You’re feeling sad, unmotivated, and just don’t have the energy to visit friends or family members. Sound familiar? These signs – and many more – are signs of depression, a serious mental condition that can turn your mood and motivation upside down. If you feel this way, you’re not alone: 15 million Americans suffer from depression annually.
Unfortunately, with the U.S.’s economic turmoil, we all can’t afford to see special therapists or receive state-of-the-art treatment to fix our moody blues. So if you can’t pay your way to good help, what can you do?
Don’t despair just yet – there are several simple ways you can improve your mood without drugs, expensive therapy, or special medical treatments.
Ways to Deal With Depression
1. Start Exercising
Going for a good jog probably isn’t on your mind – after all, depression can even make getting out of the house a tiring endeavor. But if you can commit to it, you’ll do yourself a big favor. People who exercise more often are less depressed; conversely, studies show that regular exercise can do wonderful things to a person’s poor mood and self-esteem.
According to a 2005 study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, exercise is essential for improving your mood. Adults aged 20 to 45 who had depressive symptoms exercised for 30 minutes, three to five times a week. Researchers looked at how exercise improved their mood, and the results were astounding: Their symptoms were reduced by as much as 50%.
Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, who authored part of the study, said that exercise’s effects on depression were even comparable to therapy or antidepressants, commonly used methods used to treat clinical depression. Now that’s uplifting news.
In the above study, participants used aerobic exercise to improve their mood, so consider using aerobic exercise sessions to feel more uplifted. You don’t need to exercise to death – just a few 30-minute sessions are enough to release those feel-good endorphins to boost your mood and self-esteem.
For the best relief, stick to moderate exercise instead of low intensity exercise, which appears to be better at improving depression-like symptoms. Walking, dancing, biking, or using an elliptical trainer are some ways to get in that good-for-you moderate exercise.
2. Create Your Own Support Group
Depression thrives in isolation, but having a support group, either online or offline, can drastically improve a person’s depression symptoms. Just the act of hearing others talk about their problems in groups can have profound effects on a person’s depression prognosis.
According to a 2011 review reported by the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, self-help groups can be just as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy at treating depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a highly effective type of talk therapy that teaches depressed patients to stop thinking negatively and learn ways to think more positively.
Patients who joined self-help groups felt like they could bond and help others with similar problems, a type of bond that patients can’t typically get from a therapist or doctor. There’s also the relation factor – people in self-help groups can relate better to other group members than to therapists who have never experienced the disease first hand.
Online self-help groups can also be very beneficial. A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study, which evaluated the effects of online self-help groups on depressed people, showed that people who used these groups more frequently were more likely to stop feeling depressed.
For additional support during depression, consider joining a self-help group in your community. Self-help groups can be quite effective at alleviating many depression symptoms. They can also help you open up and express your feelings, and allow you to relate to people just like you.
You can find offline self-help groups locally through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. If joining a face-to-face group is too frightening, consider the online route – seek an online self-help group for support and friendship, such as Psych Central’s Depression Forum.
3. Make Sure to Get Enough Sleep
Depression can have devastating effects on your sleep. You either can’t get enough sleep from excessive self-worry, or don’t want to get out of bed because you’re too unhappy.
Coincidentally, changes in sleep patterns can also trigger depression-like symptoms, such as irritability, overwhelming feelings of sadness, and anxiety. Not getting enough sleep and clinical depression often go hand-in-hand.
Several reviews have drawn connections between sleep deprivation and depression. For instance, a 2005 study conducted by the University of North Texas showed people who suffered from frequent insomnia were up to 17.35% more likely to have depression or anxiety.
Increased bouts of insomnia also increased the rate of depression and anxiety symptoms. According to Psychology Today, insomnia can also trigger depression. In many cases, simply regulating sleep patterns decreases or alleviates depressed mood.
If you suffer from mild to moderate depression, take a hard look at your sleeping habits. Are they irregular? Do you get only four hours of sleep a night and constantly feel tired? If so, consider setting up a plan for getting enough sleep, such as going to bed earlier or cutting out stimulants like caffeine which can cause insomnia. Also, try avoiding any activities that can make it harder to fall asleep, such as exercising late at night and eating too much right before bed.
Certain supplements or medications, such as weight loss supplements, may also contain ingredients that can increase the risk of insomnia. Ask your doctor if your medication regimen can be modified to reduce this risk.
4. Use Pet Therapy
While the evidence isn’t clear-cut, spending some time with a pet may help brighten a person’s mood, easing depression. It isn’t a cure for depression, but many people have reported feeling more motivated and happier after bonding with a furry creature.
According to California-based psychologist Teri Wright, Ph.D., pets can help alleviate depression symptoms by making people feel wanted or important. Depressed people often feel unwanted or invisible to the world, so just owning a pet can change some of a depressed person’s thoughts about him or herself.
For instance, dogs depend on their owners for food and play, and are incredibly loyal. Pets also help depressed people feel less lonely, since most pets, especially dogs, enjoy bonding and spending time with their owners. Furthermore, animals seem to have an innate ability to put a smile on people’s faces with their antics and behaviors.
Consider adopting a pet for companionship if you’re willing to commit – that means using your time and resources to raise and take care of the animal. Pets such as cats, small dogs, and rabbits are good companionship animals that are easy to take care of and feed. Some argue that big dogs are the best animals for this purpose.
Consider volunteering to take care of dogs, cats, or other animals at animal shelters. Plenty of animal shelters can use your help, and these animals will love you and bond with you in return. Plus, being able to help the helpless is a really great feeling!
5. Seek Help From a School or Community Therapist
While the previous recommendations are helpful for reducing depression symptoms, these recommendations aren’t necessarily substitutes for therapy. Depression experts recommend therapy as an effective, long-term way to alleviate all types of depression, so it’s worth your while to get help if you need it and can afford it.
For immediate and affordable help, first consider school or university therapists. Many universities have therapists which can help people deal with mood problems such as depression at a reduced or free cost. Community therapists may also offer sliding fee scales to the less fortunate to make it easier to get help.
Many of us are going through tough times, both financially and emotionally, but it is best that you do not ignore such problems. Ignoring depression only makes it worse, affecting your ability to do your job, have a social life, or feel emotionally happy.
Regardless of how you go about it, make the effort to get help. If you have health insurance, call your provider to find out if it covers mental health problems. You may have access to more experienced and qualified therapists in your area that can help you overcome your depression at an affordable price. If not, do your best to fight your disease. Sure, you may not think it’s serious enough, but everyone deserves to be happy – including you.