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Depression is difficult to deal with under every circumstance. Some people have a clear traumatic event or trigger in their past that they can link to their struggles, while others don’t.
Maybe it’s an event that has been blocked from memory, a hormonal or chemical imbalance, the result of bullying, a dietary problem, or repeated negative self-talk. Who knows? It could be a combination of reasons or none of the above.
Don’t get me wrong; having a reason for one’s depression doesn’t make it any easier to overcome than not having one.
It may even make it harder. However, from personal experience, there is a particularly strange type of loneliness that comes with not understanding why you feel depressed.
My Story: The Early Years
My childhood was happy and my parents were loving. I had everything I could want or need. Then, in my early teens, teenage angst, rebellion, and my depression began.
I know this is common for teenagers but for some reason, my depression hit me a lot worse than many of my peers. I was also very good at hiding my depression and thoughts of suicide inside. Lucky for me I had an inner martyr telling me I must stay alive and suffer so as not to hurt those who loved me.
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My depression continued into my early twenties coming and going in waves of intensity. It was fueled by negative self-talk, low self-esteem, the contraceptive pill (be warned of this one, ladies) and self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana, and a smattering of other substances.
However, my bad habits never explained the source of the fire. It was like being followed by that annoying schoolyard bully that seems to find you again no matter where you hide.
Fighting the Good Fight
One day when I was 24, I decided enough was enough. I told myself, “There has to be more to life than this. I am wasting the precious little time I have moping around, feeling sorry for myself and dreaming of a better life.” I had a great job in my field of study–Marine Biology–I had a loving partner, family, and beautiful friends. So what was I missing?
This decision initiated my happiness quest. I listened to self-help audiobooks and podcasts. I journaled. I improved my diet and started a regular yoga routine. I repeated positive affirmations. I set goals and I dove into learning interesting new skills.
I still can’t give you an answer as to why I suffered all those years, but I can tell you that my happiness quest worked and there is a way out. You just need determination.
While my friend Depression still tries to sneak up on me now and then (women are hormonal creatures, afterall) I have now taught myself the skills to combat it before it drags me down.
Remember You’re Not Alone!
Depression can affect anyone of any gender, race, or age at any time. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 300 million people around the globe suffer from depression (WHO, 2018).
There is not always a straightforward reason why depression may strike, but there is always something you can do to overcome it.
First Steps for Overcoming Depression
If you are depressed the first thing you need to do is decide to improve. There is plenty of help out there, but changing yourself takes effort and no-one can put the work in for you.
You will never be alone, but you do have to be an active participant in the solution if you want to improve.
Next, you need to talk to someone, even if this is the last thing you want to do. Talking helps lighten your load and will move you towards a solution. Talk to a friend, family member, doctor or mental healthcare professional. Find someone you feel comfortable with and explain your situation.
Finally, with the help of friends, family, and professionals, you have to design yourself a recovery plan.
Recovery plans will differ somewhat from person to person, but the idea is to replace harmful behaviors and thought patterns with positive ones.
A Holistic Depression Recovery Plan
Tackle your depression from a holistic perspective by nourishing your mind, body, and soul. One of the main lessons I have learned from studying ecology is that there is never a straightforward answer. Everything is interconnected. When one part of us is out of alignment, this has flow-on effects into other areas of our lives.
For example, when our minds aren’t happy then we tend not to eat and exercise properly. When our diet is not right, our hormones are left unbalanced making it more difficult for our brains to function properly.
Our brains are powerful and complex while simultaneously being simple tools. We can convince ourselves of anything we desire.
We can persuade ourselves we are sick. Alternatively, we can convince ourselves we are healthy. Take the placebo effect, for example. Without having any medicine, but by being told they have the medication that will fix them, people can cure their illnesses (Harvard Men’s Health Watch, 2017).
Activities to Include in a Holistic Depression Recovery Plan:
1. Set Goals
Set yourself daily goals and use checklists to help you stay on track. Start small by completing daily tasks, e.g., getting out of bed and getting dressed, showering, doing laundry, going to work, etc. Add more as your wellness improves.
2. Diet Change
Opt for a diet focused on eating healthy fats, fresh vegetables, protein, and some fruits. Depression and inflammation have been linked so reduce your intake of inflammatory foods like vegetable oils, sugar and carbohydrates (Kelly Brogan, MD, 2013).
(Disclaimer: always consult a dietitian, therapist, and/or your recovery team before making any changes to your diet, especially if you are in eating disorder recovery.)
Boost your dopamine and energy levels.
4. Meditation and Mindfulness
These practices help you find peace and space in a restless mind (learn how in this post). Remember they are practices so don’t beat yourself up when you get distracted.
Repeat positive affirmations daily. Focus on replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. This feels weird at first, but the more you repeat them, the more your brain will become comfortable with believing them.
Journaling can be an excellent way to help shed some light on your situation. Often the act of writing helps us discover new ideas that merely thinking will not do. Gratitude journaling has also been found to change the way you think (Bulletproof Radio, 2013).
6. Learn Something New
Fuel your soul by focusing on something you are interested in.
Final thoughts: If you are depressed and don’t know why remember that while it may feel like a lonely place to be you are not alone, there is hope.
If you want to pull yourself out of this place you can and thousands of people before you have been where you are now and overcome it. As Christopher Reed once said, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.”
World Health Organization. (2018). Depression. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
Harvard Men’s Health Watch. (2017). The power of the placebo effect. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-effect
Bulletproof Radio. (2013). Podcast #80 – UJ Ramdas on success & gratitude. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/a4EF-_1yiDg
Kelly Brogan, MD. (2013). From gut to brain: The inflammation – depression connection. Retrieved from: https://kellybroganmd.com/from-gut-to-brain-the-inflammation-connection/
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