11 Ways to Beat Depression and Low Mood
According to the World Health Organisation more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression and it is the leading cause of disability. Depression has been named the common cold of mental illness and is believed to affect everyone at some point in the lifespan, but in differing levels of severity. Depression is diagnosed by a doctor and sometimes treated with medication, and sometimes not. It can go undiagnosed of course and some people who have milder forms of it may come to see it as the norm and not realise they are suffering from it. Like in the case of an auto-immune disease where the body is attacking itself, in low mood it is sometimes as though the mind attacks itself with negative self-depreciating thoughts. Which, if believed and taken on only make things worse. In recovering from lows, we either move fluidly past the dismal thoughts or we have to work to skilfully reframe our thinking. We can learn to respond effectively to those thoughts, and correct them.
Through working with many people with depression I have learned the following things that can help:
- Counselling – talking about what is on your mind gets it out there, and a skilled therapist can assist you in reframing negative unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. Feelings of grief, shame, resentment and other depression catalysts can be worked through with a professional who recognises the pitfalls and supports you.
- EFT – Emotional Freedom Techniques, sometimes called ‘tapping’ works to unblock the energy system which is often ‘scrambled’ in depression. I have seen EFT lift peoples moods right there and then and allow a new perspective on what seemed like an enormous problem.
- Exercise. Evidence suggests it may be as effective as an antidepressant medication, but without any side effects.
- Get outdoors, rain or shine, being out in nature is proven to be good for your mind as well as body.
- Plant something. Getting your hands in the earth is very grounding, bringing you back into the body.
- Spend time with animals; studies reveal that playing with a dog or cat can raise serotonin levels and dopamine which helps us feel better and also reduce blood pressure. Also playing or interacting with an animal gets you out of introspection (looking inside all the time) and focusing on something else.
- Surround yourself with beauty. Get some beautiful pictures of scenes you love, focus on them and what you like about them.
- Learn to notice the voice of depression and answer it back. The voice of depression says everything is bad, has always been bad, will always be bad. But how true is this? What evidence is there? Look at the things you have achieved in your life and the things you are grateful for and expand that focus gradually but persistently.
- Soak your feet in lovely scented water. Aromatherapy oils are ideal in their right quantities. It doesn’t have to be soaking your feet but anything nurturing to the self like this is a message of goodness to the self, doing something nice for you.
- Write out a schedule for the day, making sure it’s always achievable. You’ll soon know if you’re asking too much of yourself if a few days pass and you have never achieved all that’s on the list. Ticking off stuff you have managed to do gives you a sense of efficiency and empowerment.
- Make your living space a nice place to be. Get help with cleaning if you need to but make it a priority, so that you feel at ease in your own home.
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How going for a walk can help you feel good
by Dr Ailis Brosnan
Have you ever gone for a walk and felt worse afterwards than you did before you went? I have yet to meet someone who has told me that they have! Experientially we all know that exercise makes us feel better but there is actually lots of research that supports this too.
We know that exercise can help us reduce anxiety, depression and stress and even has some beneficial effects for people with phobias and panic attacks. Research is also indicating that exercise:
- Promotes a sense of well-being and happiness
- Improves sleep quality
- Brings about positive changes in self-perception, confidence and mood
- Increases alertness, clear thinking and productivity
- Brings about better cognitive function in older adults
- Helps develop positive coping strategies.
I conducted a research study a few years ago on the impact of an 8 week exercise program on overweight inactive women. The majority of women signed up with the hope of losing weight, and gradually became more aware of the benefits to their health. By the end of the program however, it was the improvements in psychological well-being that were most valued by the women. By the end of the program they had experienced a 25% increase in their positive emotions. This highlights just how powerful exercise can be not just for physical health but for emotional/mental health too.
I would also include spiritual health in the list of benefits of exercise. I know for me personally, exercise is my meditation in motion, the thing that keeps be grounded and connected. This is amplified when exercising outdoors and again there is lots of evidence emerging to confirm what we all know, that exercising in nature is especially good for us.
Exercising in green space (particularly environments with water) has been shown to improve our self-esteem, mood and anxiety, more than walking in a different environment might. One study showed that mood improved by 66% in people walking in a country park versus only 45% in those walking in a shopping mall.
So, what do you need to do to get these well-being benefits?
The good news is that to start improving your mental health, you don’t necessarily need to run marathons or don your lycra and head to the gym! The latest research tells us that health gains can be obtained just by accumulating at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on 5 days of the week (or 150 minutes a week). It is also recommended to include muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more or to get that extra buzz, take the time to exercise in nature.
So go on – get active and experience the health benefits that physical activity can bring! It’s a great way to feel better, improve your health and have fun. As a renowned GP once stated, “If exercise could be packed in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine!”
Dr. Ailis Brosnan
Dr. Ailis Brosnan is the director of ‘Your Healthy Living Coach’ and she has over 20 years experience in health and fitness in the UK, USA and Ireland. Ailis is passionate about achieving optimal health as a means to leading a full enjoyable life. She blends latest research with a holistic approach to create an original and effective approach to improving your health. She is currently developing an online version of her ‘Inspire’ healthy weight loss program. Her interests aside from health and fitness include preparing raw food, traveling, reading, alternative therapies, personal development and most of all, enjoying quality time with her family.
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What we Say About Ourselves
So many of us would never speak to another person the way we speak about ourselves or to ourselves in our thoughts. I know where I am living and probably many other places it might be social etiquette to put yourself down a little. After all, nobody wants to appear as though they are full of themselves. But be careful what you say about yourself. You are always listening… and sometimes it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. We can live up to the things we make statements about.
If you are in conversation with someone else who is doing negative self-talk, get into the habit of not joining in. Change the subject. Choose your words wisely, instead of saying for example ‘I don’t have any will-power,’ you might say ‘I’m working on improving my will-power.’ And if you find yourself dwelling on something you feel you did wrong, try to remark on it just as you would to a very good friend.
Similarly the thoughts you think about yourself, if they are negative can be challenged. Ask yourself ‘is that true?’ ‘Where’s the evidence?’ Often our thoughts are outdated and based on beliefs stemming from a much earlier time which is now out of date and might never have been true in the first place.
Thoughts are just that: thoughts. We don’t need to treat them as facts particularly if they are negative or worrisome. Just as we can decide to change our clothes half way through the day so we can with our thoughts and for the betterment of mood and well-being if we choose wisely. I know that sounds a little strange, the idea that we can choose our thoughts. Surely they just arise and we are at their mercy? Well, no actually. We can make a concerted effort to change the way we think if we would like to think more optimistically or in a way that supports feeling good.
In mindfulness the concept of becoming the watcher can help us to detach from the thoughts instead of being swept away by them. When we think about ourselves in a critical or unloving way we can say to ourselves ‘isn’t that interesting, that I should think that?!’ ‘Being curious, without judging, we step back from the thought and watch it almost as though it were outside of ourselves somewhere.
Exercise: try to become the watcher of your thoughts for the next few minutes. Notice where one thought stops and the next begins, and how they might be connected or not. Do the thoughts seem kind, critical or neither? If you get distracted and carried off into thoughts simply bring yourself back and start again. After you have done this, think about what thoughts you might like to be having, if you could switch them on like a song. If you were feeling kind and compassionate to yourself (if you aren’t already) what thoughts might you be having?
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