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Home » Health and Wellness » Battling Depression: A Practical Guide
I rolled over and stared at the ceiling. Dust glittered in the single ray of light that penetrated my curtains. It was 3:00 PM. I was confronted with my now daily predicament: get out of bed and face this seemingly dark world or endure the back pain that came from lying down for so long.
Most days I’d choose the latter. On the days I got out of bed, I spent my time watching a familiar tv show or movie – anything to gain a sense of normalcy. How did I get here? What’s wrong with me? Will I ever feel normal again?
These are all questions I routinely asked myself. It became apparent that I was battling depression. I didn’t know how, when, or from where it came, but I knew that I wanted to get out of the shadow that was suffocating me.
Lacking health insurance, medical treatment was not an option. I felt hostage to the situation, but with time and patience, I learned how to utilize practical methods to combat the feelings that consumed me.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with some form of mental illness, and approximately 7% of all U.S. adults experience at least one episode of major depression each year.
With ever-increasing statistics, many are left facing this crisis with no solutions. It is a silent struggle that can quickly debilitate its sufferer.
I hope to provide some practical steps to assist in alleviating some of the symptoms that are manifested by depression. The following information is most effective if used in conjunction with proper medical treatment and supervision by a physician.
Depression may manifest itself in many forms varying in severity across a broad spectrum of symptoms. Therefore, before the symptoms of depression can be combatted, they must be described.
Symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:
Depression attacks the control center of the body – the mind. Through changes in neural pathways and altered chemical signals, it navigates through the anatomical systems altering the overall physiology of those systems. That is where the origin of the symptoms can be found and where some practical steps can be tackled.
The steps for battling depression are condensed here into three major categories: diet, exercise, and mental fitness. Each one is explained in-depth below.
An integral part of overall well-being is proper nutritional intake. Input is directly related to output. Simply stated, you are what you eat.
What is put into the body is directly related to what is put out of it. In other words, nutrition affects the functionality of the body, including the psyche, at any given point in time.
Diet has the ability to drastically inhibit or bolster mental health. Several studies have described a strong correlation between nutritional intake and the risk of depression.
Knowing this, the question becomes what foods are associated with such a risk?
The consensus among the medical community indicates that a diet rich in whole foods is most effective in reducing depression-related symptoms. Examples of such foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oils rich in Omega-3, fish, and other forms of lean meats.
Inversely, studies have demonstrated that diets characterized by processed meats, refined sugars, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products are strongly correlated with depressive-like symptoms.
During my bout with depression, my diet suffered, and the foods I consumed held little to no nutritional value.
However, as whole foods were incorporated into my diet, I began to see a dramatic difference in my overall well-being. Consuming the proper nutrients increased my mood and energy levels.
As a result, I accomplished more tasks which helped alleviate the depressive symptoms. I discovered that diet improvement is accomplished one step at a time and, incrementally, I recognized the foods that worked well with my body’s biological makeup.
Changes do not occur overnight, but as eating habits are monitored, and whole foods are incorporated, the differences can be felt. Occasional intake of processed foods is okay but must be done in moderation.
When it comes to diet, quality trumps quantity.
Exercise is equally important as nutrition for overall well-being.
When battling depression, living an active lifestyle may seem an insurmountable aspiration. However, if enough motivation is mustered, an active lifestyle can produce many physiological and psychological benefits.
There are several hypotheses for why exercise alleviates depression, but the following are the core explanations provided by experts.
Physiologically, several studies have noted the release of endorphins in the brains of subjects who had recently exercised. Endorphins are hormones secreted within the brain that perform a number of physiological functions, including promoting an overall sense of well-being.
Through exercise, these positive endorphins are released, resulting in a relatively immediate increase in mental well-being.
Exercise includes endless psychological benefits as well. It is a goal-oriented task that fosters a sense of accomplishment when completed. Forming and completing goals is vital in battling depression.
Although a seemingly simple achievement, exercise assists in boosting confidence and gaining an overall sense of self-awareness.
Additionally, physical activity may serve as a mental break from any negative emotions being harbored. I found that exercise provided a necessary new perspective in my defeated mental state.
Setting realistic goals and increasing those goals in increments is key to a successful exercise program. Attainable fitness goals set daily provide a simple starting point from which a consistent exercise program can evolve.
In turn, improved overall well-being and increased confidence may provide a sense of direction and accomplishment. As with diet, quality trumps quantity in exercise.
Mental fitness encompasses a wide spectrum of topics, yet it is seldom discussed when broaching the topic of depression. A relatively new term, it is described as a state of mental well-being in which one is positively aware of personal feelings and actions.
It requires a certain amount of self-awareness, but it is achievable if given time. Mental fitness is attained through cognitive exercises that build resilience to stress and produce a host of positive emotions.
Thinking positively may be extremely difficult for those experiencing depression, but a mindset steered in a positive direction possesses the ability to drastically alter one’s overall well-being.
During my bout with depression, I practiced several techniques that helped improve my mental fitness.
First, I spent time identifying the patterns which led to my negative moods. Once I recognized such patterns, I was able to stop them before they persisted for an extended period of time.
Next, I integrated techniques that assisted in regulating overwhelming emotions. Several of the techniques that I integrated and helped the most included talking with loved ones, journaling, and practicing my personal faith.
Although mental fitness encompasses an extensive range of topics, following the simple techniques listed above may actively improve the overall psyche and transcend negative thoughts and feelings which are capable of so easily intruding a depressed state of mind.
Depression is an ongoing struggle for those who suffer from it, including myself. It may rear its ugly head without warning, showing no mercy to those of us incapacitated by it.
Its overwhelming and debilitating symptoms tend to unpredictably arise, resulting in feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. But that need not be the end of the story.
Manageable steps can be taken to overcome the challenges it presents. I hope that this article provides a practical guide to sufferers battling such challenges.
Incrementally incorporating the above steps into a routine and making a note of the improvements will aid in the reduction of symptoms. Throughout my personal struggle with depression, there were many days I felt no hope, but I was routinely reminded that there was still a sunrise I had yet to experience.
Remember, there is always hope. Each day is a page in the story of your life; keep turning the page.
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