Depression is one of the biggest mental health concerns currently facing Australians. It is estimated that one in seven Aussies will experience some form of it in their lifetime*.
With that statistic in mind I thought I would share some coping and management strategies for anyone who may currently be living with depression. These strategies are general in nature, it's important that you do what's best for you. But... whatever you do, or don’t do, with the information below I implore you NOT to go it alone! Depression isn’t something to be ashamed about or embarrassed by. It is something many people can relate to. Whatever your story you are never alone. Don’t let the depression convince you that you are.
This week I am thrilled to have two contributing professionals … the lovely Belinda (Nutritionist and Naturopath) from Belinda Byrnes Nutrition offering information around diet and mental health and the lovely Erin (Personal Trainer) from Restoring Fitness who will chat all things exercise and mental health. I’m so grateful for their contributions because, as we well know, depression runs deeper than just our thoughts and our feelings. Recovery from depression involves the whole person.
This article is quite lengthy but its jam packed with useful information so it’s well worth a read. Grab a cuppa and settle in. Take some guilt free time for yourself!
Ok, let’s get into it.
Get some sunlight
One of the fastest ways to feel more alive is to get some sun. Warm sunlight on your face and body does wonders for mental health. Whether it’s filtered sunlight through a window or unfiltered sunlight from being in the great outdoors, you will feel relaxed and happier after getting some sunshine. Not only this, sunlight boosts our serotonin levels – the ‘happy’ chemical that is connected to mood, happiness and well being. Staying in a dark room, like a bedroom, will only compound feelings of depression.
Make an appointment with a GP
If you are struggling with depression it’s a good idea to speak to your trusted GP who will be able to consider all facets of your health and well being. They can look at any possible underlying medical explanations for depressive symptoms and suggest supports for you going forward. If you don’t feel satisfied with your GP’s help, always get a second opinion.
Make time for things you enjoy, every day
When living with depression thinking about having fun and doing things that are enjoyable is probably the last thing on your mind. However, during bouts of depression having fun and seeking out enjoyment is one of the most important things to do. It might be cranking up your favourite music, taking the dog for a walk, looking at photos, catching up with your best friend, having pizza and watching a movie, dancing around your house or going to a yoga class… anything that makes you smile! Forcing yourself to have fun will seem like a huge pain but it’s important to think about how you will feel during and after the ‘action taking’. Shifting perspective is key.
Look at your diet
The below information has been provided by Belinda from Belinda Byrnes Nutrition. It is not intended to be medical advice or to address individual health concerns or conditions. Please take your own circumstances into consideration and consult with a professional for individualised advice where appropriate.
From a nutritional and naturopathic perspective, a major factor in depression and anxiety is neuro-inflammation and therefore management needs to involve reducing systemic inflammation in the body and in the brain.
Dietary factors that can contribute to this inflammation include;
- Consuming a diet high in refined sugar, white flour, vegetable oils and deep fried foods
- Excessive amounts of alcohol
- Food sensitivities (when those foods aren’t removed from the diet). Removing any foods that you’re sensitive to is also important because your body will continually have an inflammatory response to these foods every time you consume them.
Foods that help to decrease inflammation are;
- Dark leafy greens
- Good fats like walnuts, almonds and seeds
- Salmon and sardines
- Avocado and olive oil
- Fresh herbs, spices and fruit
- Grass-fed meats which contain up to seven times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids when compared to conventionally produced and processed meats which contain almost none
Not only does this type of diet decrease inflammation, it’s also the type of diet that the good bacteria in the gut thrive on. An imbalance of bacteria in the gut is a major driver for systemic inflammation and therefore it’s an important factor in managing depression and anxiety.
Additionally, certain supplements have been shown to be effective in the management of depression and anxiety including;
- Good quality broad spectrum probiotics
- Bioavailable curcumin
There’s also an abundance of herbs that can be used to soothe the nervous system, help the body adapt to stress and improve sleep quality. These include;
- St John’s Wort
Try to maintain consistent sleep and wake times
Our bodies crave routine, particularly when it comes to sleep. Ensuring you go to bed at a decent hour and that you wake at much the same time each day will help your body clock reset itself. You need to work with your body clock, not against it. This is ‘sleep hygiene’ 101. Remember also that your body takes cues from its environment so getting enough light in the morning is important for waking up and reducing exposure to excessive light late at night will help you start to feel tired. It’s important also to try and shift those bad habits built up over years and years… using alcohol to get to sleep, tapping on the phone for an hour before bed time... you know the ones! A few simple lifestyle changes can really make a difference to the quality of sleep you get.
Give the depression a name
I bet that concept makes you laugh, or think of me as totally stupid! Yes? Well, truth be told this strategy would have to be up there with one of the most successful strategies my clients use. By naming the depression you create space between ‘it’ and ‘you’. You effectively separate the person from the problem which is crucial to mental health. Creating space allows for more objectivity and less subjectivity. If you think you are depression and depression is you… if the identities merge… you are often left feeling hopeless. Remember that depression is not YOU – it is a mental health condition that is currently having an influence over you. It can be stopped. You CAN recover from it.
Focus on the good
No matter how tough it may seem there is usually at least ONE good thing that we can take from each day of our lives. Maybe it’s as simple as having food on the table or having made a phone to call our friends. Maybe today it’s that you got out of bed and had a shower. Or that you managed to complete a difficult task at work. Whatever it is focus on it deliberately. There’s a saying I like to use with my clients…. “Where focus goes, energy flows”, from the amazing Tony Robbins. There is so much truth to this statement. Positive energy flows when we FOCUS on the positive!
The below information has been provided by Erin Castle of Restoring Fitness. It is not intended to be medical advice or to address individual health concerns or conditions. Please take your own circumstances into consideration and consult with a professional for individualised advice where appropriate.
Most of my career has involved working with Doctors, Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, Podiatrists and Naturopaths. During my time as a trainer I have studied Certificate III and Certificate IV in Fitness as well as Nutrition. I’ve run bootcamps, senior fitness classes, challenge classes, aqua classes and personal training sessions.
In May 2018, I developed a medical condition called CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome). It is a chronic nerve related condition which interferes with the Central Nervous System resulting in extreme pain messages being sent to the limb involved. Most people never recover from this so I am extremely grateful that I saw the right Doctors at the right time and I have been told that I will make a full recovery!
Throughout the process, even in a moon boot and with crutches, I was in the gym. It wasn’t easy but nothing worth having ever is. There were many tears, but also moments of complete joy when I could return to an exercise I hadn’t been able to do in a long time.
During this time, I was also dealing with the breakdown of my marriage of 19 years, as well as a lot of stress stemming from a business that my ex-husband and I were directors of. You can imagine the effect that all of this had on my mental health. It is important that I share this story, as it will give you a better understanding of the trainer that I am.
Pre-injury I did the weight loss/challenge style training. I ran, did Tough Mudder, Stadium Stomp, etc, and ran myself into the ground trying to balance it all with life in general.
Post injury I have learnt that life is about balance. It’s about making time to rest, scheduling in your training, and saying NO where necessary. It is so important to move your body every day, but that doesn’t just mean hitting the weights. It means having a great training plan, going for a walk or a swim, playing in the park with the kids, eating for nutrition not fad diets and having positive self talk. The body and the mind are so connected!
I can honestly say that if I wasn’t able to exercise, I don’t think I would have made it through to be the warrior I am today. I have never felt so sure of anything in my life! Research has shown time and time again, that the endorphin release from exercise is far superior to that associated with any drug.
As a trainer, I understand that everyone has a story. Every one of us DESERVES a body that serves us well. I would be honoured to show you how exercise can help manage depression.
Set limits on your negative thoughts and worrying
Whether you experience worry, negative thoughts, or both its important to set yourself limits. Allow yourself time to acknowledge them but give yourself a limit. It might sound ridiculous but saying something like this might help… “Ok, I’m going to let this stuff in for 10 minutes then I’m getting up and moving on”. By giving these thoughts and worries less attention their power and ability to upset you is taken away.
Here are a few other things you might like to try:
- A worry diary – write them down then close the book!
- Recognising ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts should be replaced with helpful thoughts IMMEDIATELY. Destroy them with logic and truth as they are appear. This is when they are weakest.
- Answering your own “What if?” If you’re a worrier, answer your question with logic. If you can’t manage this ask someone to answer them with you. A lot of worry is about things that have never, or will never, happen.
Above all else, and no matter how hard life seems, try and hold onto hope. Hold On Pain Ends. With the right supports around you it is possible to recover from depression. You may not see it right now but life can get better. The people closest to you can play an important part in your recovery so try to reach out to them, they can only help you when they know you need and want help. It can be hard to take this brave step but not taking it and continuing to struggle in silence is much harder.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that you’ve found some useful takeaways to help with managing your depression. Don’t forget you can also share this article with loved ones using the links further down the page.
If you'd like to reach out to Belinda for help with nutrition you can reach her via her website or Instagram or if you'd like to reach out to Erin (who happens to be my bootcamp trainer!) you can reach her via Facebook.
As a supplement to this article you may also enjoy reading my articles Living With Anxiety...Coping Strategies To Help You Thrive and 15 Ways To Improve Your Sleep... Tonight!
And, as always, please remember I am here for you. When it comes to depression NO ONE should go it alone. My services are available locally in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales and online for women around Australia. You can learn more about them here. If you feel you need to, please reach out to me here. x
Until next week…
Yours in better mental health,
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Erica has a passion for Women’s Health. She works with women who want to be heard, supported and empowered! Erica is a survivor of many life experiences. A Mum. A travel lover. A green thumb in training and an eternal optimist!