My previous post describes what depression feels like, so I thought a good follow up would be to address lifestyle choices that can prevent, or at least lessen depression and help you maintain healthy moods.
True clinical depression is caused by unbalanced brain chemistry. The causes of the imbalance can be numerous – a genetic predisposition, an extended period of intense stress, extreme physical exhaustion, a major life trauma, etc. The list could go on and on.
Anti-depressants or mood stabilizers can provide great relief to someone experiencing depression, but pills alone will not alleviate all of the symptoms. Just like there are numerous things that cause depression in the first place, there are also numerous steps that need to be taken to treat and prevent it. You have to make a conscious decision that you want to stay well, and then actively do the things that will facilitate that.
Ever since the beginning of modern medicine, people have wanted a magic pill. One that would just be a cure all, requiring little or no work. I mean, have you seen how many diet pills there are out there? Anyway, as great as it would be to pop a pill and no longer deal with the symptoms of depression, it just doesn’t work that way. It requires active choices on a daily basis to keep yourself well. Each person probably has individual tactics that help, but below are some that are pretty universal across the board.
Go. To. Bed.
My doctors have always said that to successfully treat a mood disorder (depression or bipolar disorder), getting enough sleep is a non-negotiable. Like I mentioned in my last post, Serotonin is directly affected by sleep. By not getting sleep, you are ensuring further imbalance in your brain chemistry. You’re basically working to undo any good your meds are doing.
Being a mom, I know how hard it is to make yourself go to bed at night. When you’ve been with the kiddos all day, you want to just get some time by yourself or with your spouse once the kids are in bed. Time alone is alluring, but you will pay for it later. This is true for anyone, but especially for someone that has a mood disorder.
With Bipolar Disorder, not getting enough sleep is kind of a crap-shoot. Lack of sleep will either push you towards depression or towards mania or hypomania. I will admit that this can be alluring. The chance that your moods will take an upswing is an exciting prospect, but once you’ve been on that ride enough times, you realize that it really is true that what goes up must come down. Either way, you end up depressed.
Know Your Triggers
This one takes awhile. Monitoring your moods and noting what is going on when an episode starts is crucial to identifying your triggers. Some common triggers are lack of sleep, alcohol, illness, traveling, significant life changes, stress and emotional or physical trauma.
When I was “re-diagnosed” with bipolar disorder, my doctor had me fill out a mood chart everyday. Besides noting what my mood was for the day, I also had to record how many hours of sleep I had gotten the night before, as well as anything else that was going on in my life. Over the course of several months, I was able to see some patterns. Several days in week of getting six hours of sleep or less will cause a swing in my moods. Also, an overbooked schedule causes too much stress for me and will send my moods either way up or way down. Prolonged stress does the same thing.
Avoid Your Triggers
Once you know what triggers your mood issues, avoid them. Seems easy enough, right? Well, let me sympathize with you that many times it’s not. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes real life just gets in the way. Sometimes you just have several weeks in a row of busyness that cannot be avoided. Sometimes you or a child is sick, causing multiple sleepless nights. Sometimes you haven’t hung out with your spouse in a week and you really want to stay up late. Sometimes late at night is the only time you can blog get laundry or projects done. I understand. I do. What’s important to understand is that while some instances are unavoidable, some of them are. You have to make a CHOICE to make the healthy decision.
Now, there are some triggers that are much easier to avoid, and those are unique to each person. For me, one of them is a sad movie. I don’t watch them. I don’t even watch touching movies. I don’t care if it has a happy ending – if it makes me cry at any point, I don’t like it. I learned early on, that I just don’t recover well. Most people can watch a sad movie, cry and then move on. I cry and then can’t stop crying. A sad movie will stay with me for days and can actually send me spiraling down. It’s ridiculous, right? Well, we’ve already established my brain has issues, so let’s just move on.
Establish A Support Network
This is probably going to be too exhausting to do when a bout of depression has already hit, so you need to do this when you’re feeling well. Whether your network is comprised of roommates, a spouse, parents or just good friends, it is crucial to dealing with depression. These are the people who can help you evaluate your feelings and thoughts and provide you with any needed perspective. They can help you see the truth, even through the dark clouds of depression. They can also be the people who can come hang out with you so you won’t be alone, understanding you don’t aren’t really going to feel like talking.
Don’t Go There
In Christian circles we reference 2 Corinthians 10:5 and say, “take every thought captive.” When those sad, depressing or morbid thoughts start creeping in, you need to stop them in their tracks. Just don’t go there. Do not dwell on the gloom that your brain is sending you. There is no good that comes from it, and in fact, focusing on these thoughts will probably send you further and further down. You must do everything possible to tether yourself to reality in times like this. Sitting in these thoughts will push you further from reality and deeper into depression.
When my mind is being bombarded, I tend to repeat Philippians 4:6-9.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Learn The Early Signs of An Episode
By the time you’re an adult, there are numerous things that you’ve learned to anticipate. You know when a cold is coming on or when a stomach bug is on it’s way to ruin the night. A depressive episode is no different. While you may have never consciously noticed the initial signs of depression, they are probably there. Once you learn to recognize depression lurking around the corner, you can work to fight it before it has its grip on you.
It took me quite a while to recognize some of my early signs. In fact, I think I’m probably still not aware of all of them. The signs I have identified include suddenly feeling more tired than usual without an obvious cause, being more drawn to the Internet and iPhone and suddenly everything feeling like work. The idea of going to the grocery store of making a phone call exhausts me. I’m an extrovert and a very task oriented person, so these are very noticeable changes in my personality. Also, all of the things that I usually enjoy are suddenly boring or irritating. I can listen to one of my favorite songs and know what mood I’m in. If I’m depressed, it bothers me. If I’m hypomanic, I will listen to it over and over and dance while singing at the top of my lungs. Not that you needed to know that.
In my next post, I will cover ways to cope with depression if it hits. For now, I’ll end this short novel and sign out in Fraiser Crane style. Goodnight everyone – and good mental health. Yep. I’m a nerd.