As I’ve been reading more on depression, I’ve bumped into several articles that share information for managing depression. Having been through a major depressive episode and as I’m continuing to attend a men’s support group for anxiety and depression, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about managing my mental health.
First of all, everybody’s management looks different. Everybody can have their own plan, and certain options may work better for some than for others. However, no matter what the plan is, I strongly advocate that it is a plan that includes several pieces. I do not believe there is one fix for anybody’s depression. Here are some of the pieces I believe you may want to include in your plan:
(Please note: I am not a doctor and am not advocating for or against medications. These are simply my thoughts.) Yes, this can be a controversial piece. Medications may work for some, and they may not be needed by others. However, I believe strongly that if you are taking medications, you should understand why you are being prescribed a medication and what it is meant to do for you. I feel this should ideally be a conversation with your psychiatrist and not simply a doctor dictating what you will be taking. You should ask questions and gain as much information as possible. I have been shocked to meet some people who have a long list of medications they are taking and have no idea what some of the medications on their list are for.
2. A psychologist.
Seek out a psychologist for talk therapy. Don’t give up on talk therapy if you have a bad first experience. In my experience, it is well worth “shopping around” to find a therapist with whom you “click.” It’s important to find a therapist who you trust. I’ve found a great deal of research supports the benefit of talk therapy.
There have been many studies that show exercise is critical for our mental health. If necessary, start small. Go for a walk a few days a week outside. Speed up your walk when you’re able to. If and when possible, begin to increase the rigor or amount of times throughout the week you exercise. Eventually, exercising (at a fairly rigorous level) at least three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes would be ideal. It was through my recovery that I began yoga. I also exercised on an elliptical, as we are lucky enough to have one in our basement.
4. A support network.
Do what you can to build your support network. Before I began a partial hospitalization program for my major depressive disorder, I invited two of my closest friends to my house to share my plan with them. I asked them to support me. They did not know how to support me. I think it is common for people to want to provide support, yet they often may not know how. Offering suggestions to them could be helpful. I asked my friends to send me positive text messages and to invite me out for coffee or breakfast now and then, and to not allow excuses from me. It can be easy to isolate oneself when going through depression, yet this can be detrimental to recovery. Another step I took prior to entering the program was joining a men’s anxiety and depression support group. This has been hugely helpful for me, and although I have been mentally healthy for over two years, I still attend the group on a regular basis. I believe the narrower the topic of the group, the better, as it can be easier to relate to one another.
Don’t give up on hobbies that you have, and try a new hobby. I was very skeptical of “arts and crafts” time at the partial hospitalization program. However, out of that, I began to draw pictures with pastels. I found out I could actually make some fairly decent pictures. My kids enjoyed what I made (we actually framed and hung some at my house), and they loved joining me and making their own. I also started playing the guitar. Hobbies can often become a “mindfulness” activity, an activity in which you focus exclusively on what you are doing, remain focused on it, and eliminate other thoughts. For me, they were quite meditative and soothing.
6. Get out and into nature.
It can be very difficult to leave one’s home when depressed. However, getting out can be very helpful. Check out an arboretum, visit the zoo, walk along a river, visit a park. The fresh air and nature can be powerful. When quite depressed, I bundled up and took a walk around the block when it was 30 below zero outside. The fresh air was invigorating. I also was invited by a friend to hike near a frozen river and take pictures (photography is another hobby of mine).
Many of the men in the support group I attend journal on a regular basis. Everybody seems to have their own method of journaling, yet all seem very therapeutic. I began to journal the night before I started the partial hospitalization program. I journaled every night. In my case, I liked ending each journal entry with, “Today, in order to work towards my recovery, I…” I would create a list. Sometimes the list was very short and very simplistic. For example, one entry included only one item: “I attended the partial hospitalization program.” Other entries included, “I texted one of the persons who I have identified as a person of support,” or “I played a card game with my children.” It helped me to recognize I was actively working towards recovery. On a good evening, I may have been able to include six or eight statements of how I was working towards recovery. If you suggest this to a male friend/relative who is dealing with depression, I would suggest trying the term ”journal” rather than “diary.”
8. Mindfulness and/or meditation.
Some people believe strongly that meditation can help manage depression. I believe that the two are interrelated. Meditation is often sitting and attempting to calm your mind and to let thoughts pass through, without focusing on them. I found this to be very difficult during my depression, as I had millions of thoughts racing through my head. However, as I began to recover, it was very helpful. There are quite a few books and resources for meditation, specifically for supporting one’s way through depression.
While mediation is focusing on clearing the mind, mindfulness is exclusively focusing deeply on one thing you are doing. If you are washing the dishes, for example, you focus exclusively on washing the dishes. You notice the feelings of the warm water over your hands, the sound of the water hitting the bottom of the basin, etc. Both of these strategies can help to suppress mind-wandering, which can often stray to negative thoughts and may lead to ruminations. Simple activities such as working on puzzles can be an enjoyable way to practice mindfulness.
Try to stay connected with friends. When dealing with mental illness, be sure to stay connected with friends and family in other ways. Push yourself to meet with a friend for coffee or a meal. Invite a close friend to your house or, better yet, get out of your place and visit them at theirs. The idea is to not let yourself isolate.
I believe there are many pieces to getting and staying mentally fit. Everybody’s “plan” can look different. What helps one person may not be as helpful to another person. Find what works best for you. Do not rely on just one or two strategies. The more strategies you can pull into your plan, the better. Good luck!
I encourage people to reply to this blog and share what works for them! Thank you!
Editor’s note: This is based on one person’s experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a doctor or medical professional for any questions or concerns you have.
Image via Thinkstock.
A version of this post originally appeared on Al’s mental health blog.
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