Depression may be emotional and spiritual, but it is also practical and physical. ~From When I Should Feel Joy #5
In my series When I Should Feel Joy, I tell of my heart-level experience with and transformation through depression. But depression is not just spiritual. So in this post, I want to offer hope and practical advice for people wanting to prevent or cope with depression. If you know someone who is struggling and you want to help, you may find this list helpful. I think through many of these items on a regular basis, even now.
Though I have checked with professionals to be sure I’m not suggesting anything harmful, *this is NOT advice from a doctor or psychologist. It is simply what I would say if we had a chance to sit down and talk, friend to friend. If you want to pass this information along to others, you are welcome to send them a link to this post or walk them through it.
- Name it: Depression. Naming it is the first step in grabbing ahold of it rather than letting it hold and drag you around. If you acknowledge you are feeling or beginning to feel depressed, you can do things to adjust thought patterns and work to create a safe and stable environment for you and your family. But don’t stop here. Conquer the fear in depression by taking steps toward getting back to your life.
- Talk about it. You, your doctor and people in close relationship with you need to take your mental state seriously so you can work together to create and execute a plan (which may include antidepressants, counseling, etc.). Tell them and let them know you need help. Your spouse or others close to you may be struggling too, so working together is vitally important. Think and pray through these things with someone you trust, then take action.
- Assess and adjust for your sleep needs. How much sleep are you getting? Too much or too little sleep can affect your mental health. If you are sleeping more than usual, it’s time to get out of bed and get dressed. Come up with an incentive or goal that gets you out of bed. If you are sleeping less than usual, what steals your sleep? Is it something you have control over? If so, what can you do to keep from robbing yourself of sleep? If not, is there something others could do to share the nighttime responsibilities or give you a chance to nap during the day? Do you have a friend you can regularly swap kids with? Can you afford a sitter for 3 hours a couple of times a week? Does your doctor suggest sleep meds?
- Assess and adjust your food intake. Are you eating a variety of healthy foods? Are you eating enough? If you go to food for comfort, what alternatives can you opt for when you really want that sugary carbohydrate? I know from experience that they might be helpful in the moment but eating too much of them can do serious harm to your long-term physical and mental health.
- Identify and plan for overwhelming factors. When did you feel overwhelmed in the last few days? What was going on during those times? What sensory stimuli were you experiencing in that moment (sight/taste/smell/touch/sound)? What changes can you make or what help can you ask for in order to avoid or cope with these emotional and sensory stimuli that make you feel overwhelmed?
- Identify and plan for current stressors. How are your relationships? Do you feel disconnected with your spouse? Are there situations in your life that you are dreading or anxiously awaiting? Do you avoid thinking about a situation or person for some reason? Is there someone in your life (trusted advisor, spiritual director, counselor, pastor, etc.) you would be willing to talk to about these things?
- Identify and utilize your stress-relievers. What inspires you or reminds you of a deeper truth than you feel in the moment? What do you enjoy doing? How do you like to exercise? Find time every day or so to work on something you enjoy. What time of day could you do that without neglecting kids? If sensory stimuli overwhelm you, fight back with positive sensory stimuli. What do you enjoy looking at, smelling, touching and listening to? (The feel of a basketball, music with a strong and deep beat, a hot bath, sugar scrub for your hands and body, etc.) Perhaps you could put inspiring scripture or quotes up in strategic places with sticky notes. Write your stress-relievers down and take action to add these things to your home and daily existence! If you have other stress-relieving ideas, please share them in the comments below.
- Prepare for productivity. What time of day is your “up” time when you feel the best? Use this time for active endeavors that are difficult when you feel down. Prepare meals ahead of time, vacuum or de-clutter. (Clutter can have a negative effect on our brains. Get rid of things you don’t need or really want.)
- Plan ahead. In a good moment, think through your family’s practical needs, preferably with your spouse, roommate or trusted friend. What needs to happen this week? What is on the calendar? Create a plan of attack for potentially stressful events coming up. Think ahead about your meal plan at the beginning of the week so you don’t have to spend energy consumed with it three different times a day. What do you want to do for fun this week?
- Do not over-spiritualize when you have serious physical needs. I want to reiterate that if you are suffering in deep depression, this is not a good time to let your mind think of what might have been or what you might be missing out on or your deep doubts about God. This IS a good time to say “it’s not as bad as my brain chemistry is telling me it is. It won’t always be like this.” And then go ahead and distract yourself with a healthy stress-reliever. Give yourself the grace to feel crummy without trying to analyze it. I have been there and I know how quickly those thoughts can lead you into a really dark place. Your family & friends need you. Don’t go there, friend.
It won’t always be like this.
- Seek help immediately if you have thoughts of suicide. You are Loved and your presence in the world absolutely makes a difference. It may not feel like it in this moment, but what you feel or think right now may be skewed by brain chemistry. Please ask for help.
Is there something you would add to this list? Feel free to comment below. To read about my experience with depression and lessons learned through it, click on the following links: