Firstly, I would like to add a big disclaimer...
*There is nothing wrong with taking antidepressants and for many people, they really do give them boost in the right direction. Perhaps the support to be able to engage in lifestyle and psychological strategies that help (like the ones below), an ease of suicidal thoughts and an overall enhanced sense of wellbeing. Some people just wouldn't want to think of life without them and for other's it's a temporary thing to help them through a season. This is wonderful and I fully support each and everyone's individual journey.*
I have written this though, as many of my clients are hesitant about taking antidepressants. Perhaps fear of side effects (such as weight gain, loss of libido or emotional numbness, all of which are indeed possible and off which are also symptoms of depression!), fear that it will be hard to come off them and just a general desire to do things naturally.
If that's you, here are my tips! And if you're taking antidepressants, read these tips too, as they help your medication work even better ;)
1. Increase participation in activities that would usually be enjoyable.
So difficult I know.
When depressed, people dont FEEL like doing much and previously enjoyed activities don't provide much joy. However, it is important to keep engaging with them even more, to help the brain to experience natural releases of positive hormones, such as serotonin or dopamine.
The actions of the activity need to keep happening, before the feelings will follow. With depression, the less people do, the worse they feel. So, there does need to an attempt at going through the motions of the action and the feelings will follow.
2. Keep things simple
If you can't go for a walk, the focus might need to be on just having a shower or just stepping outside for 5 minutes.
3. Set a small goal each day, e.g. getting dressed and having a shower, or eating breakfast
Set a reminder on your phone, write on a note next to your bedside table or ask a loved one to gently remind you each day.
4. Talk to someone who you feel well supported by
You might need to pick your audience here. Don't speak to a loved one, if you they have never provided you with a validating support previously. Looking in the wrong door for support, is likely to make you feel worse. So, do reflect and think about who that one person could be that could be an ear or just someone who might sit with you and have no expectation of you right now.
Not all of us have this option. Don't be afraid to use wonderful resources, such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or their text service on 0477 131 114. They also have a chat service available, if you don't want to talk out loud.
Also, Beyond Blue offer online forums with people from the community experiencing mental health issues, which can be good way to obtain peer support.
5. Self Help Online programs are a good option, if you can't afford therapy, such as https://thiswayup.org.au/. These offer evidence based therapy, in a self paced way and at an affordable price.
Can also be a good option while you're waiting to see a psychologist.
6. Regular exercise!
Boring, but true! This can be difficult to achieve, when people are very depressed. But as in point 1, keep it simple, like stretches, walking around the block or standing outside in the sun, if you can't summon up the energy for a walk or getting to the gym.
7. Vitamin D
Get in the sun for 20 minutes each day or try light therapy in the Winter. Light therapy lamps are a thing and have good evidence to improve mood.
And make sure you take a vitamin D supplement all through the winter months.
8. Eat as well as possible
Don't skip meals. Skipping meals increases cortisol (ie. you will feel more stressed), which will lead to more amotivation, lack of interest and illogical thinking. Eat small amounts regularly, if appetite is low.
Ideally, eat as balanced a diet as possible e.g. protein, iron rich, carbs and fruit and veges. Again, tricky, when depressed, but regular, nutritious food is an ABSOLUTE KEY for our brains to release all those wonderful chemicals (e.g. serotonin, dopamine) they need to feel good.
Sarah Purvey is the founder and director of Eastern Shore Psychology, in Hobart, Tasmania. Sarah predominantly supports those with PTSD, workers compensation matters and parents during the perinatal period and well beyond. Sarah also enjoys supporting psychologists to have rewarding and long psychology careers.