlets, spending time with friends and learning new things. You know, all that stuff that makes life good. I really need to spend less time with TV and internet but I don't feel ready for that big step yet.
posted by mai at 4:27 PM on February 16, 2005

This may help your depression, if only by making you laugh at it.
posted by kindall at 4:31 PM on February 16, 2005

"All human beings are created different and have the right to be mentally free and independent" --

I only experience minor, irregular depression. More a sort of existentialist crisis. There is almost always an external cause, no matter how vague or hard to pin down. Usually the solution is giving up on something that just wasn't working no matter how hard I tried (or how bad I wanted it to work), or otherwise completely shifting gears with some particular, usually minor, facet of my life.

Many people's depression depends on how they define success. Make sure you're not setting yourself up for failure by comparing yourself to an impossible ideal.
posted by krisjohn at 4:41 PM on February 16, 2005

I was clinically depressed for about a year. Got over that only with the help of prescription drugs. I haven't been anywhere near that since, but I do get the down-for-a-day-or-two you describe.

My solution? Hot (as in spicy, not temperature) foods. Very, very hot foods. Considerably hotter than what I'd normally want to eat. Eye-watering, nose-running, scalp-sweating hot. The hottest wings your local wing place has (depending on the place and your tolerance, those may not be hot enough). Have your Indian restaurant make the dishes extra-spicy. Eat all the wasabi with your sushi, and ask for more. Spoonfuls of habanero hot sauce straight, or just plain habaneros, if that's what it takes.

I almost always feel better afterwards. I attribute it to a combination of a) the endorphin rush, and b) the pain putting whatever was troubling me into perspective.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:45 PM on February 16, 2005

Music + Marijuana.

You know the only time I've tried weed was during a difficult time in my life (shit jobs, no prospect, wondering what the hell was wrong with me) and weed made me feel even worse. I kept smoking it though because I had gotten a ton and my friends kept bugging me to smoke them up. bleh.
posted by delmoi at 4:55 PM on February 16, 2005

When I went to therapy for depression the three suggestions my doctor made first were regular sleep, daily exercise and some sort of daily relaxation practice (like meditation).

She told me to get no more than nine (and preferably six to eight) hours of sleep every night and be up no later than nine, even on the weekends, and it really made a huge difference in the way I felt physically and mentally. When I get depressed, I tend to stay up late and sleep all day. Forcing myself to stick to a regular sleep schedule really helps.

I started doing deep breathing meditative exercises in the morning when I woke up and while I don't know to what extent they actually helped I do know that I felt less clear-headed when I stopped.

Others have already covered exercise above.

It was a combination of these three plus antidepressants that did it for me. I'm off the meds but still wake up early, meditate and exercise and so far, knock on wood, the really bad lows haven't returned.

I'm going to echo those who say stay away from drugs and alcohol.
posted by LeeJay at 5:02 PM on February 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Are you sure you want to describe your few days as depression?

Whatever you label it, it sucks. I usually tell myself I'm gonna feel this way till I don't, so...

I wish there was an answer for you, but I think it's all very individual. It is good to know I'm not alone in this, so maybe that can be something that works for you too? Peace and best to you, edgeways.
posted by LouReedsSon at 5:29 PM on February 16, 2005

and weed made me feel even worse

I've met a number of people that were adversely affected by weed; I don't necessarily recommend it (for legal reasons as well)--I was just answering the question.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:47 PM on February 16, 2005

Alcohol. Loud music. Hanging out and shooting the breeze with strangers. TV.
posted by jonmc at 6:15 PM on February 16, 2005

Alcohol in moderation for medicinal purpose, and only if you're alone or with somebody. This must change with your stage in life - in my late teens/early twenties I had some pretty severe depression after breaking up with my first true love & joined the service to escape the weird local scene - it was 2 1/2 years before I even went on a date again. Reading Colin Wilson's "The Outsider" resonated & seemed to help for some reason. Try not being too judgmental on yourself and cop the attitude that this too shall pass. Spiritual pursuits can be enlightening when you're in pain. Cultivate an appreciatrion for the absurdities of life. Put down the gun - seek beauty in the commonplace. Become a philosopher
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:05 PM on February 16, 2005

Clinical depressive, here - the best way I know to handle things is to make sure I get outside for at least 20 minutes a day and walk about. Sunlight and exercise seem to help a lot; I also keep some kind of "happy" music and a journal around (cathartic writing about the issue). I don't believe in medicating at my level so I've developed little ways to cope.

My depression is usually triggered by a rejection episode, whether real or perceived. I have also suffered from an eating disorder (in many ways I still do), and my family is less than supportive - so them making cracks about my weight or telling me how many calories are in something tends to trigger a depressive episode as well.

And sometimes I just get depressed. Not helpful, that, but sometimes it just happens.
posted by angeline at 8:38 PM on February 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

taking walks, with either scenery involved or headphones. being social--even if it just means doing some dumb task/inane activity with people who'll be warm to you rather than talking in depth. hell, maybe especially then. (say, playing scrabble or settlers over pizza or something, or watching movies at a friend's house, or eating together.) putting your energy/attention into the physical can help you stop pounding into your consciousness the negative and fatalistic mental/emotional message depression brings.

i find getting to sleep is a mess when i'm depressed, so having bedtime rituals in place (as mentioned in that askme about getting to bed on time) in order to have some secure structure to look forward to every night is good. i dwell too much to be able to fall asleep, so distraction from that when i'm depressed is important.

cooking/baking helps me...gardening too.

the second time i had a serious bout of depression, my therapist mentioned getting a sun lamp because in my case, part of it definitely was seasonal. at the time i resisted because i was still in denial that my emotional problems had any concrete components. looking back though...if you find it gets worse when you go too long without sunny days, you might want to consider it. it stopped being an issue for me when i moved someplace with less dreary weather...if it came back i would definitely try a sun lamp.

as hard as it is, getting out for some fresh air and exposure to the world outside of your inner self is good. i know that's sort of a feedback loop thing though...forcing yourself just to put yourself out there is hard when you're depressed, but can help once you try it. it's one of those things that feeds on itself...depression makes you want to isolate yourself which makes you more depressed which makes you more isolated etc etc. at least i find that true for me...ditto eating.

eat well and right if you can bring yourself to; for me it's hard to have any appetite but not eating makes things worse.

i've never tried yoga but all of these comments make me think i should try it next time i'm in a funk.

personally, i avoid alcohol and drugs while depressed. but i realize there's a reason they call alcoholism "self medication" sometimes, so i guess it's different for different people.

i also find i write way more when i'm depressed (and i do mean depressed, not merely sad or nostalgic), and also appreciate art more. i guess that's supposed to contradict what popular wisdom says about depression partly being defined by your inability to care about what you once did or to function properly, but hey, it's my experience. (shrug) i don't think it helps me get out of my depression though--it often seems to make me feel worse really, or more deeply embedded in the mindset of being depressed. hrm.
posted by ifjuly at 11:02 PM on February 16, 2005

You know the only time I've tried weed was during a difficult time in my life (shit jobs, no prospect, wondering what the hell was wrong with me) and weed made me feel even worse. I kept smoking it though because I had gotten a ton and my friends kept bugging me to smoke them up. bleh.

Maybe it was just bad weed? I'm quite a snob about that. Either way, I can definitely see weed making depression worse. I think it's helpful for the kind of depression where you're really worked up about something and you just can't relax. It can also help stimulate one's mind into getting lost in something creative or silly or otherwise unrelated to depression. YMMV.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:53 PM on February 16, 2005

Another vote for excersize.
posted by Dean Keaton at 2:40 AM on February 17, 2005

For me, taking a (high strength) B complex really seems to help.
posted by teleskiving at 2:48 AM on February 17, 2005

Ok, I woke up thinking about this, because I caught myself at it again last night (like I said, I'm just beginning to cope/adapt to this). If you find yourself avoiding simple tasks/challenges like I do, stop yourself and think about why. It's a reality check, like the kind I employ when I lucid dream (to realize I'm dreaming). Lucid dreaming has actually helped with my depression, and I also find that the more directed (again, having a mission, passion, direction) the more control I have over my dreams.

Last night I was putting off hooking up my turntable to my stereo system for the 1,000th time. Finally, as I was hanging up my laundry (again, keeping busy), I said "Why the heck not?" And it turned out all the reasons I had were utter BS. I finished hanging up my laundry (had to remind myself to do that first; I have trouble doing things linearly) and then set about hooking it up. In 15 minutes I was rocking out to some stuff I haven't listened to in ages and feeling really good (again, music is my safety valve, but accomplishing things always makes me feel good as long as I remember to give myself credit).

Feel free to contact me via e-mail if you want to talk. If you follow the links in my bio to my livejournal, you can e-mail my username at livejournal . com.
posted by Eideteker at 5:56 AM on February 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

I usually take a long walk or do some crazydancing to a boppy mix CD. Exercise works, as has been mentioned many times above. A bus or a train ride can be extremely refreshing; the changing, moving scenery does wonders for provoking epiphanies. The key here is movement. When you're depressed, it's hard to get yourself to go out or get moving, but if you put yourself in the way of harmless random things happening to you - a nod from a stranger, the breaking of a string, a startling sound to puzzle - it really does make a difference. Anything's better than being a motionless lump in your living room, yes?
posted by Lush at 7:07 AM on February 17, 2005

Another vote for yoga, which has aided me through many low periods. Specifically, backbends and inversions (headstand, handstands, shoulderstand, etc.) help against depression, though if you're a beginner, you shouldn't attempt them without the guidance of a teacher.

Iyengar yoga has several sequences that help with depression. The basic sequence is: forward bending standing poses, inversions, backbends, supine restoratives, seated forward bends, savasana, pranayama. If you want the specific sequence (with Sanskrit asana names), email me.
posted by j3s at 8:08 AM on February 17, 2005

Cleaning and doing mundane tasks around the house improve my mood. There is nothing like mopping the kitchen floor, or scrubbing the bathroom tub to make one feel accomplished.
posted by cass at 8:43 AM on February 17, 2005

I used to think of myself as a melancholy person. I'd experience frequent bouts of mild depression that would generally last several days to a week, but it didn't hold me back much and I didn't take it too seriously, just thought of it as part of my nature. Then, several things in my life came crashing down at once, plunging me into major depression. I contemplated suicide, and was truly afraid that if my state got worse, I would be unable to resist the temptation. Instead, I got serious about combating depression. As a result, I came out the other side with a diverse toolset to cope with the beginnings of a bout. I don't much get stuck in it anymore.

So here are some things that work for me:

Externalize Depression
I've come to think of depression as an external entity, a sort of mind virus in the same way that one can view religion or memes. Depression is contagious, and triggers behaviour that spreads it. It wants to propagate and use you as a tool. Declare war on it and take pride in refusing to help. Practice good mental hygiene by insulating yourself from negative people and influences such as watching the nightly news. Watch for opportunities to spread the counter-meme of good cheer.

Recognize the duality in all things (quoting myself in another askmefi post):
Everyone should be aware that between stimulus and response lies the opportunity for proactivity. How something makes us feel is a result of how we choose to interpret events. If something makes you depressed (not talking chemicals here) that is a choice, whether conscious or no. Many times, the easiest way to change ones own behaviour, is to consciously change ones perceptions.
Many great thinkers have expressed similar notions, but my favourite is: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." -- Willy Shakespeare

Take care of yourself
To me this means getting a good nights sleep (at least eight hours, sometimes more), eating well, exercise (don't overdo it, injuries can trigger depression), and avoiding drugs including caffeine, alchohol, and prescription medication. All of my siblings experience depression and have experimented with various prescription remedies with generally disastrous results. Personally I self-medicated for years with illegal drugs and feel that they tend to keep you stuck in the depression rather than helping you move through it.

Take charge of your dopamine reward system
My admittedly oversimplified understanding is that the release of dopamine is part of the response your mind has to perceived progress. Most common vices are centered around hijacking this response, by artificial chemical stimulation (drugs), or simulated progress (gaming, consumption of media). In both cases habituation and withdrawal symptoms negate any therapeutic effect of these activities. Instead do something constructive that you really will perceive as progress, and reward yourself for it. No matter what else is going down, you can only improve things by tidying up your house, mowing the lawn, excercising etc. Focus on the little incremental steps you are taking and build on them.

Surround yourself with beauty
For me, this means getting close to nature. Going for hikes, walking on the beach, camping and backpacking. Make your living environment as attractive as possible. Pay attention to your appearance and demeanor, and associate with people who do likewise.

Smile and laugh.
Being happy can make you smile and laugh, but to some extent, it also works in reverse. Take every opportunity to express happiness.

Practice volunteerism
Find a way to contribute to your community. Great for your self-esteem, and for meeting other positive minded people to network with. Not to mention helping to deliver the smackdown to the demon depression in others.

Good luck!
posted by Manjusri at 2:02 PM on February 23, 2005

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