The exact cause of depression for any individual can seem complex and unique. However advances in neuroscience and in particular neuroplasticity have turned traditional psychiatry on its head. For example, a common belief used to be depression is caused by a chemical inbalance, as if there’s nothing to be done. Often we hear somebody described using the phrase, “Oh that’s just how he is – he’s just like his father”.
We now know that chemical changes can occur through how we process information and in particular how experiences leave us feeling about ourselves.
So, how to start feeling better?Alongside seeking professional support and guidance, there are lots of practical, day-to-day things that you can do to manage symptoms. These might seem like simple steps but they are especially important to focus on during the current climate of social distancing where if you are depressed, you might find your symptoms worsening.
1. Keep a regular routine.
Why bother? With depression, routines can often be disrupted. Each day do your best to stick to regular times of going to sleep, waking up and having meals. it doesn’t have to be exact but doing your best to keep a consistent routine will go a long way to help you build the belief you are in control.
2. Eat well.
Why bother? Some studies have linked depression with diet. The exact reasons for this aren’t well known but aiming to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables is a good idea. While everybody’s dietary requirements will differ, regular meals, getting your five a day and going easy on the sugar will help you to manage your mood. Similarly, avoiding having too much caffeine will help. If this is difficult, consider switching to decaf alternatives.
3. Go outside.
Why bother? Being outdoors and in nature has been proven to improve mental wellbeing. Depending on your isolation situation, using your daily exercise to go for one walk, jog or cycle a day is a good way of giving yourself time to mentally regenerate and enjoy the outdoors. Furthermore, being outside helps boost the bodies’ intake of Vitamin D, which has also been shown to lift mood.
4. Do something you’re good at.
Why bother? Everybody is good at something. (Even if to date you’ve not yet identified what that something is!) Practicing a hobby or talent you are good at – whether it might be painting, dancing, knitting etc. – has been proven to boost psychological wellbeing and self-esteem. It reconnects us to the world and reminds us of our intrinsic worth – all valuable things in the fight against depression.
5. Connect with friends and loved-ones.
Why bother? Depression can be isolating. Something which is even more difficult in government instructed isolation! Making extra effort to engage with the people closest to us, even when we might not always feel like it, can make all the difference. Psychology has proven that people with strong social ties are less likely to suffer from depression. So if you can, do your best to reach out and find a safe way to connect with others.
6. Stay clean and well-groomed.
Why bother? Depression can cause people to neglect their personal hygiene, which can then make them feel even worse. Basic hygiene and grooming habits (eg. showering, combing hair) would seem well… basic! But it actually makes the world of difference to our mindset. You could even have a bit of fun by playing around with some new looks at home!
7. Care for someone or something. Water a plant. Walk the dog. Feed the ducks.
Why bother? Caregiving on any level will have a positive impact when you are depressed. Tending to the needs of others has been proven to boost wellbeing, increase satisfaction and give a greater sense of purpose.
8. Get busy.
Why bother? Action helps to ‘break the state’. Making sure you stay busy and active can help keep the symptoms of depression more regulated and at bay while you seek help. There’s simply less space and time for unhelpful thoughts.
9. Start small. Start with anything.
Why bother? I’ve said this before but it really is an important one. Some of the above tips may feel like simple tasks for some, but more difficult for others. If you are in the latter camp, don’t feel overwhelmed. Start by adopting just a few of these basics and congratulate yourself on your progress early. You can work slowly, introducing another step when you feel you are ready.
10. Go easy on yourself!
Why bother? Because those with depression tend to self-blame.
These are just a few practical tips you can do to help look after yourself and your mental health during the current lockdown.
Remember positive daily actions can have a powerful effect on mental health. And if it feels hard to think where to start, try this: imagine what you would like to do once you get better.