Can you give me a boost out of this depression?
March 16, 2011 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for personal experiences with self-treating mild-moderate depression. What have you found works for you when in a slump?

I've been diagnosed with clinical depression since high school, initially it was pretty intense, but for the last five years or so it's quite manageable, manifesting in mild physical symptoms like lowered appetite, lowered libido, lack of energy, but not often an actual crummy mood.

Lately I've been experiencing a lot of stress due to school (1st yr Uni.) and being self-employed. I already suffer from a slight lack of motivation on any given day, but I always get the work done on time despite this, although I will leave it til the absolute last minute. Because of the recent stress I've been dropping into the old habits of extreme lows. For about two days every couple weeks (not period related) I don't want to get out of bed. Or eat, or bathe, etc. This is starting to affect my work in some pretty bad ways, I'm risking losing customers when I don't get the work done on time and my school work is suffering (I've decided not to return next year, but want to get my money's worth).

I know I always get over these little slumps in a couple days and I don't feel like this all the time so I don't think I need something like therapy or meds. I'm curious about cognitive behaviour therapy, but haven't done much research yet, would this be an appropriate application for it?

I find exercise to work sometimes, but not always and usually by the time the mean reds hit, I'm too depressed to get up, let alone move around. Also, I don't have very good eating habits, I don't like to cook and eat mostly pasta, eggs, smoothies and candy (I have a vicious sweet tooth). Are there any foods I should be trying to incorporate? I've heard cutting sugar can help, do I have to kill my Wonka habit?

I'm asking for personal experiences because I've done the research and have known for the last decade "what the experts say". I think I've become immune to this type of recommendations, I find them too broad and clinical. Also I'm hoping (probably foolishly) that someone will have developed an unusual method of coping that "They" maybe don't know about or dismiss.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Carlotta Bananas to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
saint john's wort worked for me after a couple of months... but honestly, Lexapro prescribed by a psychiatrist worked better and in 2 weeks I was already back to my old happy self.
posted by uauage at 12:52 PM on March 16, 2011

IANYP but don't want to eat/bathe/get out of bed doesn't sound real self-manageable. Could you see a doctor at your school or local social services center?

It also sounds like you're not getting enough protein - could you buy a big box of frozen entrees or burritos or something high in protein but easy to put together (microwave) so your lack of motivation/energy isn't creating such a vicious cycle by depriving your brain of nutrients?
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:57 PM on March 16, 2011

I find these two comments pretty helpful to think about, in addition to the general "eat well, sleep enough-but-not-too-much, get some exercise" advice.
posted by Vibrissa at 12:58 PM on March 16, 2011

I go into periodic slumps - and I can always jog my way out.
posted by Flood at 12:59 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

On days when I'm feeling depressed, I blast music and dance like crazy for 10-20 minutes, as unselfconsciously as possible. It never fails to help.
posted by hermitosis at 1:00 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding music for some uplift. Also, relaxing in bed with a book can help a low mood (instead of feeling guilty about work).

But you shouldn't wait until you feel depressed. Instead, start regular exercise (daily first thing in the morning if possible), take multivitamins (maybe you lack some nutrient), and maybe try St. John's Wort. If none of these work seek professional help (cognitive behavioural therapy or drugs).
posted by Hediot at 1:10 PM on March 16, 2011

For me in a similar situation, therapy with a psychiatrist was awesome.

For me, mindfulness exercises (emptying my head and just meditating and being aware without thinking) was very helpful-- I can't think depressing thoughts when I'm just experiencing how comfortable my chair is. Reading "Feeling Good" by David Burns was also somewhat helpful.
posted by sninctown at 1:17 PM on March 16, 2011

I know it's not the answer you're hoping for, but in all honesty nothing has helped me like prescribed anti-depressants. Up until then, I thought I didn't need them and I was okay-but-dragging, but then I started on meds and it was seriously like someone opened the shades and all of a sudden there was light and I could see things clearly and look outside. I do a lot of other stuff for my mental health, but medication gives me the boost I need to do those things.

As far as boosting yourself, though: moving around helps immensely, even if it's just going outside for five minutes. Doing any small "healthy" or "good" thing helps: pay a bill, take out the trash, eat some spinach even if you eat a candy bar with it. If there's a thing you're particularly dreading, work on it for just five minutes; that breaks the downward spiral of procrastination and fear. Remember that the things depression tells you not to do are the same things that conquer it, and the hardest part is starting.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:18 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

A great way to beat depression is with a relentless routine:

  • Going to bed at the same time every night.
  • Waking up really early, 6AM, cooking yourself a healthy breakfast. Every. Single. Morning.
  • Going for a jog. Every. Single. Morning.
  • Eating a healthy lunch and dinner at the same time every day.
  • Getting a hair cut once a month.
  • Paying your bills on the same day each month.
  • Go to the grocery store the same day every other week.

    Develop a framework that allows yourself to be successful.

    Also work on cutting out procrastination. Do assignments you get immediately. No hesitation. Keep yourself in order, and don't take yourself too seriously. Do the stuff you know deep down you should be doing and respect yourself.
  • I've talked about this here and here previously. Go kick ass and be an awesome human!
    posted by pwally at 1:33 PM on March 16, 2011 [23 favorites]

    Running, ashtanga yoga, and a busy schedule (make up stuff you have to do or accompany other people on their errands - just stay busy).
    posted by jrichards at 2:01 PM on March 16, 2011

    First of all, if you've been in a funk for more than a few weeks, especially if there isn't any specific reason, or if you have any thoughts of suicide or self-injury, don't ask the internet what to do - call a doctor. Period.

    That said, exercise always puts me in a better place, not just because I feel better physically but also emotionally - I think, wow, that was something I didn't really want to do but I'm glad I did it. Same with cooking a healthy meal for myself and getting errands done. Task or check lists so I can cross stuff off. Anything I can do to stay busy and think, wow, I got stuff done today.

    Also, thinking positively. Talking positively. Saying "I will get X done today" helps. Or "this is going to be a good day." Fake it 'till you make it. I know I say a lot of terrible things to myself so I thought I would try the reverse and see what happens - so far, so good.

    Don't allow yourself to be too anti-social. Get up and go out, even if it's just to get a cup of coffee. Sit in a public place and read. Call friends and family just to say hi.

    Best wishes!
    posted by kat518 at 2:04 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Exercise, sunshine, spending time with a baby or dog or someone who really loves you, music, laughing. Doesn't have to be annoyingly upbeat music, but no dirges. Laughing - a really funny book or movie, maybe some funny yootoob videos.
    posted by theora55 at 2:16 PM on March 16, 2011

    Washing dishes (by hand) always eases me out of a funk, at least for a little while. It's easy, the warm, bubbly water feels nice, and when you're done you have a pile of incontrovertible, shiny evidence that you have accomplished something useful.

    Surround yourself with your favorite colors, textures and fragrances.
    posted by Corvid at 3:27 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

    I've find it helpful to be mindful of my emotional state. When i'm in a slump I'll take stock of the things I've been going through recently and why they're bringing me down. When I've come through a slump I'll have a bit of a laugh to myself and think "hey, i'm actually feeling ok lately. this is pretty cool." I find doing this reduces the depth and severity of the "down times".
    posted by onya at 4:24 PM on March 16, 2011

    I do an inner/outer dichotomy. Inside I might feel like crap, but so long as I meet deadlines, get work done, exercise, eat healthy*, remember to clean the cat litter, etc. then I'm doing okay. Don't have to be happy 24/7, just have to keep moving forward. I always go in cycles, but as long as the main program stays basically on track I can sink into some lows in the security of knowing that I will resurface eventually. The worst is when I start feeling bad about feeling bad, those metalevels can quickly morph into an unhelpful quagmire. But its okay to feel bad once in a while, so long as it doesn't go on forever, and so long as you aren't jeopardizing your long or short term goals.

    * like Metroid Baby implies - eating healthy for me means making sure there are lots of fruits and vegetables going in every day on top of whatever junky comfort food I am also consuming.
    posted by aunt_winnifred at 5:51 PM on March 16, 2011

    I find exercise and healthy eating to be necessary for staving off the depression. Once you're in a slump it's terribly hard to get out, and those things can help, but as you alluded it's hard to be motivated to change your habits once depressed.

    It's really, really important that you start taking care of your nutrition and your body. I cannot overemphasize the difference this makes in my depression. I have serious depression, and when I was unmedicated exercise, nutrition, and sleep could make the difference between slumps becoming manageable and completely intolerable.

    Regarding specifics of nutrition--fruit, vegetables, and yes, cut out the sugars. I've talked with a couple of people with bipolar disorder who found eliminating sugar to really help even out their mood (at least once the initial cravings were over). Probably because you aren't on an insulin rollercoaster.

    I have also heard Vitamin D supplementation (like 2000-5000IU a day--you need a lot more than the FDA recommmends, honestly) to help a great deal.
    posted by schroedinger at 5:59 PM on March 16, 2011

    I have bipolar and while I'm medicated I can still cycle when stressed out. I just don't get the extremes I would if unmedicated. I've found though -that as mentioned before - regular exercise and a good sleep schedule does wonders for my mental health. I'm terrible at eating healthy so I can't vouch for that, but exercise and getting enough sleep (but not too much) goes a long way.

    That being said, I honestly think you should talk to a doctor about this. Just because you're not "always" deeply depressed doesn't mean you aren't always depressed. You could just be having highs and lows within your depression - some days are better than others. It wouldn't hurt to talk to a licensed psychiatrist and see what the skinny is about your mental health. If it's affecting your work and school then it's a problem.
    posted by patheral at 6:00 PM on March 16, 2011

    Gosh I could have written your post! Unfortunately that means I don't have 'the' answer either. Here are my coping mechanisms, for what they're worth:

    To function normally on a day-to-day basis, I make a visual list and follow it. I've sectioned off a portion of my cork-board into a 2*3 grid, and labelled it 'Today'. The three rows stand for morning, afternoon, and evening respectively. The left-hand column is for priority stuff while the right hand column is for normal stuff. Each night before bed I get out a black marker and write down 4~6 to-do items on index cards, one item per card. (eg shower, laundry, print stuff, read chp3, draft trivial the tasks are depends on how depressed I am feeling) An estimate of the time it will take goes in a corner. Then I pin the cards onto the grid where they belong. Once the day is over I tally my score for the day (eg 4/5) and write it on my calendar, and the process begins afresh.

    I'm also a member of an outdoor volunteering group - it helps tremendously to have that weekly outing to re-calibrate my perspectives, and friends who call you when you fail to turn up.

    When I fall into one of those deep, dark pits with no tomorrow...I make a mammoth effort to simply get out of the house. Even if it's just to buy more comfort food. Something about getting (properly) dressed and stepping out into the cold air, seeing random people on the streets sheds light on messed-up mental states. I have this deep conviction that 'getting up after 12pm noon' = FAIL, so I've countered that with 'getting out of the house, no matter how late' = WIN. Next step: getting rid of the whole win/fail system!

    If I can't muster the energy to go outside, I eat. YMMV - I'm generally a healthy eater and don't have loads of junk food stocked up, and I've also never had weight problems/body issues. It's just another physical outlet.

    Oh and playing the piano helps too. Book the practice room for 2 hours and pick the noisiest, angriest or most challenging tunes!

    Best of luck Carlotta, and thank you - I'll be watching this thread for a while...
    posted by fix at 6:54 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Pick a couple of the easiest tasks or items on your To Do list. The ones you can knock out in 5 minutes or less. Now go do them. Just getting things done (even if they're easy) can be a huge boost to your self-confidence and happiness (in knowing the tasks are no longer looming).
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:02 PM on March 16, 2011

    I realize that this may not be the healthiest in the long term, but one thing that has always given me a boost during my worst times of depression is tanning (in a tanning bed). It's warm, feels luxurious, and fills you right up with Vitamin D. It also gives your skin a nice glow, which boosts your self-esteem! I used to go for about 7 minutes once a week or so, and at least for the remainder of the day, the depression seemed moderately improved.
    posted by hasna at 10:11 PM on March 16, 2011

    Make sure your Vitamin D levels are OK. Mine were low, I was put on a prescription supplement for 100,000 iu a week, and I've been feeling much better as a result.
    posted by spinifex23 at 10:48 PM on March 16, 2011

    Some days, it's that small, almost bodily decision to sink into those first heavy moments of waking that makes the rest of the day feel like wading through molasses.

    This gadget has helped cut that decision off at the pass. I wake to light, and set the radio to a local non-commercial station. Sometimes I get a shit-kicking ska tune; other times it's peppy, perfectly structured 80s pop. It's enough to crack through the stay-in-bed vibe.

    Then I make myself a delicious coffee - I like Turkish - and try to start off with reasonable food. Then it's a lovely hot shower (the radio's still on) and I put on some posh lady-serums and things on my face.

    Dress. Out. Walk. There's a park nearby and we've been lucky with sun lately. Even on grey days there are at least birds. (And always air!)

    Like all have said - getting moving, and anchoring yourself in a sensory things are great antidotes to mulling. I like fiddling around on a guitar or drawing. Cleaning's useful in a different way. I just start picking things up and a path reveals itself.

    Calling friends or family almost always helps. I'm guessing you live on your own, if you're only cooking and eating by yourself? That can be hard, for some (is for me). Seek people out. Make lunch or dinner dates.

    Food: I'm sure you also know what you ought to be eating. For now, suggest trying to eat at least one meal that involves a salad or other veg and a protein, and at least 2 fruits, a day.

    Sounds like you've got a lot on, though. Full-time study + running your own business can't be easy. (Putting one on the back burner for a while sounds sensible... it's important to recognize limits, sometimes. Are you completely dropping out, or taking a break? Gentle reminder to make sure any relevant paperwork's in order, in case you want to return the following year.)
    posted by nelljie at 12:10 AM on March 17, 2011

    Exercise worked, and still works, for me.

    The hard part is keeping it up when it's the absolute last thing you want to do. It really helps to have a buddy who won't let you miss a session, or a team relying on you to play. As long as there's some external motivation you'll do it.

    I still have a tendency to depression in response to stress, but my resistance is so much greater now I'm reasonably fit and active. KBO.
    posted by col at 5:22 AM on March 17, 2011

    I've been dealing with this for a few years now, and am in a similar position. The key for me: get out of the house. Everything else is secondary. Once I'm out, I can meet up with friends (also very important), eat healthy, take walks, do whatever. But until I force myself to leave your room, it won't happen.
    posted by Political Funny Man at 6:05 AM on March 17, 2011

    Call a good friend and ask to go and stay with them for a few days. Or your parents, or your siblings, or your favourite auntie. Just find somebody you love and spend some time in their world. It takes you outside your daily routine and gives you some company. Never fails to get me back on track.
    posted by teraspawn at 7:16 AM on March 17, 2011

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