How to beat depression without beating depression!

How to beat depression without beating depression!

by Dr Tim Sharp (aka Dr Happy) 

If, like me, you’ve ever struggled with depression, been bitten by the black dog or felt overwhelmed by the grey clouds of misery, then you’ll know that beating depression is far more difficult than pulling up your socks, just getting on with things, putting on a happy face or trialling any of the other facile suggestions that are often proffered!

Even when depression is approached with the best of intentions, and from the perspective of an evidence based approach, it can still be daunting and overwhelming and, at times, paralysing.

By definition, depression is associated with poorer problem solving, low levels of motivation and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. So tackling anything, even cooking and cleaning and getting up and out of bed, can be daunting; let alone tackling the most common form of mental ill-health that affects millions of people every day!

So what I’m suggesting, for your consideration, is that the best way to beat depression might be not trying to beat depression! Because it is, for many of us, just too much! 

But that doesn’t mean not doing anything; instead, there’s plenty I suggest you do or try. But rather than taking on the big and at times terrifying beast that’s depression, I invite you to think about the smaller parts, the signs and symptoms of depression, that might seem more easily overcome.

To what am I referring? Let’s look at some of the more common components (e.g. signs and symptoms) of depression and what you can try to do to reduce or eliminate them:

  • Low mood – not surprisingly, low mood is a central symptom of depression. But it can be directly targeted; by doing what you can to induce positive moods! It might be easier said than done but try listening to your favourite music, watching a comedic film or TV show, talking to a funny friend or even just scrolling through Google or YouTube looking for anything that might brighten your day!
  • Insomnia – poor sleep is an often ignored component of depression and sleeping poorly can be damn depressing! So addressing this is important and the good news is that addressing insomnia is very possible! Make sure you have a good sleep routine, with a relaxing, wind down period 60-90 minutes before light’s out time, and utilise relaxation strategies to calm both your body and mind. Address negative, worrying thoughts and plan out your tomorrows so you can minimise anxiety and arousal which clearly, do not assist with sleeping well
  • Low energy – when you’re feeling like your battery’s running (or already run) flat, it’s hard to do much at all; but the flip side of this is that when you do do something, you gain more energy. Activity creates motivation which contributes to achievement which is energising. So tackle this part of depression with activity and exercise. You may well need to start small and slow; but that’s fine. Even if it’s a gentle walk around the block, start where ever you can with what ever you have…and then build gradually from there.
  • Anhedonia (loss of pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyable) – along the same lines as the previous point, the best way to combat this soul-destroying symptom is with the exact opposite of what it is. Just as exercise boosts energy, so too can pleasurable experiences counteract a lack of pleasure. It might take time, but if you persevere you can get back to a life in which you enjoy what you used to enjoy and take pleasure in social and recreational activities. So schedule in to your life, each and every day, at least one pleasurable and fun activity and take note of how you feel during and just after these moments
  • Hopelessness – challenging this burdensome beast is indubitably difficult, but essential; because without hope all else becomes even harder. But it is very much possible; and it involves a strategy similar to that described above. Create hope by planning positive and meaningful events in the future. Having something to look forward to is vitally important; having a reason to get up and out of bed is enormously motivating. So again, make plans to engage in satisfying activities; anything that’s important to you and ideally, that involves other people with whom you feel good. Which leads on to the next point…
  • Loneliness and social isolation – a common feature of depression is withdrawal; but withdrawal from others is depressing. So it’s important to break this vicious cycle before it takes us further down in to the depths of despair during which all the other signs and symptoms seem even worse. So choose a few good friends, you know the ones who pick you up and make you feel better, and make an effort to meet with and talk to them as often as you can
  • Stress and anxiety – although a separate “disorder”, anxiety frequently overlaps or “co-occurs” with depression; so taking on this nasty neighbour is well worth some of your time. Quite simply, the two most useful strategies for managing anxiety are (1) relaxation or meditation or mindfulness, and (2) de-catastrophising or keeping worrying thoughts in perspective. Said another way, learn how to calm your mind and relax your body AS WELL AS how to ask yourself crucial questions such as “Is it really that bad?”, “What’s the worst that will happen?”, “What are the chances anything bad will really happen?” and “What can I do about this?”

So there you have it; a slightly different approach. Rather than trying to beat depression, try instead to beat insomnia, low mood, anhedonia and the other component parts…step by step. That way, things might seem more manageable.

And finally, it goes without saying that if your depression is moderate to severe, or if for any reason you’re struggling to manage on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Talk to a friend and/or visit your local GP and/or find a good clinical psychologist. There are people out there, friends and professionals, who’re ready and willing to help…all you have to do is ask.