Give me your general plan of attack for a sudden spat of depression!
August 26, 2014 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I've found that regular exercise, walks, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and therapy seem to help get me back to normal, but I'm looking for more concrete actions I can take to be proactive with my mental health, particularly when I'm feeling sad already. Do you have a standard depression-treating routine?

If I catch the flu, I have a pretty standard regime to try to get better. I eat lots of fruits and veggies and soup, sleep as much as possible, watch pixar films to stave off boredom, use a neti pot once daily, etc.. This works pretty well for me, but it took me a pretty long time to figure out that treating an illness immediately and 'aggressively' is an excellent idea, and even longer to figure out what sorts of treatments worked well for me. What similar sorts of things can you do when you get depressed for no particular reason?
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Be easy on yourself - do what needs to get done that day and otherwise be easy on yourself with expectations. If it happens to strike on a day off do the same, but also get plenty of rest and do what feels good within reason.
posted by floweredfish at 1:29 PM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Socializing. Saying hi to people and smiling. This is something I always have to remind myself to do because my natural inclination is to just ignore everyone.
posted by Librarypt at 1:34 PM on August 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Sunlight, especially early in the day.
posted by Seeking Direction at 1:35 PM on August 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am easy on myself with social obligations (i.e., I don't beat myself up because I don't feel like hanging out with so-and-so, because when I'm depressed I need that energy), but I spend more time in public (reading and working at cafes, &c.) observing other people and being kind and friendly to strangers. It helps to feel like part of a human community while not beating myself up for not being the Best Friend Ever. (After all, if I really had the flu or a broken leg or something, I wouldn't be telling myself I haaaaaave to go to parties or whatnot.)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:37 PM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

One thing the gf and I just did to make that easier (not for depression, but for my arthritis, which has a similar effect on my ability to do anything productive) is sat down when we were both feeling sharp and made a priority list of the stuff that we needed done around the house. So, for example, work is #1, and cooking dinner is two or three items down, because we can, in a pinch, get something pre-cooked or thaw something from the freezer. Basic exercise (walking the dogs) is very high, but sticking to our weightlifting plan or taking riding lessons? Quite low.

It might be useful for you to do something similar, whether or not you have a partner to coordinate with. Figure out what you can cut out when you're low on spoons, and in what order, and then when you're having a day when you can only do 4 of 10 things, at least you can feel confident you did the *right* four things.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:39 PM on August 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

1. Consume stimulants (coffee) if it won't cause a flare-up of anxiety.
2. Look at what I need to do. Choose one task.
3. Do one small thing.
4. Then another.
5. Until I can get a sense of satisfaction. Then do something enjoyable on a sensory level (bath, walk, smelling something nice).

Bonus move: change something I'm sick of looking at. Pile of bills on the side table, old nail polish on my toenails, wall hangings in the living room, dirty sheets on my bed. I find that can make a good difference in mood.
posted by magdalemon at 1:42 PM on August 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Don't be afraid to take things seriously. For me, a sudden spat of depression can be really disrupting to my life these days. If I am really out of sorts, I know now to contact my doctor and get on Xanax for a little bit until the depression moves away instead of just trying to get through it using regular methods. Knowing that I can get extra medical help has made a huge difference.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:46 PM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

As far as I can tell, I do not seem to be biologically predisposed to depression per se. So when I get seriously depressed in a way that lingers, it is almost always due to some problem that feels unfixable. I have become more pro-active about hashing out problems with someone (my sons, a friend, whatever) and coming up with a) a clear definition of the problem and why it is making me crazy and b) a plan of attack. Even if doing something about it does not immediately resolve the issue, just having it defined and something I can do about it makes it a lot less emotionally and psychologically crippling.
posted by Michele in California at 1:49 PM on August 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Taking daily Vitamin D gummies seems to help me a lot.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 1:57 PM on August 26, 2014

I double-down on my healthy-living approaches (not caving to the urge to just eat tater tots but getting some broccoli in there too, for example). I restrict things that I know make my mood worse, no matter how tempting: sad music, news, lady mags, reality tv. I pick up meditation again, usually at my lunch hour using a guided meditation like one from Meditation Oasis.

If there's a real-life thing happening that is part of why I feel sad, I try to spend some dedicated time to just feeling sad. Concentrating on feeling it in my body, without thinking thoughts about it. Sometimes if I don't push it away, it dissipates faster. I put a time limit on this exercise too.
posted by purple_bird at 1:59 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had general luck with focusing on concrete things to care for my loved ones and critters. Not pondering their mental/emotional states, but performing concrete tasks for their benefit.

Cleaning's also a classic for a reason.
posted by The Gaffer at 2:11 PM on August 26, 2014

Spend as much time as possible with dogs. They'll always encourage you to go outside and get some sun, they're very cute and snuggly, and nothing in the world is as comforting as giving a scritch to their little (or big) velvety ears.
posted by divined by radio at 2:54 PM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I tell myself it's ok to feel down sometimes. I then focus on the feeling and allow myself to feel it for 1 or 2 minutes. Not analyse it, feel it. For some strange reason, allowing the feeling instead of fighting it usually helps me feel calmer almost instantly.

Note: analyzing the feeling is often the same as fighting the feeling. IME, that won't get you anywhere.
posted by Milau at 4:28 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

My depression toolkit includes:

Checking to see if my current mental processes have a bunch of cognitive distortions.
Employing mindfulness as part of my practice of acceptance commitment therapy, for example.
But most of all, and something I struggle a lot with but know it's the single most important thing I can do for my health.
posted by b33j at 5:09 PM on August 26, 2014

For a while I had a coloured star approach, I gave myself coloured stars for the following daily activities:

1. Silver - Sleep: Getting between 7.5 & 9.5 hours sleep
Not abnormally too much, or too little.
As I no longer eat the foods that I had allergies too, I'd be ok these days on between 7 and 9. I wouldn't beat yourself up if you physically can't get enough sleep, I didn't have that problem (but without an alarm, I'd be sleeping 16 hours).

2. Red - Social: Five positive people interactions
People acknowledging your existence, counts. Going for a walk and getting a head nod or smile from a stranger, counts, but buying something from a shop assistant who doesn't really look at me, doesn't count. It doesn't have to be a full conversation. I got this from a friend who actually had a rule of 7 people, especially when she was stuck at home with a newborn, so almost all of them were strangers on her daily walk. She explained it as feeling like you were still part of a supportive tribe.

3. Green - Meds: I'd taken all my meds, and supplements
At the time, this was anti-depressants, antihistamines (which I took before bed), and multi-vites etc. I'd say Iron and Vit D are the big ones.

4. Blue - Shower
I had a shower each night before I slept. Actually, I think it was helping my sleep quality more, and my allergies. Possibly not as applicable to most people.
Most of my depression is allergy and sleep related.

5. Gold - Achievement
I felt like I'd made progress in something. The smallest regular activity was picking up guitar, and strumming, or playing 'House of the Rising Sun'. It only took a couple minutes, but at the end of a shit day, I could at least do that, and feel like maybe I was improving at guitar, or doing something for me. Pick something similarly >5 minutes as your default activity here.

Things you could swap out, or that I didn't have above because I was already doing them:
I was already pretty good with food. Or rather, I'd worked out some easy healthy meals I could maintain with MINIMAL effort, and I just ate the same amount, regardless of whether I had any appetite.
Breakfast - Rice noodles (the sort I'd pour boiling water over the night before), with eggs or tofu or meat, mixed veges (often frozen), some chopped tomatoes from a can, and miso for flavour, all microwaved.
If I couldn't decide what to eat, the above was also lunch, or dinner.
Lunch was usually the above but with a can of tuna.

Going for a walk outside, in daylight, preferably through nature
For some reason I had trouble doing this by itself, but the people goal meant I'd go for a short walk through the park.

No News.
NONE. Just none. Switch off that media. That includes the Blue unfortunately.
I tried listening to music that was NOT by my favourite depressing artists (Portishead? The blackness, the darkness, forever... Oh dear), and yeah, minimised depressing tv shows or movies.
This can be a temporary step, but, rule of thumb, if you have no energy to be doing anything about a particular issue, you shouldn't be reading about it. Even now, reading about issues 'feels like' doing something, but it's not, and uses up my resources for actually doing things.

Possibly not daily (sadly), but as often as you can:
Getting a hug from a friend, or paying for a 15 minute massage.

Having a journal and writing things down when I was any kind of stuck, helped.
posted by Elysum at 5:22 PM on August 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

I read, mostly fiction. Getting lost in someone else's world for a while gives me a break from mine plus I often learn useful stuff.
posted by mareli at 5:58 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Keeping a regular sleep schedule (ie, not just getting enough sleep, but getting it at the same time every night) helps me a lot as a preventative measure.

Same with food: not just eating healthy in the right amounts, but making sure to eat when I need it, to avoid blood-sugar grumpies spiraling into something worse.
posted by the_blizz at 6:37 PM on August 26, 2014

Progressive relaxation. I lie comfortably on my back with my eyes closed and start counting breaths, while scanning my body for areas of tension and releasing them as best I can. The (unattainable) goal is to be lying there with zero muscle tension anywhere. Sometimes unexpected emotions come up, and if this happens I let them come and go on counting and relaxing. I aim for 100 breaths, but usually end up going on much longer. This almost never fails to make me feel at least a little better, and sometimes I get up feeling like a completely different person.
posted by zeri at 7:39 PM on August 26, 2014

Hi, I'm sorry you (and anyone visiting this thread) are experiencing depression. I've battled depression most of my life. It usually feels like a riptide that wants to pull me out to sea and then down, down, down below. These are some things I try to do to keep my feet on the shore:

1) Meditation - 15 minutes, first thing in the morning or I'll avoid it.
How I meditate: I set a timer, sit with my back against the wall, close my eyes, breath in, breath out, repeat until the timer sounds. When my mind wanders, I try to bring it back to concentrating on my breath. Sometimes I think mantras like: "Breathing in I know I'm breathing in, Breathing out I know I'm breathing out".

2) Supplements
Vitamin D - Note: you can overdose on vitamin D. Please check with your doctor. I had a blood test and found I was deficient, 5,000iu works for me but you might need much less.
Vitamin B complex
Coconut Oil - 1 teaspoon

3) Yoga - 1 hour. My favorite description of yoga is that it's a "moving meditation".

4) Running - despite the health benefits of yoga, I still find I need a form of cardio to burn off energy

5) Moderate caffeine intake - too much and I get anxiety. One cup of coffee or one square of dark chocolate (85%+ cacao)

6) Healthy Food - There are a thousand ways to approach this. What works for me is about 3/4 plant foods, 1/4 animal protein. Ideally fresh caught fish rather than farmed fish (caught fish is higher in healthy Omega-3s) or grass fed beef. Healthy fats, no grains, as little refined sugar or HFCS as possible. When I'm depressed, nothing tastes better (for the first five minutes) than crappy sugary food, but I know after those first five minutes I feel even worse. I try to stick to blueberries or dark chocolate if I'm really craving sweets.

7) No alcohol

8) Social contact - seeing friends or calling family on the phone.

9) Cleaning my house - somehow this makes me feel more in control of my life. It also allows me to practice mindfulness when I wash dishes by hand, sweep the floor, etc.

10) Entertainment - movies, TV shows, Netflix, video games. I have to use moderation on this or I'll veer into escapism and avoid responsibilities.

11) Journal about my day - including writing out three things for which I am grateful. Disclaimer: I don't do this, but I watched a compelling TED Talk that convinced me I should. I need to work on this.

12) Brain stimulation - read a book for at least 15 minutes before bed

13) Sleep - Very important! Invest in a comfortable bed. No TV in the bedroom. Also no internet/iPad/TV half an hour before bed (the LED might might upset circadian sleep patterns, apparently.)

Cognitive Behavior Therapy with a good therapist
Massage - either foot or body for relaxation
Antidepressants - prescribed by my psychiatrist
Owning a pet - studies have shown they increase happiness, although my current living situation prevents it.

I should note that I'm not a doctor and this is not medical advice. These work for me, but they might not work for you. Please check with your doctor or psychiatrist, and please seek help if the depression becomes overwhelming and you feel unsafe.

Good luck to you all.
posted by bluecore at 5:39 PM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

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