By Alejandra Maria
Just when we think life is going our own way — the sun is shining, the skies are blue and the birdsong reminds us it’s great to be alive — something happens and we are reminded that our happiness in life can be tenuous at best. Although it is arguable that happiness comes from the inside, the harsh reality for those of us living with depression is that we often look outside ourselves for joy. So, this means that when our routines are upset, whether by small triggers such as a bad day at work, an argument with a friend or a delay in traffic, or larger triggers like job loss, a breakup or a bereavement, depression is quick to descend and we can often get lost in its dark grip. However, all is not lost. We can and must grieve, adjust and accommodate to life’s often random changes, but we can take simple actions right now to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression in order to make our days just a little brighter and ourselves just that much stronger.
Here is a list of three things you can do to alleviate depression:
1. Get out of bed and follow a routine.
Getting out of bed when we are depressed can often feel impossible, but it is critical that we make sure to continue living our lives to the best of our abilities. Staying in bed for hours on end, though superficially healing, isolates us, weakens our bodies and leaves us alone with our thoughts. The longer we stay in bed, the longer it will take for us to feel better because we are allowing ourselves to stay isolated within our pain. Yes, it is difficult to get out of the comfort and safety of our bed when our minds feel heavy and our bodies are aching, but getting up and doing something is a critical start.
Which leads us to the importance of creating and maintaining a routine for ourselves. Following a routine of some sort will keep us from ruminating about the things that are causing our depression, and will help to give us direction and purpose. Start small. Resolve to get out of bed, make and eat a healthy breakfast, and do a small and manageable list of things that include a mixture of “must dos” and “want to dos.” This will allow you to create a structure for your day and give you the motivation to move forward. Remember, bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.
The benefits of exercise for our physical, mental and psychological health cannot be overstated. Not only does exercise flood our brains with “feel good” chemicals known as endorphins, the act of exercising gets us out of bed, and oftentimes into the outdoors or a gym where we can feel the sunshine on our faces (getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D in the process) and socialize with others. Moving our bodies will keep us healthier in the long run, and will make us stronger so we can tackle whatever life throws our way with a little more resolve and contentment. Remember, when we look and feel better, we cope better. Some examples of exercise that can help with depression are: walking (particularly in nature), yoga, pilates, aerobic exercise like Zumba, and swimming. However, choose an exercise you will enjoy!
3. Spend some time with your pets (or animals in general).
Those of us who are pet lovers know having a pet improves our lives. The companionship of an animal can improve our mood, enable us to feel loved and to be loving, and gives us a much-needed routine to get through the more difficult days. It is not necessary to walk a dog for miles on end (although this does help); simply sitting with or petting a companion animal can help alleviate stress, decrease sadness and depression, and provide us with a sense of responsibility that can remind us we are needed and are of value. Moreover, pets are great listeners and non-judgmental friends, with strong furry shoulders to absorb our tears, and they will never tell our secrets.
If you do not have a pet, you can always volunteer for local animal shelters and/or rescues. They are always looking for people to donate their time to walk dogs, cuddle cats or socialize animal residents until they are adopted. Who can resist smiling while watching a dog romp or listening to a kitten purr? If you have the room in your home but are not yet ready to adopt, you can even consider fostering a pet and help them find their forever home. Giving to animals in need will not only improve your life but will improve the lives of the animals and the shelter and rescue workers, as well.
Remember, when we are depressed, the temptation is to stay isolated in ourselves and catastrophize the future; however, this will only exacerbate our pain, increase our loneliness and delay our healing. Instead of sitting in depression, try one or all of the above and you may find respite, if only for a few moments. Depression does not need to take over your life, you are capable, strong and able to get back up, one action at a time.