One of the central realities of depression, and any mood, is that neurotransmitters in the brain affect how we feel. One of the most concrete ways to effect positive change in mood and attitude is by taking up activities that encourage healthy levels of of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, insulin, etc. This does not necessarily mean taking anti-depressants. There are all manner of ways to affect brain chemistry positively. Here are several simple things that can make a huge difference:
• Exercise: Exercising, even just going for a 20-minute walk, can trigger the release of endorphins, which make you feel good. Exercising enough to raise your heart rate 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes at a time is all that is needed. Exercising outside in the sunlight is even better, as exposing yourself to sunlight tends to trigger the release of chemicals that promote feeling better. Part of what makes this difficult is that depression makes you feel tired and unmotivated. Starting this will be difficult, but it is very effective.
• Spending time with friends and family: Depression often results in aversion toward spending time with others. It takes energy to engage others, while isolating is so much easier. The problem is that isolating tends to make things so much worse. Spending quality, low stress time with loved ones has a positive impact on mood. It’s difficult, but it works.
• Diet: Diet affects mood. While consuming comfort foods may be pleasant in the short term, poor diet can negatively impact mood. A poor diet can result in lower energy, which helps further drag you into depression. In addition, certain supplements can help improve mood. One example is fish oil, which studies have suggested can improve mood. This can be challenging because eating junk food can easily become a “go to” method of coping and it works in the short term. However, it can potentially have the opposite effect in the long term when insulin crashes after sugar binges deflate our good mood or with lowered energy levels as a result of poor nutrition. There are all sorts of books and websites devoted to eating habits and depression. Pursuing positive changes in eating habits are best undertaken with as much education as possible.
• Prayer and religious observance: Praying and engaging God over your feelings can be effective toward shifting mood. In addition, meditating over scripture and reading the Bible can help shift focus away from the sorts of thinking that perpetuates depression. In addition, keeping yourself in a frame of mind that is rooted in hope, based on God’s provision and plan, presents a more optimistic view of the future. Finally, religious observance in the form of serving others, loving your neighbor, and regular worship can impact mood and mental state in a positive way. Part of why this works is that it shifts attention away from self and toward others. This can help alleviate depression.
• Monitor thinking: There is a degree to which thinking effects brain chemistry. If you sit and think miserable thoughts, given enough time your brain will react by shifting toward depression. The opposite is also true. As a result, monitoring thoughts to ensure that you avoid dwelling on topics that can worsen the depression is a valuable habit to develop.
• Talking: Talking through depression can be helpful. There are a few reasons this is true. In the short term, talking about feelings can help with overcoming them. Further, it is not unusual for depression to be the result of past hurts that have been buried with the intent of forgetting them. The lasting effect of the undigested emotions can be depression, anger, or other unpleasant feelings. Talking through situations helps to digest the emotions attached.
This is by no means a definitive list. There are all sorts of other ways options for dealing with depression. Severe depression may require professional counseling or medication. As stated earlier, the beginning of dealing with the problem is making the decision to start dealing with it.