There's a lot that you can do on your own to ease the symptoms of depression. Changing your lifestyle can have a big effect on your mood. However, it's not always easy to change our ways. It's one thing to say that you'll exercise five days a week, sleep at least eight hours a night, and eat three healthy meals and two snacks a day. But it's not that easy to actually do. It's especially difficult when you're depressed. The key is to try not to get overwhelmed at the idea of changing your behavior. You also shouldn't try to kick all your bad habits and reform totally overnight. That won't work. Instead, start by making a few small changes to your life. As you start feeling better, make some more changes. Gradually ease yourself into a healthy lifestyle.
Antidepressants, especially when combined with talk therapy, generally help people recover from depression. Symptoms begin to improve within weeks for the majority of people taking antidepressants. And people who take antidepressants long-term -- up to 36 months -- have a relapse rate of only 18% compared to 40% for those who do not.
But if they work so well, why do so many people stop taking antidepressants within a few weeks of starting them? Or skip doses when they start to feel better?
Get some exercise. Studies show that regular exercise can improve your mood and help you sleep better. For instance, one study found that three sessions of aerobic activity each week worked as well as antidepressants in treating nearly two-thirds of mild-to-moderately depressed adults. And after 10 months of regular exercise, only 33% of the people who exercised were depressed, compared to 52% of the people who took antidepressants. The results were published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000.
When you start an exercise program, take it slowly at first. You could begin with walks around the neighborhood with a friend. Gradually work up to exercising on most days of the week. Try out different activities to find ones that you really enjoy. Doing things you like to do and having other people involved may help you stick with a regular exercise routine.
Sleep well.Depression, and sometimes antidepressants, can interfere with your sleep. Some people with depressionsleep too much. Others can't fall asleep or wake up too early. So try to incorporate healthy sleep habits into your life. Get on a regular schedule: go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Avoid naps. Before getting in bed, unwind with a good book or soothing music, but not in the bedroom. It might help to reserve the bedroom only for sleep and sex.
Eat a healthy diet. There's no diet that will cure or prevent depression. But a sensible eating plan will keep you feeling healthy and give you the nutrients you need. Don't rely on popular diets that cut out food groups and sharply restrict what you can eat. Just focus on the basics: watch your calories, eat lots of vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, and limit fat and sugar. Since caffeine can make you anxious, cut back on soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate. Ask your health care provider if seeing a nutritionist would be a good idea.
Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs can add to your depression and make it worse. Depression and substance abuse often go together. In addition, alcohol and drugs can prevent your antidepressants from working as well as they should. If you have a substance abuse problem, you need to get help now. Addiction or abuse can prevent you from fully recovering from depression.
Get some sunlight. Some people find that they get depressed at certain times of the year, most often during the winter when the days are short and the nights are long. This form of depression is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you have SAD, ask your doctor whether light therapy -- exposure to artificial sunlight with a special lamp -- might help.
Stay connected and involved. Depression can rob you of your energy. You may feel like you can barely get across the room, let alone go out to dinner and a movie. But push yourself a little. Set aside time to do things that you used to enjoy doing. Get out with your family or friends. Or take up a hobby that used to give you pleasure. Staying active -- and connected with the people in your life -- may help you feel better.
Take ‘TIME OUT” for yourself regularly, even as little as 15 minutes per day, may be very helpful. Use that time for relaxation, to meet personal needs, or anything that will “re-charge your mental battery”.
If you have treatment-resistant depression, you may have already tried one or more of these options. Don't give up on them. Lifestyle changes continue to be important as you and your doctor determine the appropriate treatment options for you.
SOURCES: American Psychiatric Association, Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Major Depression, 2000. Babyak, M. et al., Psychosomatic Medicine, 2000. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "Food and Mood," "Healthy Lifestyles," "Guide to Depression and Bipolar Disorder, 2002." Fochtmann, L.J. and Gelenberg, A.J., Focus, Winter, 2005. National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." National Institutes of Mental Health: "Depression." National Mental Health Association: "Depression: What You Need To Know."