Sometimes you feel sad, lonely, and don't want to do anything and if it occurs long enough a thought might occur to you - what's wrong with me? Am I depressed? And if so, what does this mean? Am I mentally ill? Will I be depressed forever? These are common questions but here are somethings to consider. How long have I felt this way? Depression can be situational and therefore very temporary. Things like the death of someone close to you or the break up with "the one" can lead to a natural sadness whose symptoms can mirror what doctors and counselors call Major Depressive Disorder. Many symptoms like lack of appetite, increase in appetite, sleeping more or less, and not enjoying the things that you normally would can all occur, but if they are situational they normally resolve within two weeks. Then there are those depressive symptoms that are of greater concern - suicidal thoughts or plans, self-harm, a depressed mood nearly every day, feeling hopeless or worthless, daily fatigue with no explanation, or the inability to think clearly or concentrate - to name a few. An additional concern is if you have a family history of major depression or bi-polar disorder and have had no triggering event to explain these feelings of sadness. If this is the case your first stop should be to your personal physician to be evaluated and referred, as appropriate, to a psychiatrist or other mental health professional. If you have suicidal thoughts and a plan your nearest emergency room or calling 911 may be appropriate. If your symptoms appear more temporary here are some suggestions to get you back to normal:
1.) Eat well! You are what you eat so if you eat bad you will feel bad. Limiting sugar in particular can be very helpful as your mood tends to go the way of your blood sugar which is greatly affected by all the sugars and fast digesting carbohydrates in our diets.
2.) Exercise! Three 30 minute, make you sweat, exercise sessions a week appear to have the same affect as a low dosage anti-depression medication. Even better if done outside where you can enjoy nature and the sun, where your body can produce more vitamin D, a key vitamin for mood and health.
3.) Watch and correct your thoughts. Depressive thoughts lead to depressive mood. General negativity, negative self-talk, hopeless or helpless thoughts, and black or white thinking can add to one's depressive mood and can become cyclical in nature and destructive. Concentrate on the positives in your life and consider writing them down in a journal on a regular basis (shoot for at least 5 a day and they do not have to be big things. Something as simple as having great weather could be a positive for your list.)
4.) Spend time with loved ones doing things you enjoy! And laugh while you do as laughing and smiling release positive hormones which tend to improve mood. Sometimes it is appropriate to fake it until you make it!
5.) Take yoga! Learning relaxation techniques can help clarify thinking and concentration, increase feelings of peacefulness, and increase joy. Yoga has also been shown to lower blood pressure, leading to decreased cortisol (the stress hormone) production.
And most importantly PERSIST! Life and situations can change at the snap of a finger and what looks negative today can turn out to be a lifesaver tomorrow.
Elizabeth Oldham is an LPC-S and co-founder of Transform & Renew, PLLC. She specializes in co-dependency, anxiety and OCD, depression and mood disorders.