I was first diagnosed with depression when I was in high school and it’s been an on and off presence in my life ever since. Some years go by smoothly, and other years I’ve felt completely overwhelmed by it.
Throughout all this time, I think I’ve tried nearly every depression-fighting strategy in the book. I’ve listened to the self-hypnosis tapes, done the breathing exercises, and tried the anti-depression diet fads.
One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned from all of this is that there are no quick fixes (or at least none that work for me). I’ve never found any technique that instantly alleviates my depression.
But that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost!
When it comes to managing depression, I’ve learned to think in a scale of months and years, rather than hours and days.
I’ve actually had a lot of success in improving my mental health, but only when I focus on long-term strategies that fundamentally change my lifestyle. There are a few changes in particular that have been truly instrumental in helping me fight my depression:
Regularly Going to a Therapist
I know that many people are reluctant to seek therapy. I’ve even had bad experiences with therapists myself. Even so, I think that going to a therapist is one of the single most important things I’ve done to manage my depression.
Being in the midst of depression is such an overwhelming feeling. Even when I know that I should be doing something to fight it, it can be hard just getting started.
Seeing a therapist regularly helps give me a push to move in the right direction. It makes me feel like I’m accountable to someone other than myself, and that gives me the encouragement to take the other needed steps for improving my mental health.
Therapists have also helped keep me on track. They’re able to think about my mental health more objectively than I can on my own, and they have years of education and practical experience to draw on.
Therapy didn’t make my depression instantly disappear, but by making therapy sessions a regular part of my life, I’m able to better keep my depression in check.
Exercising (Almost) Every Day
Exercise is often recommended as a tool for treating depression. So often, that it’s almost become a cliche.
For me though, the cliche really does work. I was incredibly out of shape for years, but now I exercise almost every day, and I can tell that it has had a huge impact on reducing my depression.
My main exercise of choice is running, but I mix in other fitness activities like lifting weights and hiking.
Exercise has helped me fight depression in a few different ways. It works on a physical level, releasing endorphins that improve my mood. But it also helps in a less direct way, by giving me long-term goals that add structure and a sense of accomplishment to my life. It also seems to have a long-term effect of stabilizing my mood.
Best of all, the effect is cumulative. The more years that go by with regular exercise, the more I feel like I benefit from it.
Perhaps the most important of all my lifestyle changes is that I quit “self-medicating” with alcohol.
I spent many years addicted to alcohol. I think there were many reasons for my addiction, but “self-medicating” my depression was certainly one of them.
Alcohol felt like a “quick fix” for depression because it was very good at distracting me from my feelings in the short term. The trouble was, it had the long-term effect of making my depression much worse.
When I first quit drinking, my depression got worse than ever because of the withdrawal symptoms. Once I got past the early months of sobriety though, I discovered that my mental health had drastically improved.
Depression can feel overwhelming and hopeless, especially when we try a coping strategy and it seems to have no effect. In my experience though, depression can be managed. The key is to stay focused and committed to long-term changes. They might not work quickly, but they will work.