As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, today we take a look at depression, and provide our top seven simple tips to help improve mood and mental well-being.
What is depression?
Depression is a common mood disorder which gives a feeling of sadness, and a lack of motivation and interest.
Of course, we all feel down from time to time. For most, by making small changes in life (e.g. sleeping more) the low mood often gets better after a few days or weeks.
In contrast, depression is characterised as a persistent low in mood that lasts for two weeks or longer, and interferes with the ability to function day to day.
The symptoms are varied, and include feeling sad, anxious, frustrated, and low on confidence and self-esteem.
Depression can impact us all. Recent studies suggest that if affects 1 in 10 people. In the UK, there are about 3 million people diagnosed with depression, roughly the size of Wales.
The great news is that today many more people are aware of mental health issues such as depression, and those encountering it are speaking out and sharing their experiences.
This includes public figures such as Dwanye Johnson (The Rock) who has revealed how he saved his mother from a suicide attempt when he was 15.
He has tweeted messages of support to those suffering from depression, “Took me a long time to realise it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone.”
Below, we provide seven top tips to be used to channel positive energy, to help improve mental heath and well-being.
What can I improve my mood and well-being?
We all have a basic human need to feel safe, and a sense of belonging in a social group. We are hard-wired for connection. When we feel down, we have the urge to withdraw from everybody, isolate ourselves, close the curtains and revert to silent contemplation.
Rumination is something that is likely to maintain low mood. Don't withdraw from life. Try to connect with someone, friends or a family member, whether it be a phone call, going out or visiting someone that you know. Human interaction is therapeutic and should help lift mood.
Be more active
Neuroscience research shows us that exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain and your mood. When you work-out, the body releases neurotransmitters that lift mood and improve memory function and the ability to concentrate for up to a couple of hours thereafter.
Choose an exercise that you enjoy as this will increase the likelihood of you doing it regularly. If you haven't exercised for a while, start gently by walking for 20 minutes. If it helps, do it with a friend or listen to music.
Face your fears
Depression often leads to a natural impulse to withdraw and avoid the things that are found to be difficult.
When people feel low or anxious, they sometimes avoid socialising or doing activities that could lead to social engagement, such as driving or travelling.
If this starts to happen, facing up to these situations will help them become easier to do in the future.
Try to eat a healthy diet
Depression can impact appetite. Loss of appetite is a common symptom of depression, albeit depending on the person, others find comfort in food and can put on weight.
The main thing is to try to eat healthily and to keep to the standard eating times for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Consuming a lot of processed foods, including high-sugar products, has been associated with a higher risk of depression.
Naturally try to limit your alcohol intake or avoid entirely. Alcohol is a depressant which can accentuate the feelings of low mood.
Have a routine
When people feel down, it’s often hard to follow a normal routine. With less structure in the day, this can lead to more contemplation time which can be counterproductive. It may also lead to poor sleep patterns, staying up late and sleeping during the day.
Try to get up at your normal time and stick to your standard routine as much as possible. The day will pass quicker and there is more to distract you from rumination.
When we feel low in mood, we tend to lose interest in the things that we used to find pleasurable. Part of the withdrawal and isolation tendency is to stop doing them and shut them out.
Happiness and pleasure won’t return by themselves, they have to be supported by our behaviour. Go and do something for no other purpose than you might enjoy it.
This refers to a practice, a concerted effort, to focus on the things that we appreciate and feel thankful for. In doing so, this pushes back against the negative thoughts that introduced and are perpetuating the low mood.
Gratitude does not come naturally. Try to establish a structure whereby you are regularly reminded to think positively, for example, as a notification on your phone.
Always remember, that if you are feeling down there is plenty of support available to you.
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, there are many helplines and support groups that offer expert advice. You can find them here.
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