Depression is common but should not define your life
By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez
In my Parents Anonymous group, depression touched many of our lives from time to time. Many of our members were dealing with very difficult, stressful situations that occasionally felt hopeless. In our group we shared our experiences and various solutions in hopes that our situations would improve and most did in time. The suggestions below are some that our group discussed and are offered up as a possible solution to occasional depression. This is not meant to treat depression but instead gives us options to lessen sadness and feel better.
Maintaining your daily schedule hinges on the hour at which you rise. If you allow depression to anchor you to your bed longer than you would normally get up, it will throw off your routine and your body-clock. When you get up later you will often play catch-up all day long, causing more stress. When the alarm sounds, pull yourself together and make your bed to deter you from climbing back in before your normal bedtime.
Shower and Dress
Take care not to skip a single grooming step. Wash and condition your locks, exfoliate skin, use your back brush and scrub your toes and feet— everything you would normally do. When finished, pat yourself dry then moisturize. If you normally wear cosmetics, apply in natural light. Dress nicely in cheerful colors in garments that fit well; skip baggy sweat suit-type outfits. Putting your watch on and marking time throughout the day is comforting to some depression sufferers.
Rid yourself of shoes that do not fit or hurt your feet and throw out old clothes you haven’t worn in over a year. Don’t wait for styles to return, dust them off and give them away, have a garage sale or donate the items. Many homeless and domestic violence shelters appreciate cast-offs and often use the funds from proceeds to provide services for their organization. If you are not wearing items, then space is wasted that might be better used in another way. You will feel better freeing up the space and at the same time helping others.
Let In the Light
Open the curtains and raise the blinds— let the light in. Dim or dark surroundings often give way to drowsiness and sleep. A gloomy atmosphere can pull your mood down and encourage depression. If your home is positioned so you get little direct sunlight (or live where the days are short) then it is a must that you get outdoors daily for a good dose of natural Vitamin D, especially in winter. Another option would be to buy a seasonal affective disorder light therapy lamp that is both safe and effective. SAD lamps or light boxes run the gamut of price ranges from about $40 to $500 with different options available. Investigate the requirements and decide if a SAD light is for you. Some insurance companies will pay all or part of the cost with reimbursement criteria met. Make sure you find a reputable dealer who guarantees their product and/or warranty. One such company is Sunbox.com and they are noted for their excellent service.
Walk to Energize
Walking is one of the most popular, easiest and safest ways to exercise on the planet. Except for a pair of sneakers it doesn’t cost a penny and can be done anywhere, day or night. You can combine it with socializing, errands or work. You can sign up at a local gym for a fee. You will be able to socialize and get healthy at the same time. Walking and depression do not mix.
Petition for forgiveness and leniency, plea for health and well-being for yourself and others. One belief is that you are blessed most while praying for others. Make a daily prayer list and add names as you come across people in need and your blessings will come. Read your Bible or other spiritual material regardless of denomination. Check out booksellers and shops specializing in religious materials. Broaden your outlook by learning about the many different faiths. For many, daily devotions can feel like having an angel on your shoulder all day.
Meditation, Tai Chi & Yoga
Thought, contemplation and reflection are positive spiritual journeys you can travel in five hours or five minutes whether you are religious or agnostic. Yoga, tai chi and meditation may help you feel more alive, energetic, grounded and in control. You can google to see where groups are near you. Look for television programming near you and take advantage of the sheer convenience and comfort from your very own living room.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Deep breathing, in through nose and out through mouth, increases the exchange of gasses in the lungs. It keeps airways open longer and helps trapped air move. The breathing technique relaxes and helps maintain normal breathing. Count to two while breathing in…one, two, then count to four breathing slowly outward, one, two, three, four, then repeat. Pursed lip breathing also has a calming effect with the focus on counting breaths. This is especially helpful for anyone with lung issues.
Dispatch Paper Piles
Deal with paperwork (reports, letters, bills, receipts, forms, documents) immediately. Sort into piles; recycle, trash, file or keep. Filter trash for any identifying information like phone numbers, addresses, account numbers, etc. and shred immediately. File bills in ‘To Pay’ order within a week of the due date, once paid file it away. Take care of bills that require a phone call or discussion right away. Any papers or envelopes put on a countertop will multiply in the blink of an eye so stop it before it starts. Got a few minutes? Sign up with Direct Marketing Association http://www.DMAChoice.org or http://www.CatalogChoice.org to reduce unwanted junk mail in the future.
Get brave, then let go of ‘stuff.’ Clutter can be overwhelming and quite depressing if it is disorganized. After a time all the extra stuff begins to take on a life all its own. You no longer own the stuff, the stuff owns you. Let it go and donate to organizations, agencies or shelters locally can make good use of it. You can join Freecycle and unload your burden while helping others and no money changes hands. (www.Freecycle.org) You can also have a yard or garage sale and pocket the money. Those knickknacks and souvenir tchotchkes may be cute or valued memorabilia but letting go of those trinkets can be very liberating. If you must keep it then store it where it will be safe but out of the way in a cabinet, foot locker or chest— less dusting that way. There are furniture options with built-in storage space: couches, ottomans, coffee tables, benches, etc. Just keep telling yourself, “You don’t own me— out you go!”
Change Your Zip Code
Get out of the house! Change your scenery! Get some fresh air! Going outdoors is refreshing and invigorating. No matter how nice your home is, you still need to get away, even if it is only for a few minutes or a couple of hours. Babies can be taken outside for a stroll and when they return, they often take a very sound, healthy nap and you can nap too. Why stay home and pout when you could get out and about?
Appointments on our calendar are there because they are important. You and your mental health are just as important as your teeth or getting the flu shot so put fun on your calendar at least one day every week. Don’t wait for spare time because it won’t happen. If you are afraid of having fun once a week then start with once every two weeks till you get used to it. It may take time to build up a tolerance to fun and you do not want to overdose so start slow and work up to a therapeutic level. Balanced people lead balanced lives.
You may not be sleepy but using a fifteen minute power-nap in the early afternoon can do wonders to make you feel refreshed, awake and aware. Just nodding-off may not have the same benefit as lying down and covering up. An on-purpose nap can revive you enough so you can finish your day. Be careful not to nap more than 15 to 20 minutes otherwise you will feel more sluggish afterward and nap gets changed to a ‘short sleep.’ Sleeping too long can throw off your normal sleep routine and you may pay with insomnia. A small timer can help for less than $10.
Create a Carefree Atmosphere
Listen to happy children’s songs and create a lighter mood at home or on the highway. You simply cannot listen without singing along or humming and you will be tapping the rhythm on the steering wheel. Singing can cause your lungs to process oxygen at a higher rate, thus making you feel better. Waltzing Matilda, Do Your Ears Hang Low, Carrot Stew, Frere Jacques and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt are only a few. Check them out from your local library for free! Shop online to get the songs you remember and love. (www.Amazon.com)
Shuffle and Dole the Chores
Every family member can pitch in to get the cleaning and chores completed. Spouses could swap chores so mom and dad both know how to change oil in the car, cook meals, wash dishes, do the laundry or shop for a kid’s birthday gift for Saturday. All children are capable of certain chores as long as they are age appropriate. You would not have a four-year-old mowing the lawn or changing diapers for an infant. You know your child better than anyone and the types of chores they could handle and feel successful doing to contribute to the household. Make a list or calendar and put it on paper; if need be use chore a chart and award stars. You can find a selection of free charts at http://www.FreePrintableBehaviorCharts.com. Just remember you are a parent, not a maid or butler.
Trim Your To-Do List
You have a list of ‘must-dos’ like doctor appointments, school functions, social functions and planning family events. You also have a list of ‘would-like-to-dos like being secretary for the garden club, the bazaar coordinator, book club captain and soccer coach. When you are not feeling 100% it is time to pare back and enjoy what you are doing. You will want to do your very best for any endeavor you take on. If the Scouts only get 65% participation (or energy) from you then it is time to pass the torch to someone who can physically and emotionally devote the time and energy. There will always be opportunities in the future when you are ready with your ‘very-best’ in hand to help.
Nix the News
The person who creates a news channel with only good news will probably be penniless. Why? Good news doesn’t sell as well as bad news. Bad news sells so well that the worse it is, the more times they will show it to you. Days when you are feeling down, look out the window and make sure the world is still there. Yes, there are things we need to know but you can cut back very easily. Reinhold Niebuhr’s untitled prayer can help, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Don’t worry about something you are powerless to do anything about and turn off the news.
Negative thinking has a snowball effect, momentum gets it going and growing. We are often much harder on ourselves than reality permits. Recognize it for what it is; nobody is perfect— nobody, but at least be honest in your self-evaluation. Take note of your good qualities. Ask yourself a few questions, “Why would a person want to be my friend?” “What qualities do I bring into a friendship?” “Are my thoughts accurate?” “What could I improve now?” Become your own best friend and be kinder to yourself. Remember, anything you focus on will expand with thought so focus on the positive.
Worrying drains energy from every inch of our bodies when not controlled. Set aside a specific time weekly or daily to worry, if you must. Limit worrying to perhaps three to five manageable issues, the fewer the better. If worrying weekly allow two hours; if daily limit to fifteen minutes. Refer back to Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer above. Set a timer if needed but stick to your time limit. Need incentive? Worry causes wrinkles!
Aromas can trigger memories or feelings instantly like crayons, fresh mowed grass, a fireplace, upturned earth, a barbecue grill or the air after a gentle rain shower. Aromatherapy methods include room spray, massage, bath oils or soaps and diffuser appliances. Simple spray air fresheners can lighten the mood and help create a more pleasant atmosphere. Diffusers start at about $15 for the low-end models up to about $120 for the top of the line. Massages have stress-relieving benefits, may require an appointment at a spa and can be expensive. You can drop by any health food store and easily find most oils: basil, bergamot, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, frankincense, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, orange, patchouli, peppermint, pine, sandalwood, spruce, vanilla, ylang-ylan, etc.
Rub Your Feet
Feet literally take a beating every single day. Soak your feet, exfoliate and then rinse to get rid of any sweat and then dry thoroughly. Rub your feet, running fingers between each toe. Place your foot on the other leg so you can use your elbow to ‘massage’ the bottoms. If you have a partner, do it for each other, ankle to toes. Again, aromatherapy oils or lotions enhance the effect. Remember, you are worth feeling this good!
Learn Something New
A positively occupied brain has little time to worry, dread, fear or be anxious. Learn to speak a foreign language, to use a computer program or play a new game. Memorize a poem, the Declaration of Independence or the Star Spangled Banner. Read the dictionary and learn new words daily; share these with family and incorporate the acquisition into your everyday vocabulary. Added benefit? You’ll not be embarrassed when asked to sing the Star Spangled Banner!
Take Up a Hobby
Hobbies are enriching and can be quite educational, depending on your interests. Almost any hobby can provide you with hours of enjoyment. Collect coins, dolls, trains, salt and pepper shakers, etc. Take up photography, running or hiking, building models, bird watching, knitting or crocheting, scrapbooking, drawing, building birdhouses, soap making, embroidery, fly tying, jigsaw puzzles, stamp collecting, journaling, macramé, matchstick or toothpick models, origami, postcard collecting, quilting, storytelling, astronomy, tombstone rubbing or photographing, carving, woodworking, scherenschnitte, quilling, or beading. Find something you enjoy, can afford and have space for. Three of anything and you have a collection started already!
Dig in the Dirt
Get invigorated by simply enjoying the seed catalogs and getting dirt under your fingernails. A vegetable garden’s tangible rewards serve up delicious meals while saving money at the supermarket. No space for a garden? Then think about an indoor herb garden: thyme, basil, green onions, rosemary, parsley, dill or mint. A few fresh sprigs can add the perfect touch to any plate. If you are more into aesthetics, try on a few plants for sheer beauty and improve air quality to boot: Azalea, Aloe vera, Snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue, Golden pothos, Spider plant, Bamboo palm, Peace lily, Gerber daisies, Schefflera, Chrysanthemum, English Ivy, Dracaenas, Weeping fig or Ficus, Lipstick plant, Chinese evergreen, Philodendron, Boston fern, African violet, Jade plant, Money tree, etc. Brown thumbs welcome and encouraged!
Bury the Hatchet
Bummed over a friendship gone sour or feel slighted by family member during the last holiday? Write a letter to the wrong-doer and pour your heart out; cry if you think it will help. Explain what happened from your point of view and why you feel you were wronged and deserve an apology. When you have emptied your heartaches onto paper and purged the hurt— tear it up piece by piece and rip it to shreds— gone!
Stress, anxiety and conflict is as close as your nearest cell phone, iPad, iPhone, laptop, smart phone, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and the list goes on! We bought these little gadgets to work more efficiently and enhance our daily lives but unfortunately, the servant has become the master at times. Phones, e-mail, Facebook and social media are terribly convenient and fun; it increase our ability to keep in touch, share information or pictures and it also makes it very hard to log off and shut down our electronics. The single best way to handle the chaos is to set a daily schedule or a timer to deal with e-mail, phone calls or scan social media. Instead of checking in every hour, log in every four to six hours. You can also change the settings so that you only get important posts. Friends will understand and agree to your limits or maybe they are not your real friends. Facebook family, friends and people you don’t even know may follow your example to reclaim precious minutes or hours wasted online. There is always ‘unfriend’ or ‘block’ to solve impossible, relentless annoyances. (These desperate children will share their perfect solution in forty-seven seconds: http://www.TheLogOff.org) It’s worth a try.
Create a Blog
Famous writers, novelists, poets, playwrights, cartoonists and journalists, throughout history have often been plagued with depression: Hans Christian Andersen, Art Buchwald, Agatha Christie, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Patricia Cornwell, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, John Keats, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Eugene O’Neill, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Schulz, Leo Tolstoy, Kurt Vonnegut, Tennessee Williams. Many were thought to have drawn on their situation to create great works. Whether depression was the creative spark for these writers or not, you can begin your own free blog to write poetry, journal, stories, about crafts or any number of topics. You are the boss and the moment you click ‘publish,’ you become an author! There are several blog platforms available and four are listed below:
Lend a Hand
Volunteering is a wonderful, round-about way to feel better. Depression sometimes stems from low self-esteem and what better way to feel better than by helping others. No matter how small, anything you do for others has a huge feel-good impact on our mood and overall wellness. The opportunities are endless: volunteer with your local animal shelter or soup kitchens and you will never regret it. You could do some reading (and recording) for the blind and double your benefit. There are local food banks, homeless shelters, mentors, tutors, helplines, staff fundraisers, knitting baby blankets and hats. You could deliver meals to the elderly, visit the homebound or go shopping for them. Libraries are great places to volunteer or to find a place to give your time to local community organization. Check with the IRS about deducting gas, oil and other expenses on your taxes or take a flat per-mile deduction. Get word-of-mouth recommendations or check these websites for the perfect volunteer opportunity below:
Do Unto Others
Spend a few seconds shelling out kindness with no formal commitment: Let another car go in front of you, hold a door for someone, give the customer before you the needed pennies, pick up your dog’s litter, put your old gum in its wrapper and in your pocket, put the toilet seat down, carry extra ink pens to share, pick up dropped items, say ‘hello,’ load groceries into a car for an older person, delete mean or offensive e-mails, let the pregnant lady take the parking space, put a dollar bill between jars of baby food in a store or stop the elevator door from closing. How much is your smile worth? Being nice to people unknown to you can help you feel better and them too!
Designated Support System
Pick a handful of trusted friends (2 to 4) or family and tell them of your struggle with depression. Tell them you may reach out to them occasionally when you are feeling low. Tell them what you would expect of them if they agree to become one your support: ten minutes of empathetic listening, a cup of herbal tea, complete honesty, confidentiality, etc. This is not for everyone; you would need to think it through before making the request: does this person have time available, is this someone I am comfortable with, do I trust this person, etc. For example: you would not want to ask someone with five children under the age of ten, they will already be too busy. Arrange a one-to-ten scale with ‘one’ being ‘not very depressed’ and ‘ten’ being ‘intensely depressed.’ A ‘five’ means ‘it was an okay day’ and that is a very good sign.
Nutrition and Supplements
A wide range of foods, beverages, herbs and supplements are available that you could consume to try and feel better. Before you add anything new you will want to make sure you do not have any allergies to the foods or supplements like nuts, chocolate or eggs, etc. Research each item and ask yourself if you are getting enough in your regular diet already. When you feel ready to make some changes see your primary physician for advice. The doctor can point to other causes such as irritable bowel syndrome due to a milk allergy, nutritional deficiencies or low fat intake due to dieting. Listen to your doctor.
WEBSITES FOR NUTRITION INFORMATION
There are many websites available; in general, websites are trustworthy and legit if they end in: .gov, .org or .edu. Well-known medical institutions are reliable even though they are .com. The few I have listed here are some that I use often and trust.
VITAMINS, MINERALS & NUTRIENTS
FOODS (Partial List)
Seek Professional Help
When depression is not remedied or alleviated with any of the above suggestions or the depression is recurring— don’t wait— seek out professional help. Get referrals for help from your primary physician, friends or family. NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is another reputable place to find current information on the different types of professionals that might be right for you or a loved one. (www.NAMI.org) Make sure the psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, nurse, social worker or counselor are licensed.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, make the call for help immediately. Don’t stop until help is found.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255 OR 1-800-273-TALK
1-800-784-2433 OR 1-800-SUICIDE
Remember, anything that interferes with your normal daily schedule could be depression and should be examined further.
Last, but not least, suicide is a permanent solution to a very temporary problem.
Reminder: I am not a professional and most of the suggestions above were discussed in a Parents Anonymous setting for over twenty years. It is not a directive, merely ideas that have helped a number of people feel better. If you have any suggestions you would like to add simply send me a message. I would love to hear from you.
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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