Short term ways of dealing with depression?
July 3, 2006 8:54 AM   Subscribe

There have been lots of posts on depression, so I know some of you have dealt with it firsthand. Do any of you have advice on short-term ways of dealing with depression while waiting for longer-term methods (meds & talk-therapy) to take effect?

I've been in a pretty severe depression for the past few months. I've been going to talk-therapy & have recently started taking Wellbutrin & have joined a program based on cognitive-behavioral approaches to managing depression. I am also doing daily exercise to try & boost my mood, but, meh.

However, all of these things seem to be taking their sweet time to make me feel better. In fact, right now, I think I'm feeling worse. I feel empty & absolutely nothing appeals to me except laying in bed. I just want to cheer myself up a little, and find something that interests me. I've started & abandoned numerous books. I'm sick of watching tv or movies. I can't find anything interesting on the Internet to read or play with. I'd talk to or hang out with friends, but frankly I'm starting to feel like I have nothing to talk about with anyone. I could paint or draw or write, but I don't feel like it and I don't have anything inspiring me right now.

If any of you have short-term tips on how to get myself to find something to do that might perk me up a little bit, I would be grateful.
posted by tastybrains to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Keep with the exercise. I might even suggest intensifying or lengthening it.

One of the challenges of treating depression is that when you're engaged in a pattern of defeatist thinking, it's really hard to believe that any of this stuff is going to work. But it will work; it just takes some patience.

It may help you to just decide to stick with the program regardless of how you feel about it. Commit to trying the new behaviors in full good faith to the best of your ability for 30 days (or, if that seems to long, for five or ten days at a time, renewing the contract at the end of each term).

You're not going to feel any better laying in bed than you will out doing your exercise; but of the two choices, I know for a fact that the exercise will ultimately result in your feeling better, while laying in bed will not. This is where you have to let cognition rule. You don't have to believe it will work, but if you keep repeating the prescribed behaviors, it will actually start to work, eventually turning you into a believer.
posted by Miko at 9:23 AM on July 3, 2006

Start with diet, sunlight, and good hygiene. (I see you have exercise covered). Maybe go to the dog park and watch the dogs play. Or go to a garden and smell flowers. Try a short non-hilly trail in the woods. A walk in the park always lifted my spirits temporarily and wasn't too onerous.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:24 AM on July 3, 2006

Agreed on keeping with, and possibly increasing, your exercise.

I know that little seems as enjoyable right now, and that it feels pointless to do things that aren't interesting or fun. Thing is, activities still do lift your mood up to some degree, even when you don't find them as enjoyable as you used to. Schedule and do things during the day that you like(d) or that give you a sense of accomplishment. Force yourself.

Have you considered buying a CBT book to work through at home? Are you spending serious time working on this outside the program as well? You might consider setting aside a good chunk of time every day to be proactive with this. Think of it as your job.

It may seem like a little thing, but a healthy diet really does help, too.
posted by moira at 9:34 AM on July 3, 2006

(It might help you to record your daily activities and your accompanying depression level for a few days. It would illustrate which activities distract you/lift your mood the most.)
posted by moira at 9:37 AM on July 3, 2006

Schedule activities, especially excercise, with friends for the morning, when you normally would be sleeping. Hopefully that will give you enough extra motivation to get up and out of bed at a reasonable time.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 9:38 AM on July 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

You might want to shift your diet a little bit. I mean, I don't know how you eat but a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids has been demonstrated to reduce depression.

Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tun are the best sources of Omega-3s out there. Walnuts are a good source too.

It might help to do something, anything, that will get you outside of yourself and your self-defeating thoughts, such as household projects, art projects, low-key socializing.

Hang in there!
posted by jason's_planet at 10:08 AM on July 3, 2006

Tastybrains, I'd been fighting low-grade depression for eighteen months, and have only recently gotten past it. How? I hit upon some sort of purpose. That is, I found something I loved to do, set some goals, and have now focused my life around this activity. It has worked wonders. It's amazing.

My advice would be to find something that you know you enjoy, come up with a project based around this, and then pursue the project as a sort of free-time hobby. I'll wager that this will give you a sense of purpose that will help you fight your depression.
posted by jdroth at 10:11 AM on July 3, 2006

Agreeing with all those who suggest activities that get you out of your home... When I was depressed, I used to go to the zoo or to museums. They were a good combination of exercise (walking around) and mental stimulation. The best part of it was simply to get out and not stay home in bed or in front of the tube.
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:15 AM on July 3, 2006

Personal experience and a variety of readings suggest that perhaps a pet may help, if that is an option for you. As long as it's one of the more affectionate types (cat, dog), not only does it provide mostly unconditional affection but it sort of makes you have to do something, like take the dog for a walk or play with the kitten.
posted by unsigned at 10:21 AM on July 3, 2006

From someone with alot of experience "just dealing with it"...

Masturbate. Alot. An orgasm introduces lots of happy chemicals into your brain.

Cry and scream. Really. Bury your face in a pillow, pound the bed, cry your eyes out. Surely you have something to cry about. You're fucking depressed! Just let it all go, focus on everything that's wrong and fucked up and miserable about your life, wrap it all up into one little roiling, turbulent ball, and bawl until it's all released into your pillow. Or until you're too exhausted to go on. Either way, you'll feel better.

Have a drink, or smoke some weed, or something. But only in the presence of other people. Do not not not do it by yourself, especially if you have addiction issues.

Buy a punching bag, and pound the shit out of it.

Susre, none of it may be incredibly *productive*, but you're working on the productive already -- you just need to keep yourself in an OK shape until the productive is... productive. And sometimes, to do that, you just need to indulge in a bit of stomping of your fists and feed and bashing your head against a chemical wall. It helped when you were a kid. Why wouldn't it now?
posted by jammer at 10:25 AM on July 3, 2006

Take care of your body: make sure you eat reasonably well, do your best to get enough sleep and at roughly the same time each day (might be difficult to do, depending on how your depression is affecting you, but give it a shot), get a little exercise even if it's just a walk down to the corner and back.

These are good things to do all the time, of course, but if you have an acute bit of depression then your normal habits of taking care of yourself sometimes break down. Though, you've been dealing with this for a few months already, so hopefully you have a handle on basic taking-care-of-yourself.

Along with what others have said, my advice is to try not to fall into a rut. Make sure you continue to have a variety of experiences; get out of the house every day even if you don't particularly enjoy it. Doing so will make it easier for you to recover later, IME.

jdroth: My experience, alas, has been that if I can find some sense of purpose in something, anything, then that's a good indicator I'm not depressed. Anhedonia & apathy can be remarkably broad.
posted by hattifattener at 10:34 AM on July 3, 2006

And along the lines of jammer's really insightful advice - go play a sport (even if you suck at it) that requires you to hit something, like racquetball or tennis or kickboxing. Even if you do it once in a while, just the adrenaline rush can help for a little while.

Speaking of adrenaline rushes, you can get legal highs from things like playing paintball, or seeing a really scary movie, or flying down a hill on your bicycle, or bungee jumping. (Obviously, follow appropriate safety rules, etc., blahblah, that goes without saying.)

Change your exercise routine. If you normally walk or run on a treadmill, try cycling outside with a local bike club. If you normally do free weights, take a Pilates class instead. Whatever you routinely do, do exactly the opposite once in a while. The complete change of pace (literally) can kick you out of a rut.

Also, I sometimes get out of my navel-gazing depressive episodes by volunteering. It gets me out of the house doing something productive, and I feel good for doing something for someone else.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:40 AM on July 3, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your responses...

I do plan on trying to ramp up the exercise. It's probably one of the more tangible things I think I can do right now. I am trying to get sunlight too. One of my favorite ways to exercise is to go walking outside.

As for my diet, I am trying to eat healthy & mostly whole foods when I can (which is hard because I'm too tired/lazy too cook most of the time). One thing I've been working on is quitting following strict diets, because I have been in a cycle of dieting & then bingeing for years. This is totally related to my depression, and you'd be surprised as to how much of my energy and brainpower I had been dedicating to thinking about food & dieting & weight. I think part of my deeper slump is that I'm not obsessing about food or weight anymore because I'm not on a diet. It leaves a big emptyness where that obsession was.

But I am taking cod liver oil capsules already, so that should help with omega-3's.

As for hygeine, I haven't had issues with that. I drag myself into the shower every night and sometimes take 1 or 2 hour baths so I can zone out and be totally alone. I am working on taking better care of my looks. I'm forcing myself to put on makeup again and trying to make sure I don't wear frumpy clothes.

I do have a pet, I have 2 cats. They do cheer me up sometimes, but they're cats so sometimes they are quite aloof. I wish I had a dog to go walking with, but I live in an apartment that does not allow dogs.

As for having a purpose...I'd love one. I'm trying to find some sort of hobby or something that would take my mind off of dwelling on myself & what a shit mood I'm in. I am just having trouble finding something that I'm interested in.
posted by tastybrains at 10:51 AM on July 3, 2006

I have seen acupuncture be a real help with mental emotional issues. You may find that it can get things moving for you also.

Behaving "as if" can be a help in situations like yours. Don't worry so much if you have the right attitude/reason to get out of bed- just do it anyway. Same for the rest of it....
posted by pointilist at 10:54 AM on July 3, 2006

Mountains, lakes and forests work for me
posted by A189Nut at 11:09 AM on July 3, 2006

A lot of animal shelters need volunteers to walk dogs.
posted by rdc at 11:27 AM on July 3, 2006

Realize that when you don't feel like doing something, you're being irrational. Make an activity schedule where you plan what to do each hour and then do it. Predict beforehand on a scale of 1-10 how much you'll enjoy it and then afterwards record how much you actually enjoyed it.
posted by callmejay at 11:30 AM on July 3, 2006

(From the books Feeling Good and Thoughts and Feelings.)
posted by callmejay at 11:31 AM on July 3, 2006

Get out to a movie theater. If you can stand it, watch something with plenty of action. It's a very different experience to sitting watching TV at home and may give you some temporary relief.

Buy a punching bag, and pound the shit out of it.

We don't tend to talk about it, but I think a little controlled aggression/competitiveness is a healthy part of a positive attitude in general. Sometimes saying "You know what? Fuck this problem!" really helps to get me moving for a while.

Also, I do love my sunlight.
posted by teleskiving at 11:44 AM on July 3, 2006

I suggest the opposite of jammer's have-a-drink, smoke-some-weed advice. Alcohol and sugar make me depressed for days afterwards, though it took me a long time to connect the dots. When I get depressed the first thing I do is cut out the refined sugars (and white flour, to a lesser extent).
posted by small_ruminant at 12:14 PM on July 3, 2006

How much do you exercise? It takes a minimum of 40 minutes of cardio for me before I really feel the effects.
posted by Anonymous at 12:21 PM on July 3, 2006

Advertise your availability as a dog walker, for a minimal charge. Accept only 1 or 2 dog clients for a few times a week. That would get you outside with loving critters. I'm in Maine, and you are welcome to come walk my dog, who is cute, sweet, and energetic.

Don't watch sad (or, for me, scary) movies, or read most of the news. Watch uplifting or funny movies - Breaking Away, March of the Penguins, Bend It Like Beckham, Chariots of Fire, Parenthood, The Jerk, Marx Brothers, and lots of classic musicals, preferably with Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. Read Lucky Jim and MASH. Listen to whatever music gets you moving, and dance or sing, as loudly or badly as you want.

You may not really notice when you start getting better, in fact, you may begin to have some energy, but experience added frustration. Hang in there. Email's in my profile.
posted by theora55 at 12:40 PM on July 3, 2006

Best answer: Try not to concern yourself with wanting to do something, or having something that interests you.

Get out of bed in the morning, get dressed, and make breakfast -- a proper breakfast (I usually go for eggs, toast and coffee or tea). Then go sit down until lunch. Find a comfortable place and just sit down (sit upright and with good posture if possible). Try not to worry about things, worrying doesn't get you anywhere very fast.

I would try not to sleep, a person only needs so much sleep.

When lunch time comes around, try again to make yourself a good solid lunch. What would your mother, or grandmother or someone else of the like have made you for lunch? That's a good starting point.

Maybe there's a load of laundry that needs doing. You'll need to do it sometime, and it will probably never be particularly entertaining or enjoyable even if you're not depressed. Try to do it now. Otherwise, maybe some other chore needs doing that is somehow better than the laundry. If nothing else, go back to your place and return to sitting until dinner. Try not to concern yourself with things that have happened or things that will happen.

When dinner comes around, try to make it a good meal also. Protein, carbs and vegetables. Maybe you won't succeed, maybe you will only feel like boiling some rice (I've found cooking rice with a little onion and chicken broth to be quite simple and sufficently filling on those occassions where the urge to do is minimal).

The most important thing being that you make your meals yourself for the vast majority of all meals you eat.

Then go back to your chair and sit. Perhaps you will feel tired and decide to go to bed, perhaps you will not and stay awake and wait until breakfast. Either way, try to find some sort of definite meal schedule, and stick to it as much as possible. But don't concern yourself if you don't manage to keep with the plan.

You may feel like doing things after a time, go ahead and do them. You may have appointments or work, go to them and when you get home, return to your chair.

But always, always, always -- as much as possible -- get up, get dressed, make your meals and do some chores.

I did this for many months, and still do to a large extent, in spite of feeling much better now. (And tell your doctor, whoever prescribed the medication, how you're feeling so far. Not all medications work for all people.)
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:54 PM on July 3, 2006 [13 favorites]

Wow, great advice from Matt Oneiros.

One autumn that I was down, I spent a lot of it outside, walking around slowly, resting a lot. You could watch the summer go along. There are a lot of insects. And birds. And different kinds of trees. You could pick up a book to learn the different kinds of birds. I've never learned more about nature than when I've been a little depressed. It was amazing to discover how the sunlight changed as the day went along. If I hadn't been down that fall, I would never have noticed. So, you might take advantage by just shifting the sitting around to your front porch or a nearby park. You can watch the people, too.

I was walking that fall, but riding a bike is super fun. Cruising along, looking at things, gliding past the cars stopped at lights... (My goal for the summer is to get good enough at road riding to ride to this hostel 60 miles away, sleep over Saturday night, and ride back Sunday.)

What about gardening? Put some seeds in dirt, keep it wet, things start to grow. Keeping seeds alive is kind of fun. You can start seeds in a pie tin or dixie cups. Good goal -- get a basil plant growing in your kitchen. (It likes a lot of sun!)

What about yoga class? Other exercise classes?

In my experience, turning off the computer is key. Leaving the house once a day is key. Watch some zombie movies, maybe? ;)
posted by salvia at 1:31 PM on July 3, 2006

One thing that is infrequently mentioned to people living alone, if that describes your situation, tastybrains, is the common human need to be touched. Human touch is vital to the well being of many people, and if you are one of those, nothing else will really substitute, any more than if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you could live well in a cave.

Some honest introspection is warranted; if you are missing being held or touched, no amount of petting cats will help. But you can volunteer for activities that will re-establish a human connection, and you can put yourself in social situations that may lead to appropriate ends.

But to formulate a plan, and take action, you must begin by acknowledging your needs, even if that seems initially self-indulgent or otherwise uncomfortable.
posted by paulsc at 2:37 PM on July 3, 2006

Here's a simple adjunct to all the terrific advice above: When you do manage to haul your sorry ass out of bed (and we've all been there), make the bed and pick up your bedroom.

It's amazing how much that little chore can help. For us melancholics, the bed is a cocoon and a balm, but also a trap. If it looks neat and smooth — rather than a rat's nest — it won't be a daylong temptation to dive back in. Neither will it serve as a continuing reminder of your subpar housekeeping skills.
posted by rob511 at 4:02 PM on July 3, 2006

Hey! You're already doing a lot of really good stuff, so congratulations to you for taking care of yourself and wanting to continue to find what works for you. You might not be feeling it, but you are making progress and part of the progress is the experimentation in finding what works and what doesn't work for you. Definately keep in touch with your doctors and therapists about medication. Everyone's solution is different.

My solution echoed a lot of things that were already mentioned. Cardio exercise was a revelation for me. It's weird, but even a few minutes a day jumping rope made a big difference. Think: Jogging, biking, dancing, sports, DDR. I also discovered that cooking and diet was a big part of taking care of myself. A steak and some veggies in a bowl saved me on a few occassions.

The real secret, which you're already discovering, is to find those tiny things that make you content and to schedule them into your day. For some people, that's to pet a cat, or listen to music, or watch Comedy Central.

The touch suggestion is interesting. Maybe a ballroom dance course? The dangerous thing would be to jump into a relationship before having things sorted out.

On Profile Viewing: Have a McGriddle and watch some Buffy.
posted by Skwirl at 4:36 PM on July 3, 2006

A lot of good advice here, which I won't waste your time repeating.

One thing that I think hasn't been said yet: when you wake up in the morning, try to push yourself out of bed right away. Depression hits hardest in the morning, IME, and especially so if I lie around in bed for ages thinking all sorts of negative, self-defeating thoughts. "Just do it" is a decent enough slogan that can be stolen for this purpose: get out of bed, tidy the bedding, set about making breakfast - preferably something a bit more involved than cereal (fresh juice, toast, eggs, fruit, coffee, etc). Don't even bother evaluating whether your day is going to be meaningful or enjoyable or satisfying or whatever. Just do it. Once you are up & doing stuff, no matter how banal & everyday it might be, your mind is that little bit more busy just coordinating all your activity, and therefore is less free to conjure up depressive thoughts.

Another way to put this is that no matter how bad things seem if you lie around in bed in the morning, once you are up and about the burden always lightens.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:19 PM on July 3, 2006

I've had bouts with depression on and off since my teens. The best way to treat it while waiting for the meds and therapy to kick in is usually by doing things you most likely don't feel like doing right now: get outside, eat lots of good, fresh food. Exercise is a good start, and it might be making you feel better than you otherwise would have. I find that getting in some exercise followed by a shower first thing in the morning really helps, especially if you're inclined to stay indoors with your bathrobe on all day. You will probably have to force yourself to do it, but it makes me feel better knowing I've started the day positively. Resist the temptation to be a slob - do the dishes make your bed (with clean sheets), keep stuff tidy, and wear clean socks and skivvies every single day. :-)

Give yourself something to research: A holiday, a book, magazine subscription (also excellent - gives you something to look forward to each week/month) mp3 player, camera, day out, ..... Whatever. Find out what the best one is. Then get it. Even if it's something small and cheap; I can keep myself busy with researching and looking forward to something for ages when I am miserable, especially on the days when I don't feel like leaving the house. Or if you're feeling up to it, teach yoruself something or find out more about a subject that interests you.

Which is all pretty much what everyone else has said, but after years of being where you are now, I finally learned that this is the way to do it. Wish I'd been less stubborn the first time. Oh, and what also works is trying to treat yourself nicely: take yourself to dinner and a movie, go for a walk in the park, go to a gallery if you like art, buy yourself something you really want, get a haircut, a massage, a pedicure, buy yourself a box of the most expensive chocolates you can find - in other words, try to treat yourself as you would a really hot date. ;-)

The best thing though, is to remind yourself that it won't last forever. Most depressions are easily treated with meds and talk, and you will feel better, maybe even sooner than you think.
posted by pootler at 5:29 AM on July 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tastybrains, have you read Geneen Roth's books? If you have food issues which are contributing to the depression her ideas can really help.
posted by pootler at 5:36 AM on July 4, 2006

I hike, spin, walk, lift weights and take Pilates, but the thing that can help me with depression most dramatically and immediately is yoga. Find a studio near you, tell them what you are dealing with and have them recommend the class that will be most helpful. Your first class will most likely be free or low cost, so money should not be an issue. You should notice a difference right away.
posted by Skychief at 9:40 AM on July 4, 2006

Dale Carnegie relates the tale of someone whose doctor told them, "Don't do anything that you don't want to do. If something arises, and you feel you should do it, but you don't want to, then you're forbidden to do that. Doctor's orders."

It's a good short-term fix. I've prescribed it to many of my patients and you'd be surprised at the good effects, if you can stick to it religiously. Most people can't.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:03 PM on July 4, 2006

Best answer: ikkyu2 phrased the thought that's been rolling around in my head better than I'd been able to. Sometimes you just need to be depressed, and fighting that, or walking around with the constant feeling of "I should be feeling something completely different," can just trap you in it for longer than you need to be. You have a support network in place that will catch you if you go too far, so maybe you can just allow yourself to feel what you're feeling and stop fighting it for a while, or putting pressure on yourself to be different from what you are.

Make sure you stay in contact with people who are helping you (doctor, therapist, friends who "get it"), keep doing things that do make you feel better, and just get rid of the pressure to do anything else. Think of it like a monastic retreat.
posted by occhiblu at 1:28 PM on July 4, 2006

tastybrains: I'm trying to find some sort of hobby or something that would take my mind off of dwelling on myself & what a shit mood I'm in. I am just having trouble finding something that I'm interested in.

Are you into jewelry at all? I make beaded jewelry for myself (haven't really branched out into selling it yet) and find it an enjoyable hobby that I can engage in while watching tv or listening to music. It's a lovely feeling to wear something you've made, get compliments on it, and be able to say "Oh, I made it myself." There's a Beadworks in Boston and one in Cambridge, and Fire Mountain Gems is a good, comprehensive, free beading supplies catalog. To make basic necklaces isn't terribly complicated, really - if you can stick a bead on a thread and squish something with pliers, you're set. Plus, you can match your outfits perfectly and spend less.

Good luck - I've been down that road myself and am still earning the frequent flier miles.
posted by booksherpa at 4:39 PM on July 4, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for continuing to give me suggestions. I did find something to distract me from just moping around - playing video games with my fiance - and am only forcing myself to do what I really have to do (going to work, only the most necessary housework, sleeping, eating, hygeine, etc).

Still need to work on ramping up the exercise. I have a yoga video that I used to do a lot, I may have to pop that in tonight.
posted by tastybrains at 7:13 AM on July 5, 2006

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