Tips for Recovering from Depression

If you’re one of the millions of people who have been diagnosed with depression, you may feel that the road ahead is overwhelmingly long.  You probably want to do everything you can to recover from this challenging disorder and get back to life as you once knew it.  Fortunately, you don’t have to feel powerless, even if the negative thoughts typically associated with depression are telling you that you are.  There are many things you can do to help yourself and increase the effectiveness of treatment.

Speaking of treatment, let’s start there.  If you’re not getting any kind of treatment for your depression, please be aware that this is an important first step in the journey to recovery.  The two most common types of treatment are psychotherapy and medication.  For some people, they may be used hand in hand for the best outcome.  Others may do fine with one or the other.  Generally speaking, medication will treat only the symptoms, while psychotherapy will address the underlying psychological issues.

If you don’t have the resources for treatment, there are still many things you can do to help reduce your symptoms, so don’t despair.  Focus on the tips here that don’t relate specifically to medication or psychotherapy.  Despite how bleak or hopeless things may seem, always know that that is the depression speaking (so to speak!) and not reality.

  1. So, the first step is to get into treatment.  You can talk to your doctor about medication if your symptoms are significantly impacting your ability to function normally.  You may need to do some research regarding mental health professionals in order to find a qualified therapist.  You insurance may have a list of providers from which to choose.  Mental health clinics may also be available in your area.
  2. Once you are in treatment, the next tip is to stay in treatment.  There will be days when you don’t feel like going – go anyway.  You will probably often question whether it’s even worth your time because you have doubts that it will help.  While there is no guarantee that either medication or therapy will help, they usually do work as long as you don’t give up prematurely.  Both take time before you experience the benefits.  Be patient and don’t expect overnight results.
  3. Also, remember that with medication, there is often some trial and error involved before finding the best medication and the right dose, so be prepared for that.  Everyone responds differently.  This brings us to the third tip (if you’re on medication):  always take it as prescribed.  Many antidepressants need to be taken for a few weeks before you experience their full effect.  If you skip doses, you’ll slow down this process.  If you have a hard time remembering, get a 7 day pill organizer and put it where you’ll see it every day.
  4. Talk to your doctor about any side effects if those are an issue.  Some side effects are more tolerable than others – if the ones you are experiencing are particularly unpleasant, your doctor may want to try a different medication.  Also, some side effects occur only initially and then subside, so try to stick it out if you know they’ll soon pass.
  5. Don’t suddenly stop taking your medication.  Some antidepressants cause unpleasant withdrawal effects if discontinued abruptly.  Always discuss medication discontinuation with your doctor.  He or she will instruct you as to the safest way to stop, which may include a gradual reduction in the dose you are currently taking.
  6. Talk to your therapist regarding any concerns about the therapy process.  If you don’t feel like you and your therapist are a good fit (which does happen), ask him or her to refer you to someone else.  Don’t just drop out of therapy.  If you feel like you’re not making any progress, bring that up as well.  Your therapist will help you determine realistic expectations for progress depending on various factors, including the type of therapeutic approach (e.g. solution-focused therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.).
  7. Be open and honest with your therapist.  Therapists aren’t mind readers.  It’s really important that you communicate openly and honestly in order to get the most from therapy.  It may feel uncomfortable talking to a total stranger at first, but remember that your therapist’s goal is to help you – not judge you.  Chances are, you won’t say anything that will surprise your therapist, especially if he or she has a few years of experience.
  8. Be willing to try new things and make changes in your life.  There is much truth to the saying that, if you keep doing the same thing you’re going to keep getting the same results.  Part of the therapy process is learning new ways of thinking and behaving.  Habitual thought patterns and unhealthy lifestyle habits are often a significant factor in depression.  Work with your therapist to try on new behaviors and ways of looking at things to help your depression (and to help prevent future episodes).
  9. Learn ways to manage your stress.  It’s difficult to focus on getting better when your life is filled with stress.  While you may not be able to change some stressful aspects of your life, you can learn ways relax and feel less stressed.  For example, meditation, and yoga are excellent stress-reduction tools.  People who practice them regularly often report feeling calmer and more grounded.
  10. Exercise regularly.  Research has shown that regular aerobic exercise can significantly reduce symptoms of depression.  Strive to get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week – regardless of whether you feel like it or not (because you typically won’t feel like it!).   Choose types of exercise that you enjoy, or find an exercise partner, to help you stick with it.  Good types of aerobic exercise include running, brisk walking, biking, lap swimming, and spinning – anything that keeps your heart rate elevated for a period of time.  Just don’t exercise within 3 hours of bedtime, as that can interfere with sleep.
  11. Get sufficient sleep.  Depression can wreak havoc with yourself and make you feel unusually tired.  It’s really important to practice good sleep habits and get plenty of sleep each night.  Sleep deprivation will only make your symptoms worse.  Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and get up at the same time every morning – even on weekends.  Develop a relaxing pre-bedtime ritual so that you can drift off to sleep more readily once you turn out the lights.
  12. Stay away from alcohol and drugs.  It’s very tempting to self-medicate your depression.  Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs will only make things worse.  If you feel you are unable to stop by yourself, talk to your therapist or doctor.  Substance abuse problems can significantly interfere with your depression treatment, and will often make it ineffective.  They need to be addressed if you want to overcome your depression.
  13. Surround yourself with supportive people.  People with depression often withdraw from family and friends.  Isolating yourself often makes things worse.  This is because you’ll be more inclined to succumb to the barrage of negative thoughts that accompany depression.  Instead, make a point of spending time regularly with family and friends who are supportive and positive.  A good support system is an important part of getting better.
  14. Make positive changes in your life.  As you start getting better, consider making changes in that will have a positive impact on your life.  This may include things like ending a relationship that isn’t healthy or drains your energy, or changing jobs if you hate your current job.  Find something new that fulfills a passion – such as new hobby or a worthwhile cause.  If you live alone you might consider getting a pet.  Pets not only provide companionship, they also make you feel needed.  Having a dog to walk is a great way to ensure that you get regular exercise!

You can get better from depression, and in many cases, overcome it completely.  The tips outlined here will not only help you make the most of treatment, they will also help you make changes that will improve your life and reduce the risk for future depressive episodes.

Posted on January 1st, 2012
Posted in Depression

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