Is What I'm Feeling Depression?
It is completely normal to experience depression. Most people will experience at least one period of depression during the course of their life. Many people have mild depressive moods that come and go seasonally or with predictable regularity. Some people know what caused the mood, others are in the dark. Depression can look very different from person to person…but like the common cold, we all get it at some time or another.
What Causes Depression?
Sometimes you know why you are depressed, you are grieving, suffered a loss, had a significant setback, or something else is going on that you can really put your finger on. Other times, you can make the connection on the calendar between the mood and a life event, but it doesn’t make sense. That looks like this, “I just had my dream wedding, why am I sad,” or maybe “I got the job I competed so hard for, now I don’t know if I want it.” You are probably familiar with this, something good happens, something you’ve been working on, planning for, wanting badly, you get it, and you feel…depressed. Some people call that the “post-adrenaline blues” or a “happiness hangover.” Strange but true. So, we have narrowed the causes of depression to unwanted things happening and wanted things happening. Last but not least, we have depression associated with no identifiable cause at all. You can see how the deck is stacked here.
There are abundant theories from the spiritual to the neurological that try to explain why we have these moods, how our energy can dry up and the rain comes.
Normally, none of this is really a problem. Can you imagine the yawn fest of living in a world where everybody was chipper all of the time? The problem comes, when the mood does not improve after a reasonable period. The problem comes, when the depression is creating its own problems and is disrupting the course of your life. The problem comes when you feel that you are “missing” your own life.
What are the symptoms of Depression?
Depression alters the way in which we view the world and ourselves in it. Depression can affect sleep and appetite, negatively alter self-perception, infect our work and undermine our relationships. Depression paints the sufferer’s world gray. I call it wearing depression goggles. Much like beer goggles, when you see the world through this lens it FEELS real, but it is not reality.
Depression causes you to withdraw from friends and family. The things you tell yourself (about avoiding people) are (1) you don’t have the energy (2) “they don’t really like you” (3) you won’t enjoy it (4) there is no point. Except for the physical manifestation of fatigue, the other three items are all the deceits of the disease, the depression goggles. Depression sustains itself. For example, you don’t answer the phone for the reasons listed above, therefore you become isolated. By not answering their calls, you train people to stop calling you and you become more isolated. You think and feel that nobody cares, you check your call records (or lack of) and decide, it’s true based on circumstantial evidence.
That’s the bad news…here is the great news…
Depression is very treatable. Therapy, exercise and nutrition are all powerful medicine used to treat depression, especially if used together. If pharmaceutical treatments are employed – their efficacy is greatly enhanced when used in concert with the aforementioned non-pharmaceutical treatments.
What Can I do to Help My Depression?
Some people accept these mood changes and easily discuss, “being in a funk” or “having a blue period.” Other people are less accepting. Self-judgement can be pretty counter-productive for the person already in a depressed mood. If you are depressed, be gentle with yourself, but there are things you can do that will make it better.
1) Get some sunshine
Roll up your sleeves, take off you sunglasses and soak in some sun. Don’t do that thing where you say, if 15 minutes is great 3 hours will be AWESOME! No. Just 15 minutes or so, ideally before 10 am or after 3 pm to avoid the most intense UV.
2) Get some exercise
Go out for a walk, ideally outside, but wherever you can is better than nothing. If you are athletic and want to really workout, then by all means DO IT. Depression can leave the dedicated athlete with no motivation, so don’t tell yourself that it won’t work unless your at 80% of VO2 max. I don’t know what any of that means, so apologies if it is nonsense. A 15-30 minute walk is sufficient, the trick is to get it done. Keep your expectations for yourself reasonable and set yourself up for success.
3) Think about nutrition
Have you lost your appetite? Are you eating anything that is not nailed down? Nutrition is key to mental health, but without getting to fancy, use your sense. Eat balanced meals, eat your fruit and vegetables, get nutrient dense calories. Get plenty of healthy fat.
4) Get connected
Pick up the phone. Volunteer. Accept invitations. Commit to do at least one socially engaged thing per week. Do not wait to you feel like doing it, just do it.
Depression can cause both sleeplessness and too much sleeping. Try to avoid these extremes, use sleep hygiene techniques to promote sleep and try not to indulge the urge to remain sleeping beyond what is normal for you.
6) Call for help. There is no one answer for everyone. Talking to a trained therapist can help you understand yourself, your experience, and discover the methods that work for you.