Find Meaningful Solutions to Each Factor
It can feel overwhelming at first to identify the various factors contributing to your depression. You may wonder if you're up to the task of recovery. You may believe that you're one of those who "really IS chemically imbalanced," without hope of improvement. But remember – that belief can be your biggest impediment to feeling better. Recovery requires hope – hope of change, hope of resolution. Hope can be scary – but it is the first gateway leading out of depression.
No one improves all at once. Recovery comes gradually, a little at a time, as you learn to cultivate it. I love the wise old sayings reminding us:
-- "The journey of a lifetime begins with a single step."
-- "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
Recovery always happens one step at a time – one bite at a time. You've already taken some important first steps – learning what depression is, and what it isn't; and identifying various factors contributing to your depression at this point in time. Now, let us get on with the more important steps of identifying solutions, and building a happier "antidepressant lifestyle."
Solution 1: Positive Lifestyle Factors
In helping individuals recover from depression, I often find that it is helpful to begin where we left off in the last section: with lifestyle factors. Substantial evidence has accumulated that these factors both influence and are influenced by depression. People are more likely to get depressed - and remain depressed - if they are not exercising, eating right, sleeping well, etc. The catch-22 is: when people are depressed, they have a harder time exercising, eating right, sleeping well, etc. They "just don't feel like it" – so they don't do it – and the resulting condition gets harder and harder to fight.
Fortunately, lifestyle factors work the other way around too. If you are already depressed, engaging in positive lifestyle factors can help you recover. If you are not currently depressed, engaging in these positive lifestyle factors can help prevent depression from occurring – even if you are hit by a substantial trigger.
I have learned that the most helpful thing I can recommend to a client at the end of a first session is to exercise and eat better. It used to be that first sessions were nothing more than collecting history and symptom checklists, and then getting started the next week in finding actual solutions to the problem. In contrast, when people leave a first session, and engage throughout that week in positive lifestyle factors – even just small improvements in diet, and a little more exercise than usual – it starts lifting their mood, clearing the sludge in their bodies and brains, and preparing them for the more intensive training and skill-building that begins with the second session.
Most people have heard over a lifetime that they should eat more veggies, fruits, and whole grains (rather than junk food and sugar); that they should drink more pure water (rather than high-sugar, artificially manufactured beverages); and that they should be more active and exercise more (rather than stay sedentary.) It is well known that these healthy lifestyle factors help prevent, even reverse, heart disease, diabetis, obesity, and many other physical ailments. But did you know - these same healthy behaviors are just as important for brain health?
The brain is a physical organ, after all - just like the heart or liver. More and more, scientific research is revealing that what helps the body helps the brain, and what hurts the body hurts the brain.
The best news is... the anti-depressant lifestyle is identical to the anti-obesity, anti-diabetis, anti-heart-disease, anti-cancer, anti-high-blood-pressure lifestyle. It can be a little hard to get yourself going - especially when you're feeling down. But the benefits of good nutrition and exercise are impossible to over-estimate - and can affect your general health - as well as your mood - in every direction. Here's some of the best advice and research available about these topics online:
PDF - Online Articles on Nutrition and Depression
PDF - Online Articles on Exercise and Depression
You don't have to become a diehard vegan or a marathon runner to benefit from these suggestions. Just pick one or two things to improve on - something manageble, a small step up from what you're doing now.
Improving your physical health is literally the single best thing you can do today, to heal and protect your delicate brain chemistry - as well as to benefit your overall well being. Maybe it's a five-minute walk to the street corner and back. Maybe it's adding one or two more vegetables to your daily diet. Maybe it's cutting back on the diet soda, replacing it with a dose of pure water. Pick something manageable - then do it - starting today. Your brain will thank you - and your body will as well!
Solution 2: "Do the Diamond"
The second strategy I find helpful in reversing depression is to help individuals identify effective replacements for each of the "causal factors" they identified by using "The Diamond" in Step Two. I often begin this process with the help of a little 2-page instrument I call "The Cookbook." You can download it from the link below:
PDF - "The Cookbook"
This document is extremely helpful in outlining for you the difference between "How to Get Depressed" versus "How to Choose Joy Instead," in each of the four areas addressed in the Diamond. It can be useful first to highlight items on the left-hand side of the document that are occurring as part of your depression - proceeding through the sequence outlined in the Diamond. Then, for each highlighted item, look to the right-hand column for replacement strategies that can lift your mood, and help you function more effectively.
Be careful, again, to work though this at a manageable pace. Choose one or two items at a time to work on; then, when those are more solid, move on to one or two more. You can either start with items that feel easier and more manageable; or harder and more urgent - whichever you feel will be more helpful to you.
This instrument is called "The Cookbook" because our emotional lives are made of many different ingredients - just like a recipe. You blend in one element at a time - either toward depression, or toward joy and healing. Have fun cooking! And check throughout this site for many more resources to help you apply the advice found in "The Cookbook." My favorite is Michael Yapko's book, Breaking the Patterns of Depression, which is full of clear, practical strategies and writing exercises to help heal depressive thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. I also find David D. Burn's Feeling Good Handbook extraordinarily useful for helping people learn to replace negative thoughts and build more positive relationships.
If you get stuck or overwhelmed, a professional counselor or life coach can help you focus and direct your efforts – just as a personal trainer in the gym might help you select the best exercise routine to help you achieve your individualized fitness goals. Ultimately, however – in or out of the gym - in or out of therapy – your own efforts are what have the potential to transform your life. While others can be good advisers, coaches, and cheerleaders – pointing you in the right direction, and encouraging your progress - the real work of healing belongs to you. Have fun learning and applying new strategies - and seeing wonderful new results!
Solution 3: Face and Resolve Core Trigger Issues
This is the deepest and most challenging of the "solutions" - but it is an important one. If core issues are not resolved, they will generally find their way back to the surface, interfering with mental health and happiness.
Some people choose to seek help with this part of the healing process - perhaps from a professional counselor, a church leader, or a trusted friend. I prefer to get clients well on their way, in engaging Solution 1 and Solution 2, before investing too deeply in Solution 3. It seems to be a safer course to build a foundation of health and positive coping skills, before delving into these tenderest of issues. Core issues can be deeply upsetting, even overwhelming - and addressing them too early can intensify distress before the individual has a chance to gain needed skills in emotional pain management.
That said - there is great healing power in facing and resolving those deep, tender hurts that may have triggered initial distress - perhaps years or decades before the current episode of depression. This is particularly the case with abuse, early loss of a parent, or other difficult childhood experiences. Talking through core trigger issues with a trusted helper can be of great healing benefit. Writing in a journal or guided workbook about such experiences can also be very helpful. Finally, spirituality can play an incomparably powerful role in healing these deeper issues.
The Bookstore on this site, as well as the "Best Books" and other resources in the Emotional Healing sections of the site, can point you, topic by topic, to some of the "best of the best" tools for healing your particular trigger issues. Remember, however, to first build your strength and resilience with Solution 1 and Solution 2. The objective is to regain your strength and happiness - not to get overwhelmed by the challenges of life.
As you care for your physical health (Solution 1), replace depressive thoughts and behaviors with happier ones (Solution 2), and face and resolve core issues (Solution 3), you will move slowly but steadily toward overcoming depression, and reclaiming joy and satisfaction in your life. You will then be ready to move on to the final step: