Self-Help for Depression

I received this handout at a program for Depression and Anxiety at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, and thought I’d share it in case any of these can help someone.

I know some of them seem trivial or easier said than done, and I totally get that. It’s so tough to find the energy or motivation to do anything when depression hits. Sharing anyway 🙂

  1. Know About Your Condition.
    What you know about your depression and anxiety has been shown to have an effect on how well you respond to treatment.
  2. Cut Down on Rumination.
    Do whatever you can to decrease the amount of rumination you are doing. Ruminating is when you “chew over” emotional issues in your mind without coming to any decision to act.
  3. Find Ways to Monitor & Assess Your Depressive Episodes.
    Depression & anxiety have us adopt all-or-nothing thinking, which is a unique and critical part of understanding each of these. The way depression & anxiety help us generate hopeless outcomes to our situations can make it almost impossible for us to see a way out.
  4. Lower Your Emotional Arousal Levels.
    Calming down emotions such as anxiety & anger lets your brain function more subtly & decreases the amount of negative thinking that you do. Along with getting proper rest, being able to relax is incredibly important.
  5. Get Exercise If You Can.
    If you can increase the amount of physical exercise that you get, it can be great self-help for depression. The results of the physical exertion will lift your depression, temporarily at least, in addition to the other benefits of exercise. *I would add to this that exercise might be a “loaded” idea, and that any movement at all, whether it’s walking down the hallway to your living room, or even just sitting up in bed can be movement that helps. If that’s where you are and that’s all you can manage then that counts too as far as I’m concerned.
  6. Do What You Enjoy.
    Do what you enjoy doing, even if you don’t particularly feel like it. Even try completing small tasks in the home (like tidying up or cleaning the bathroom) if you don’t feel like meeting up with other people. *As with the exercise/movement tip, I would say that any “little” thing helps. When feeling depressed, the teeniest, tiniest tasks can feel like climbing a mountain or running a marathon, so start small if that’s what you need. Very, very small. And then try again tomorrow.
  7. Maintain a Regular Sleep Pattern.
    Set a time to get up every morning, and get up. Try to spend 8-9 hours in bed and then get up… regardless.
  8. Eat a Nutritious Diet. *Honestly, if you can just regularly eat and it happens to be nourishing then great, but if you can just eat, that counts.
  9. Check That You Are Meeting Your Basic Emotional Needs.
    These basic emotional needs can include the following:
    A) The Need to Give & Receive Attention
    As depression & anxiety cause you to participate less & less in social occasions, this need can be affected. You may also find yourself talking more about your problems to friends and family, hoping to find a solution. While it’s good to talk out these problems, focusing on them too much may not produce satisfactory results.
    B) Taking Care of the Mind Body Connection
    This means looking after yourself, which includes eating regular, healthy meals, exercising appropriately, and getting enough rest and relaxation. Again, this need is often affected as depression & anxiety set in.
    C) The Need for Meaning, Purpose & Goals
    In the larger context, it is important that you have something to focus on the outside of yourself. When a person becomes depressed, their sole goal can become to “get rid of the depression”. They might say things like, “Once I’ve gotten rid of the depression, then I’ll do X, Y, or Z.” This is perfectly understandable, but can worsen the situation as the person focuses on the depression more and more, to the detriment of their wider life goals.
    D) The Need for a Connection to Something Bigger Than Ourselves
    People have been shown to be healthier generally when they feel committed to some cause, idea, or group that involves more than just their own well-being.
    E) The Need for Stimulation & Change
    The human brain seems to have an innate need to create, and to absorb new information. Without an external source, the imagination can turn to creating all sorts of unpleasant scenarios, often increasing anxiety, rumination, and worry, all bad things for depression. The experience of “being stretched,” or using skills to their maximum in a focused way, is also an essential part of a healthy mind.
    F) The Need for Intimacy & Connection
    We all need to feel that we are connected in some way to something or someone else. For some people, this can be fulfilled by a pet, but more often this needs to be another person or people. If a person cuts themselves off, this basic need can suffer.
    G) The Need for a Sense of Control
    This is a key need, and it obvious what happens when a person’s life is controlled by others. Of course, the place where we are used to having control is in our own body and mind. Depression removes some of this control, as you wonder what is happening to you.

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