8 Tips to Enhance Depression Treatment
You’ve started treatment – talk therapy and / or medication – and the world is starting to feel a little brighter. But the dark cloud is still present, and you want to do anything you can to enhance your treatment so you can reach a place of happiness once again. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to improve your coping skills, strengthen your support system, and help yourself to start feeling better while you’re in treatment.
Structure Your Day
Most people thrive with structure in their lives, because it keeps things more predictable and less chaotic. Structure is especially important when you’re battling depression. Without it, it’s easy to feel lost without a compass. One of the reasons an inpatient or residential treatment program is beneficial for individuals who are struggling with a serious addiction problem or mental health issue is because it brings structure to their lives. You can do the same by sticking to a schedule and planning your time – in advance – carefully. It will also help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed by uncertainty.
Make yourself a priority One of the symptoms of depression is feelings of worthlessness. It’s easy to feel that you don’t deserve anything, and you may even feel – perhaps on a subconscious level – that you deserve to be punished or have bad things happen to you. These underlying negative beliefs can make it hard for you to take good care of yourself during a time when that’s more important than ever.
While you’re in treatment, make it a priority to take care of yourself every day. You may have to push yourself a bit to do this – that’s OK and it’s to be expected. Make sure you don’t skip meals or binge eat to self-soothe (you’ll just feel more self-loathing). Eat nutritious foods, not junk, and be careful with sugar – it can do a number on your mood. In addition to diet, make sure you do everything you can to get sufficient, restful sleep. This can be challenging when you’re depressed. Regular exercise (see below) can really help. Make sure you go to bed and get up at the same time every day to stabilize your body’s internal rhythms. Don’t watch the news or spend time on the computer just before bedtime, as both are stimulating and will make falling asleep difficult. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep each night.
Exercise Several Times a Week
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental health – especially if you struggle with depression or anxiety. Aerobic types of exercise – the type that keeps your heart rate elevated for a period of time, such as brisk walking or swimming laps – cause you brain to release natural mood-boosting chemicals known as endorphins. Research has shown that regular exercise can be just as effective for depression as taking an antidepressant.
Make exercise more fun by finding a workout partner. Also, it’s best to do exercise that you enjoy so it doesn’t feel like a chore. People who exercise regularly tend to feel more confident, which is another big plus when depression is dragging down your self-esteem.
Reduce Your Stress
If you feel overwhelmed or stretched too thin by all your obligations, or feel there are too many demands on your life, it’s time to simplify things. Delegate tasks whenever possible and enlist help when needed. You’re not superhuman and it’s OK to lighten your load while you’re in treatment. If you had a medical illness, you’d ease back, right? It’s OK to say no; you don’t have to try to please everyone.
Other ways you can reduce your stress are by practicing yoga (which has multiple physical and mental benefits), meditating regularly – even if it’s just a few minutes each day (it takes practice so be patient with yourself), and, again, exercising regularly. Relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, guided imagery, and progressive relaxation will also help you feel more relaxed and less stressed, especially if anxiety is accompanying your depression.
Set Major Decisions Aside as Much as Possible
Depression can make even the simplest decisions feel overwhelming, so bigger ones are even more daunting when you’re mood is low. While you’re in treatment, it’s probably best to hold off on trying to make any big decisions, such as whether you should relocate, quit your job, or sell your house.
Granted, some major decisions may be unavoidable. If that occurs, ask someone you trust to help you sort through the pros and cons. Depression can cloud your perspective, so getting input from trusted others can really help.
Find a Safe Outlet for Your Thoughts and Feelings
If you’re in therapy, then you already have a place for this – although you may need more than one hour a week. If you’re not in therapy, this is even more crucial. Keeping your feelings pent up inside will interfere with your healing, and may make things worse as they always have a way of eventually coming out – sometimes in a way that you end up regretting.
Talking to those close to you can be helpful, although you may worry that you’ll damage close relationships if you’re always Debbie Downer talking about her problems. You might consider keep a journal. Spend a few minutes each day writing out your feelings, fears, and other thoughts. Many people find journaling to be quite therapeutic. Finding a creative outlet, such as art or music, can also be a healthy way to channel your emotions.
Spend Time With Others
It’s very easy to isolate when you’re struggling with depression. Those feelings of shame and worthlessness make you feel like no one would want your company. You may also find it hard to find the energy to put on a “happy” face when others are around. But being by yourself makes it very easy to focus on your problems and wallow in your emotional pain.
Make it a point to spend time with people you care about – and even new people if you feel up to it – several times a week. Have coffee or lunch with a friend. Go to a low-key social function. Have dinner with family. If you’re married, make sure you spend some quality time with your spouse regularly. Surround yourself as much as possible with people who love you and care about you.
Don’t use alcohol or drugs. Alcohol is a depressant, so it’s really best to avoid it altogether if you are struggling with depression. If you enjoy alcohol, don’t regard avoiding it as a form of deprivation. Rather, see it as something you are doing to take good care of yourself. Any drugs that aren’t prescribed for you, and certainly any recreational drugs, should be avoided as well.
If You’re in Therapy
Be sure to attend every session. Don’t skip a session just because you don’t feel like going. Keep your therapist apprised of what’s going better, and what’s not. If your therapist gives you homework, be sure to do it. Be patient with yourself -- therapy is a process that takes time. Celebrate even the smallest indicators of progress, and remember that your therapist may recognize them before you do.
If You’re Taking Medication for Your Depression
Be sure to take your medication exactly as prescribed. Don’t skip doses, and don’t take more than you’re supposed to. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any unpleasant or intolerable side effects.
Remember that antidepressant medication often involves some trial and error, so be patient if the first medication doesn’t work. Also, be aware that most antidepressants take time to reach a “therapeutic” level in your system, so it may be a few weeks before you experience any noticeable benefits.
Don’t stop your medication abruptly. Some types of antidepressants, particularly SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Paxil and Zoloft), can cause serious withdrawal effects if stopped suddenly. If you want or need to stop taking medication, do so only under your doctor’s supervision.
Right now, the light at the end of the tunnel of depression may seem pretty dim. But if you follow the suggestions above while you’re in treatment, you’ll enhance the treatment process and find yourself feeling better sooner than later. Not to mention, when you are proactive in your own healing process, you’ll also feel empowered -- and that in itself is beneficial for anyone struggling with depression!