It is perfectly normal to feel sad every once in a while.
However, if you often experience prolonged feelings of sadness or negativity, it may be caused by depression — a serious mental illness that can drain the energy, joy, and passion from your life.
If you think you may be suffering from depression, it is crucial to take steps to have it diagnosed and treated.
This will help you halt your depression in its tracks and regain control of your life.
This article will help by sharing the most important steps you can take to cope with depression.
Step 1: Check if you have the warning signs of depression
If you have been feeling down recently, you may be wondering if it is being caused by depression or another illness.
There are several early warning signs that you can check to see if depression is the likely culprit, including:
- Often feeling exhausted when waking up
- Struggling to get to sleep
- Waking in the early hours of the morning and having trouble getting back to sleep
- You find yourself losing interest in hobbies and activities with friends
- It is increasingly difficult to concentrate or make plans
- Experiencing anxiety
- Becoming emotional for no obvious reason
- Often becoming agitated
- Recurring unpleasant thoughts that often result in feelings of guilt, regret, or shame.
- A general feeling of misery or sadness that lasts for weeks
- A loss of energy, even when not physically active
- Loss of interest in sex
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Slowed activity and speech
- Unexplained physical aches and pains
If you experience several of these warning signs, it is important to see a doctor and receive a diagnosis immediately.
There are certain medical conditions that can cause depression-like symptoms, so you will need to eliminate the possibility that you have one of those illnesses.
Step 2: Receive a diagnosis from a medical professional
Doctors use a rigorous screening process to determine if a patient is depressed or if another illness is involved.
A physical examination may be required to rule out other conditions.
The doctor will confirm that you have depression by checking if you experience certain symptoms within a two-week period.
The symptoms that doctors usually check for include:
- A depressed mood nearly every day during the two week period – this includes feelings of sadness, emptiness, or irritability.
- Significant unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue every day during the two week period
- A markedly reduced interest in activities that used to be considered enjoyable
- Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day during the two week period
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation (restless body movements or slowed down body movements)
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Recurrent feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Recurrent thoughts of death and suicide
The doctor will also confirm that the symptoms are not directly caused by:
- Significant short term stress associated with your personal or work life
- Drug abuse or medications that are being taken to treat a pre-existing condition
- The recent loss of a loved one within the last 2 months
If you meet the criteria for depression, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan.
If your depression is mild, your doctor may simply recommend a number of lifestyle changes that you can make.
If it is more severe, they may recommend the use of medications and psychological counselling from a therapist or psychiatrist.
Step 3: Determine the causes of your depression
If you have been diagnosed with depression, determining its cause can help you combat it.
Depression is usually caused by one or more of the following factors
- A neurochemical or hormonal imbalance
- Certain styles of thinking (neurotic thoughts, a persistent negative outlook on life)
- Unfortunate life events (medical problems, loss of employment, bereavement, abusive relationships, child abuse, ageing, bullying, long-term stress)
Once you have identified the cause of your depression, it will be much easier to determine the right combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and medications that are needed.
Step 4: Make changes to your lifestyle
Next, begin making any necessary changes to your lifestyle.
Some of the changes that your physician may recommend include:
Eating a more nutritious diet
Diet is so closely linked to mental health that researchers have created a new field of study linking the two topics, called nutritional psychiatry.
Several studies in this field have already found that a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants can reduce the risk of depression occurring.
If your diet is poor, you will need to work with your physician to improve it.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to deal with mild to moderate depression.
Exercise is effective because it causes the body to release endorphins — mild analgesics which numb pain and provide a positive feeling throughout the body.
Endorphins have been shown to relieve the symptoms of mild depression .
Regular exercise also leads to improved wellbeing and self esteem, which will help you combat your depression.
Get plenty of high-quality sleep
The body uses the time you spend sleeping to perform many important tasks including the balancing of hormones, removal of waste, and generation of new neural connections.
Researchers have discovered that getting more sleep can alleviate the symptoms of depression and reduce the likelihood of it occurring in the first place.
Incorporate more mood boosting activities into your day
Activities like spending time with friends, listening to music, watching funny movies, playing sports, or contributing to non-profit organisations have been shown to alleviate feelings of depression.
Your physician will be able to provide you with ideas for activities that can lift you out of depression.
Researchers have found that meditation can help the brain manage stress and anxiety.
This can help you deal with these feelings before they trigger depression.
Step 5: Consider taking anti-depressant medication
If your depression has not improved after making the recommended lifestyle changes, your physician may prescribe an anti-depressant medication.
Most of these medications work by balancing chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters.
Altering the levels of these chemicals can change your mood, improve your concentration and help you sleep better.
However, it is important to understand that anti-depressant medications are only effective for some people.
Your depression may not be curable by simply changing your brain’s chemistry and you may require more significant lifestyle changes or psychological counselling.
Step 6: Consider talking to a therapist or psychologist
Some of the problems that cause depression can’t be solved with lifestyle changes or medication.
Resolving these problems may require counselling from a therapist or psychologist.
They will be able to help you deal with trauma that has occurred in your life and any behavioural issues that triggers your depression.
Thanks for reading.
Remember — if you believe you are suffering from depression, and one in four people in the UK do, then talk to a medical professional as soon as possible.
They will explain the treatment options that are available and help you regain complete control of your life.