Let's begin with a disclaimer...
There is not a one-shoe-fits-all approach to fixing depression. And this is not a clinical study with scientific data to prove it's effectiveness.
However, it does include scientific data and research.... and this is meant to be a no-pill / no-counselor approach to helping you find the most effective way to get rid of your depression or decrease symptoms for the long term. If you've tried all your options (including the ones I have listed below) and you are still struggling with depression, I highly recommend and suggest you seek a safe, medical alternative (medication), or consult with a reputable counselor.
There is nothing wrong with either of these approaches and they can be highly effective. But there are more natural and cost-effective ways of fixing depression that you should first consider -- which can help in the long-term, without causing any kind of dependency on a drug or a person to fix the issue.
Depression is considered a mental illness, but a highly treatable one.
While there are many people who are prone to depression due to personality, genetics, or circumstantial factors, depression is not permanent and it can be fixed. You are not a slave to your depression unless you let it chain you down. You are also NEVER alone. Approximately 25 millions Americans struggle with depression every year. It's an epidemic problem in our country.
But turning to a pill will only mask the symptoms temporarily -- not de-root the underlying problem.
While I will be listing out 7 simple things you can do that could help your depression in the long term, the ONE thing you need to remember is "the mind is a powerful thing." In fact, it's one of the most powerful things about the human body, which is connected to the brain.
"Mind over Matter."
"Perception is Reality."
The brain powers your body to live and function properly. Because the mind (your thoughts, ideas, emotions, etc.) come from the brain, it is crucial that you keep both healthy. That's why medical professionals consider depression a mental illness.
The root of depression is an unhealthy mind. And an unhealthy mind (including symptoms of depression) can cause physical, mental, emotional and physiological issues and illnesses to the rest of your body. It's kind of a big deal.
Scientific studies show that consistent negative thinking can also cause health issues, decreased life span, and many more negative impacts to your body. All from negative thoughts...
Because the mind is a powerful thing.
While depression can be caused by multiple factors, most commonly via circumstantial factors (such as financial stress, family or relationship issues, loneliness, trauma, loss of a loved one, etc.), there is proof that an "unhealthy mind" can cause depression. One example? There are many in the world with far less and experience much worse situations that have healthier minds and live happier lives.
It's all about perspective....
....but that's not what we are here to talk about today.
Read on for 7 simple things that you can do that can help with depression in the long-term.
1 - Make a Difference in a Stranger's Life.
When you live your life with a sense of purpose, your mind will be healthier due to good deeds that ultimately boost confidence, enhance your mood, and lift your spirit through the simple acts of helping others and making a difference for the greater good. You don't have to be a spiritual person or serve a religious cause to benefit from the effects of making a difference in the lives of others.
Research shows a link between serving others with improvement in physical and mental health, as well as lower stress levels and decreased risk of depression.
Just some examples...
- volunteering at a local charity or non-profit organization
- visiting the nursing home and developing relationships with lonely elderly who need a friend or some good company to make their day
- having a conversation with a homeless person and taking them to lunch, or serving consistently at a homeless shelter
- going on a mission trip to spread the gospel of Jesus to unreached countries
- paying for groceries / meal of the single mother behind you who looks like she is struggling or having a rough day
- helping clean up and serve communities who recently had a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado
- visiting your elderly neighbor who is a widow and living alone
- offering free hugs in a busy area of downtown
- organizing a neighborhood donation party to create backpacks filled with school supplies for kids in need in your community
- volunteering for a local home care or hospice
While some of these may be "depressing" situations (such as visiting dying patients or serving a community devastated by a hurricane), the act of helping others in need will ultimately provide a sense of purpose as you become a light (or the good) in this world. And you will, in return, feel good about it.
When you think of others before yourself and become selfless with your time and resources, you will reap the benefits tenfold. It's a rewarding experience to help those in need and put others first.
2 - Maintain a Healthy Mind.
Meditation and Prayer: Whether you're religious or not, scientific studies back up meditation and prayer having a multitude of benefits to your health and well-being. Non-religious meditation can include mindfulness, or simply focusing on your breathing and relaxation instead of your thoughts. Prayer is usually religious and may include practices of meditation, but is meant to be a peaceful encounter and conversation with God. For those close to God, prayer brings an incomparable sense of peace, joy, hope, and love. Both consistent meditation and/or prayer contribute to a healthy mind and overall health and well-being.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is being aware of your surroundings. Noticing the small things. Finding joy and beauty in the small things or in every day situations. It can include positivity and optimism, as well. Mindfulness is taking the time to focus on the moment or focus on the good in the moment. It's not allowing those every day distractions, to-do lists, stresses, or needs to interfere with or captivate your moments of mindfulness.
Positivity and Optimism: Positivity is similar to optimism, but both are unique. Positivity is referring to one's character, and optimism refers to a situation. As mentioned previously, scientific studies show consistent negative thinking can cause health issues, decreased life span, and many more negative impacts to your body. Consistent positive thoughts and optimism can cause the opposite. While there are many bad situations, events and mishaps that we all face in life, there is always beauty and good in life, as well. Sometimes there isn't anything positive about a specific situation. But optimism is believing that there is still hope and still good and still beauty in the world. There is always something to look forward to, to hope for, to enjoy, to love. And if you feel like you've hit rock bottom, "There's only one way to go... UP!" Being optimistic isn't easy, but if you discipline yourself to say at least one (or two) good things for every negative thing you say or think, it could help you along the path to viewing situations and events in a new light - with positivity and optimism - and help you maintain a healthy mind.
"Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8
3 - Maintain a Healthy Body.
Diet and Exercise: When most people think of diet and exercise, the first thing that comes to mind is body image or looking fit and sexy. But there are many benefits to proper diet and exercise that should be emphasized more often to promote the health and well-being of individuals. And this includes mental health.
Active lifestyle: Maintaining an active lifestyle includes proper diet and regular exercise, but it can be so much more fun than that. Being active involves any physical activity. It can be playing a sport, (tennis, sand volleyball, basketball, disc golf, golf, bowling, etc), hiking, biking, walking the dog, swimming, 5k races, roller/ice skating, snow skiing, playing with your kids outside, dancing, cleaning the house, hand washing the car, yard work and gardening, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity... you name it!
Set Goals: Whether through physical fitness, health, or diet, there are many opportunities for you to set goals to reach. Reaching those goals provides you with a sense of accomplishment. This will help increase confidence, boost mood, and help with mental health. Goals don't have to be health related, but in a later section, we will cover some other goals that provide the same sense of accomplishment that is healthy for lifting your spirits.
Confidence, Energy, and Social Benefits: Maintaining an active lifestyle, a healthy diet, and staying physically fit is great for your body. But it's as equally good for your mental health. It helps boost confidence, maintain natural energy (unless you work too hard and produce fatigue), and provides social benefits. When you feel good about your body image, you naturally will feel more confident, even if you are a shy person or introvert. Along with regular exercise, when you feel healthy and have a proper diet, it will produce natural energy that is healthy for your body. Some coffee is also good for you at limited amounts, but natural energy is what you should strive for. Healthy foods and regular exercise can provide that for you. There are also social benefits to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Whether you are taking fitness or studio classes with a group of people, playing a sport with some friends, going on dog walks with your neighbors, running 5k races with your community, or serving your community through volunteer roles, your mental health can be improved through these social aspects (sense of community, mentioned below).
4 - Recharge.
It's important to recharge. Recharging is meant to be refreshing to your soul, your well-being, your mental health, mood and spirit. Whether you feel like you are always on the go without a break, unable to escape the stressors of daily life, or your daily routine (work or personal) starts to feel mundane, it might be time to recharge. Recharging looks different for each person. To some, it's getting away and taking a vacation. To some, it's me-time. To some, it's taking a walk at a park or hiking in the mountains. To some, it's having a girls night out. To some, it's being able to relax on the couch and enjoy a glass of wine while watching a great movie. To some, it's going to yoga class.
Whatever you need to do to recharge, figure out a time to do just that. Here are some common ways that people can recharge and refresh their minds:
- Travel or get away for a few days
- Explore or experience something new
- Vacation / staycation
- Spend time outdoors (hiking, fishing, walking, etc)
5- Accomplish Goals.
As mentioned previously, a sense of accomplishment is great for mental health. Setting reachable goals (big and small) and achieving them are a great way to boost confidence, mood, joy, and self-appreciation. You'll be saying to yourself, "You did it!" or if you made it public/known to friends and family, they will be able to celebrate your accomplishments with you. Goals are also great for self-discipline and providing a sense of purpose.
Goals come in all shapes and sizes. Setting small, reachable goals will give you more opportunities to celebrate those achievements and accomplishments. Setting large, reachable goals will give you an increased sense of accomplishment and success in achieving those goals.
Examples of smaller goals:
- Diet: Lose 10 pounds in one month.
- Financial: Save $1,000 for new laptop. Pay off credit card debt in 4 months. Save $25 per week in gas by carpooling, walking, run errands in bulk, etc.
- Fitness: Gain flexibility so you can touch your toes. Train for a 5k. 5,000 steps per day.
Examples of larger goals:
- Diet: Lose 100 lbs in 6 months.
- Financial: Save $20,000 for a new car by the end of the year. Pay off house in 3 years.
- Fitness: Train for a Triathlon or Half Marathon. 10,000 steps per day. Be able to hold yoga headstand with ease.
6 - Maintain Community.A low sense of belonging (or sense of community) is a common predictor of depression. Community is another word for "friendships" or "connections." When you have a sense of community in the place you live, the place you work, the places you spend your time, the place you go to church, etc., it provides several mental health benefits including the following:
Close Friendships: Close friends (even just one or two) are great companions to have, regardless if you are married or not. A close friendship with your spouse is also important, but having a great friend to talk to, hang out with, and enjoy spending time with also provides it's own unique benefits and perspectives on issues you are having or advice you need to hear. It also provides you with an opportunity to hang out with someone who you feel comfortable opening up to about personal things and someone who enjoys doing different things with you than you do with your spouse. Having close friendships is especially important for those who are not married.
Comfort Zones: It's good to find comfort in your community, but community can also mean getting you OUT of your comfort zones, which is a good thing! Establishing relationships with those in your community, your neighborhood, your church, your organizations, your workplace, your workout class, etc. are great ways to build friendships and increase your sense of community. But getting out of your comfort zones can also give you a sense of community through meeting new people, going to events that you don't know anyone attending, having conversations or working with those much different than you, meeting those who challenge your beliefs and perspectives, accountability, etc.
Accountability: A sense of community can provide self-discipline and accountability. Wherever you are involved (church group, bible study, HOA, PTA, volunteer for non-profit, board member, workout group, etc.), you will feel accountable to get out of your bubble of comfort and show up, even when you feel like staying home and watching Netflix by yourself. But after being involved, making a difference, or simply being consistent in showing up for that gathering, you will feel a small sense of accomplishment and a big sense of community.
Even if you are introverted or painfully shy, having a sense of community is important. Loneliness and isolation are not good for a person's soul, not matter how much you enjoy spending time to yourself.
7 - Comfort Zone - Get Out of It!On a podcast I recently listened to, it briefly discussed a really random (in my opinion) clinical study of those who had depression and these "tests" that the subjects took to measure it's effectiveness on helping them with their depression. They tested a few different measures, but the one they found to be effective that was most surprising was when they made the subjects get "uncomfortable." They made them do specific things that most would consider "out of their comfort zone" (ethical and legal, of course) and it ended up having positive results.
One of the "tests" the male subjects had to accomplish included going up to random girls, purposely giving them an awkward compliment such as "I like your face," and asking them for their number. They of course got rejected many times, but also had some successful attempts. Another "test" included the male and female subjects going to a bookstore and asking the help desk clerk to help them find an erotic book on sex (or something else totally embarrassing like an infection of some kind). Talk about WAY out of comfort zones!!! I am not recommending you do these specific "test" measures, but you get the point.
The study results found that getting the subjects out of their comfort zones and experiencing (or getting used to) lots of rejection helped them overcome depression. These tests built confidence, decreased the fear or rejection or embarrassment, and we're strangely humorous and exciting at the same time.
The point of these test results show that getting out of our comfort zones (when it's ethical and legal of course) can help boost self-esteem and self-confidence, which are good for mental health.
Getting out of your comfort zones can provide a sense of:
- Confidence / self-esteem
- New adventures and experiences