Healthy Ways to Cope with Depression
The D word -Depression
At the outset, Healthy Ways to Cope with Depression is my way of reaching out to all those suffering people who are clueless about how to tackle it. If you are suffering from depression, then you should know how to beat the blues. I am sharing most of the things I do to beat them; I suffer from chronic depression and I am facing it as best as I can single-handedly. Certainly, a very sensitive and taboo topic in India, depression is swept under the carpet. Even highly educated and affluent families would rather hide it like a skeleton in the cupboard rather than seek help. Regardless, depression per se is a difficult thing to deal with, but it is not impossible to overcome.
To continue, I do not know why there is shame and stigma attached to it when research says, one in every four people suffers from anxiety and depression. I see people around me in anguish, and their families feel ashamed about it, which is so sad. Actually, a depressed person needs support and understanding.
Peace comes from within
Gautama Buddha or Siddhartha, as his parents named him, saw an old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and other sufferings, and in a small period became deeply depressed by these sights. He left home at age 29 and began his journey to seek answers to suffering. At 35, he attained Enlightenment and became known as Buddha, after 49 days of meditating under the Bodhi tree. Thus, one of the world’s greatest antidotes to the suffering of depression was born. Empathy and the truth about suffering were his major antidotes to depression and misery—antidotes for himself and for others.
Although we have this great legacy of Gautama Buddha, most Indians do not understand the word empathy, although we are quick with our sympathy. Is it too difficult to put yourself in the shoes of another person and feel what they are going through?
Kudos to Deepika Padukone
My kudos to Deepika Padukone(a famous Bollywood actress), for coming out of the ‘closet ‘and going public with her illness. I am no fan of her acting prowess, but I admire her guts; believe me, it’s difficult and I hats off to her for venting her heart out openly. Yes, many sceptics think it is all a publicity stunt and someone like Deepika who has everything going for her is depressed!
But hey you ignoramuses, depression can affect anyone. It doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the poor. And yes, she has got over it coz her mom understood her and she got timely medical help. She is just trying to raise consciousness about an issue to which many of us are oblivious and I really wish I could start a campaign. Even if it helps a couple of people, am sure it would be worth it. More power to you Deepika! On the whole, she has managed to inspire more people to come out and seek the help they need and deserve.
Depression is an Illness |Healthy Ways to Cope with Depression
Our culture gives much importance to willpower and mental toughness (especially in men, who are not allowed to shed a tear) and is quick to label anyone who falls back as a spineless whiner. But people who have clinical depression are not sluggish or simply feeling sorry for themselves. We cannot wish away depression. It is an illness like we have a fever that affects our body. We relate it to changes in the brain. Like other illnesses, treat it as well and it improves with proper treatment. Depression, unfortunately, is taken lightly because we do not consider it a serious condition because of a lack of awareness. Depression is real and it can ruin one’s life and, even worse… kill.
What is depression and how does a person feel?
Depression is of two types-mainly situational and clinical. Failure is an enormous factor for a situational type of depression, whether it is a game of sport, education, work or loss in the game of love. Failure makes you feel helpless and lose faith in yourself, everybody, and everything. It allows the negative thoughts to take over and to believe that things will never get better, no matter how hard you try, nothing seems to change. It sucks you right back down into a vortex of gloominess and pessimism. But you should not see this as the end of the road. A few simple changes can get you back on track and on your way to feeling better again.
The villain in most cases is the rat race and the ravenous greed for material comforts and competition at school or at work have become difficult to handle and result in a brief or long spell of depression. The institution of marriage has also transformed a lot and instead of being a support system, is now becoming a cause for breaking people down, mentally.
Many new moms experience the “baby blues” after childbirth. I suffer from chronic depression myself, which initially started off as postpartum depression after my son was born and it took me a long while to speak about it but once I did, it has been therapeutic. Postpartum depression or any kind of depression can affect any mom; rich or poor, young or old, fat or thin, beautiful or ugly, healthy or not. Sometimes it’s just a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, get treatment as it can help you manage your depression and let you enjoy your motherhood. I was extremely underweight when I conceived and had a traumatic C-section. But the silver lining was that my baby was very healthy and beautiful and warmed the cockles of my heart.
New Moms Are Depressed
Temporary postpartum depression normally includes mood swings and crying spells that fade quickly. But some new moms like me, experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, a severe form of postpartum depression known as postpartum psychosis can develop after childbirth.
Symptoms of depression after childbirth may vary, depending on the type of depression. In Postpartum depression, the signs and symptoms are stronger and longer-lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily chores, which seemed quite simple before.
I gave birth to my son thirty years ago, when there were no Google or handy books to get info about anything, leave alone, depression. I just turned 20, was clueless about all the new changes and found it very difficult to cope with the thought that an optimistic and gregarious, cheerful person like me could become this pessimistic, introverted, weepy, weak and scared person, I had turned into. Nobody in my family or friends had any clue what was ailing me. I shunned company and any outside contact. Prayers helped a bit, but I had no medical help or counselling and this continued for a painful six months, after which I started the slow journey back to normalcy.
This period was traumatic; relating childbirth to my condition, I shunned the thought of having another baby, but as they say, time is the best healer and I had a daughter after 5 years. This time, I thought I was prepared for any eventuality and had a comfortable C-section. All was well for the first 15 days and then the depression monster rammed into me with full force. I was back to square one; So much for the bravado of being ready and armed. But thanks to my well-read brother, I got medical help this time and enough support from my husband, resulting in a faster recovery. If you leave it untreated, postpartum depression may last for months.
This depression became chronic in the following years and my doc said it was because of a chemical imbalance during my first delivery. He gave me medication that I have been taking for almost 25 years and it works (I am on steroids, so I put on weight, but still it is a small price to pay to be free of depression). Depression is a treatable condition. The sooner you get help, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy your baby.
Postpartum depression may appear at first like you are incompetent as a new mom, but gradually you the symptoms will become stronger and even mundane tasks for the baby will appear like a huge hurdle.
Depression symptoms may include:
- Severe mood swings
- Frequent headaches, cramps, digestive problems
- Devastating fatigue
- Shying away from family and friends
- Thoughts of self-harm
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- No appetite
- Extreme irritability and anger
- Loss of interest in sex
- Lack of joy in life
- Feelings of shame, guilt, worthlessness, and being scared
Anyway, my main purpose in writing this is to make people realize that it can hit anybody any time. Do not despair because if you are aware and well-armed with support from your family and friends and medical help, you can fight it off and emerge victorious. I first spoke about it openly during a workshop my Bookwormz girl pals conducted on Louis L Hay’s Heal Your Life- http://www.louisehay.com/affirmations/ (try it, it works)
Here are a few tips that will help you get out of your gloomy mood and embrace life once again.
- The first step towards recovery is acceptance: Accept that you are depressed and only then will you be able to take the arduous path to recovery. So take this positive step first. Denial is the most detrimental and common problem. People are not ready to accept they have depression and need help.
- Second, seek help from those around you, either friends or family members. You need a support group, so share with them what you are going through, and ask for their help. Simultaneously, do not forget to seek help from a professional psychiatrist as well, to help you out of your depression. In India, depressed people are akin to the mad and so most people with their inane misconceptions avoid approaching a medical professional. So don’t waste time. If you think you need help, contact a psychiatrist at the earliest.
- Avoid mulling over things: Understand that success and failure are normal parts of life, and you need to learn to take them in your stride. After any failure, do not keep pondering about it continuously. Try to divert your mind to other things in your life and learn to move on. Remember, failure is the stepping stone to success.
- Set small goals for yourself to get back your confidence. Don’t lose the spirit to bounce back. These goals should be simple and achievable in the short term. For example, you would take a shower first thing in the morning. When you achieve this small task, you get a feeling of confidence and then set another goal, and so on.
- Set a routine and stick to it. If you are fighting depression, try to get into a routine. I have learned that it helps to erase negative thoughts from the mind and instils a sense of purpose.
6. Firstly, a healthy diet: You may have lost your appetite because of depression, but then do not skip meals or go to the other extreme of binge eating. A healthy body results naturally in a healthy mind. Although there is no specific diet that works for depression per se, a healthy diet can be part of the overall treatment. Eat healthy with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to improve your physical and emotional health. Choose foods that ease your mood, like bananas or chocolate.
7. Research says that omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 may ease the mood changes that are part of depression. For instance, fatty fish such as salmon and low-fat dairy products contain omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarians can take flaxseed, nuts, soybeans, dark green vegetables, cereals and, of course, supplements. My doc says that Serotonin,(maybe my bête noire ) a brain chemical that enhances the sense of well-being becomes less and that may lead to a bout of a panic attack. I munch on light carbs like mashed potatoes, radish, carrot, popcorn, fruit, and whole grains that provide fibre and help create serotonin.
8. Get adequate sleep- Inadequate sleep and oversleeping are both symptoms of depression. Nevertheless, avoid both extremes and get into a regular pattern of sleep. Remember, it is not the number of hours you sleep, but the quality of sleep that counts. Subsequently, some people with depression sleep a lot (as an escape from reality) while most find it difficult to sleep. Once you are on the road to recovery from depression, follow good sleep habits. Set a routine by sleeping at a fixed time and waking up at the same time every morning. Try relaxation techniques to help fall asleep. A night of good sleep will make you feel better physically and mentally.
9. Medical research claims that exercise is a powerful weapon to fight mild or moderate depression, is said to release endorphins which are mood elevators. Exercise helps in inducing good sleep, boost energy and even self-esteem. It doesn’t have to be Zumba dancing classes or a high-powered workout in a gym; it could be anything from simple household work or a walk in the park to start with. This Yoga Nidra below works great for me. Just lie in bed and follow the instructions, which will calm you down and lull you to sleep.
10. A social support network can be a very helpful tool to overcome this depression. It could be your own friend circle or even an online support group. Joining a book club (like I did) or taking classes at your neighbourhood NGO can help you connect with people on a regular basis. Likewise, staying connected with other people helps overcome the sluggishness, fatigue, and loneliness of depression to help you stay on track!
11. Hobbies would help you feel positive about life and yourself. Explore any avenue you like to explore your feelings and express what’s on your mind. Being creative can help you feel better. However, you do not have to become a Picasso or a Shakespeare, but just do something that gives you pleasure. Abraham Lincoln, like other famous people like Winston Churchill and Mark Twain, who suffered from depression, used humour as an antidote to depression. Lincoln related jokes and funny stories to lift his spirits. Famous people found their own effective antidotes to their depression; like humour, writing, dancing, painting, work, exercise, emotional and loving relationships, compassion, courage, friend and family support, relaxation and travel, and metamorphic thinking and wisdom. Mine is writing, gardening, and cooking and my best therapy is my grandsons.
Keep a Journal
12. Stress and panic can increase your symptoms and make it really difficult to recover. Control the best way to come out of a panic attack by breathing. Agreed, it is not easy, but if you try it with a family member or a close friend who could instruct you to breathe in and out for a few minutes, the anxious feeling could pass. Learning to relax can help restore your frayed nerves to calmness. You might consider a yoga or meditation class; like I do.
13. Don’t shut off people who love you. If you let them in, they will only help you feel better. Call a friend and go for coffee or watch a movie together. Talking about your depression actually makes you feel better. Also, express yourself and your feelings and spew out all your frustration. A patient ear could be your pill to recovery. A depressed person just needs someone who can listen and is not seeking advice. Positive support can help you get rid of the negative thoughts that have made a home in your mind
14. Medication is necessary if the depression is long-term or clinical; because antidepressants affect the levels of brain chemicals, such as serotonin. They take a few weeks to take effect and do keep regular appointments with your doctor, who will keep evaluating you and adjust the dosage according to your recovery. Do not lose hope if one medicine doesn’t work, as there are many options these days. Surely, the combination of therapy and medication will surely yield results.
Although recurrence is a possibility, following the treatment you’ve chosen and tuning your lifestyle to stay as healthy as possible would fortify your mind.
Recently, German wings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who reportedly crashed a plane into the French Alps killing 150 people last week, was suffering from depression. Creating greater awareness about the disorder is the need of the hour and it is time to wake up and face reality.
Every Dark Night Has a New Dawn
And for all you normal people out there, please respond positively to pleas for help from a family member or friends. Do not ignore a frantic message or call for help or even a melancholic or fatalistic status on a social networking site. DO NOT ignore these frantic cries for help; just be there for them as you could be saving a life or lives!
Call for Help!
A couple of years ago, I sent out a message for help on WhatsApp and no one responded. I would have killed myself hadn’t it been for my guardian angel friend, who lives far away and just called out of the blue. She just heard my voice and asked me to come to her city for therapy. I was clutching at straws and this straw helped me from drowning. I went to Mumbai, lived in Moushmi, my friend’s house, took the Axis Bars Therapy and I was fine and back home in ten days! Yes, she saved my life. You can too if you respond to pleas for help.
Subsequently, if you are suffering from depression and want to beat the blues, do ping me anytime and I will be there for you. I am quite a good counsellor and could help you get out of this miserable feeling. Finally, it is up to you. Choose between Hope and despair.
If you want to read a bit more of my postpartum experience, click here.
I bet you never knew that toddlers also go through anxiety. If you are interested to know, read Arushi’s Six Tips to Handle Anxiety in Toddlers.