My psychiatrist told me something that changed the way I looked at my mental health forever.
He told me that my goal shouldn’t be to rid myself of depression.
He said I would always be prone to depressive episodes and that the goal should be make these episodes less frequent and less intense.
He also once told me that his favourite food was Frog Leg Soup, but I digress. The depressive episode thing was more important, but I seem to remember both on a very regular basis.
Focusing on de-intensifying (is that a word?) my depressive episodes seems like a much more manageable task and it’s fairly easy to see if it’s working.
A depressive episode approaches different people in different ways.
For some it’s like a slow fog rolling in that slowly clouds your perception and makes the world feel gray.
For others it comes swiftly like a light being turned off on a dark night.
It can be either one for me. Most times if feels like a warm bath that starts rapidly cooling off. It starts out slightly uncomfortable but soon I’m shivering violently (and by shivering I mean ugly snot crying until my eyes can barely open).
Depressive episodes also vary in length.
At this point in my life, mine are about a week long which is awesome considering they used to last six plus months.
Point is, it’s different for everyone. Preventing and managing a depressive episode properly means less downtime for our souls and less bewilderment from our friends and family.
In short, it means a better life in general.
I’m not an expert when it comes to depression, but I’d consider myself an expert when it comes to MY depression.
Hopefully you can grab some tips that’ll help you become an expert in yours too!
Here are the things I do to manage my depressive episodes:
TRACK, TRACK, TRACK
This is really important. When I first started up my antidepressants again about five years ago I wrote down everything. I’m not big into journaling but I did write down the side-effects and how I felt.
This helped me immensely when I was switched to a generic version of Wellbutrin and I went off the rails emotionally. I knew instantly what the cause was and I was able to get back on track as quickly as possible.
FIGURE OUT YOUR TRIGGERS
Tracking is the best way to figure out your triggers. This will help you figure out what a normal mood fluctuation is and what might actually be the beginning of a downward spiral.
Using a scale of 1-10, mark down how interactions and environments make you feel emotionally AND physically.
Remember that depression manifests physically and being tired and experiencing aches and pains that you can’t account for can be symptoms.
Here are MY most common triggers:
- Stressful interactions with my parents
- Lack of sleep
- Untidy living environment
- Worrying about money
- My husband going out of town for work
- Too much dairy (please see this article for more insight into this)
Now, a trigger doesn’t mean you’ll end up in a full-blown depressive episode. I look at it as a warning sign so that I can pull shit back before it’s too late. It’s kind of light a yellow light at an intersection. Slow down and pay attention.
CREATE A DAILY ROUTINE
This one is important but very subjective. Some people get really bogged down by an overly strict routine while others I know absolutely thrive on it.
I’m somewhere in the middle.
If I go too long without a routine, then I start to spin. If I have too much of a routine, then I get bored and restless (which can also lead to a depressive episode).
A daily routine doesn’t necessarily have to be a timed schedule. It’s more important that you fit in everything you need to feel like you’ve had a successful day.
What makes you feel like you’ve had a GOOD day?
For me, it’s the following:
- A solid four hours of work (writing, researching etc)
- Quality time with my husband including touching and kissing
- Connecting with a family member in a meaningful way (not all of them at once!)
- Spending some time ensuring that my home is tidy
- Spending some time either listening to music or doing something creative
- Making sure my personal hygiene is on point (not full make-up and such…just clean and smelling gooood)
Something else that works very well for me is to have a bedtime routine that’s separate from my other routines.
Before bed I make sure that our kitchen is tidy (often with my husband’s help), take out the dog for one last bathroom break, shower and brush my teeth AND make sure there a clean and easy-to-wear outfit ready for the next day.
Someone once said that making your bed every morning is a gift for your future self. That’s how I see leaving a clean kitchen and clean clothes for myself.
When I wake up, I wake up to gifts from my past self 😉 Awwwww…
GET ENOUGH WATER
Okay, I admit it. I struggle with this one myself and it’s probably one of the most important factors when dealing with physical and mental healthy.
You MUST get in as much water as you possibly can during the day (no more than a litre an hour though…let’s not overwhelm our kidneys).
Personally, I need three litres per day to function at an optimal level. That’s pure water – not juice, not water in coffee (as my husband loves to remind me), not tea…just plain water.
You can add some lemons, limes or even cucumber to make it more interesting.
Even mild dehydration can negatively impact our moods according to various studies including one from the University of Connecticut. The really scary thing found in that particular study is that dehydration affects women’s moods MORE than it does men.
UGH I can see my husband’s “I told you so” face as I type this.
A lack of water doesn’t only impact depression, it can also increase anxiety and brain fog. YUCK! Not sure about you but when I can’t focus properly, that gets me really down.
I’m not going to go too much into detail in this blog post because I’ve done a completely separate one on the subject here.
Long story short, if there’s only one thing you do on a regular basis, please make sure it’s that you’re drinking enough water. Without it, you are literally crippling your brain!
FOCUS ON SLEEP
This is a tricky one because some of us just want to sleep all the damn time when we’re depressed. It’s like magical glue keeps us stuck to the bed or the couch (especially on those cold winter mornings, am I right?).
Having a good sleep routine is paramount when it comes to tackling depression.
Along with the whole hydration thing, this is something that I struggle with as well. I can stay up until 5 am and then sleep on and off all day.
This completely ruins my schedule, any sense of structure I might have and just plain throws me off kilter completely.
Insomnia is a big problem for some of us with depression and, in fact, studies show that that insomnia in itself raises the risk for developing depression ten-fold.
Here are a 10 ways to practice good sleep hygiene (yes, that’s actually what it’s called).
- Make sleep a priority. Don’t let social events or family pressures keep you up later than you need to be. You can watch that movie another day. There will always be excuses to stay up (work emails, housework etc), but the benefits of a good night’s sleep will far outweigh anything you’re able to do with that extra time.
- Leave your electronics out of the bedroom especially your phone. Turn it over and don’t look at it!
- Get your room ready for rest! That means making it dark and cool. According to the sleep council, the ideal temperature for sleeping is 16-18°C (60-65°F). That’s a little too cool for me. I prefer around 19°C or 20°C, so figure out what works for you and make it happen! You can also use a fan to create a breeze and some white noise.
- Clear your head. If your mind is running with thoughts of things you have to do, make a list of it all before you go to sleep knowing you can tackle it first thing in the morning.
- Relax with water. Have a hot bath and soak in the tub before bed. If baths aren’t your thing, a warm shower will do the trick.
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine before bed. In fact, avoiding caffeine completely is good advice in general for those suffering with anxiety and/or depression.
- Do some exercise during the day. It doesn’t have to be incredible amounts but a nice walk in the fresh air or a swim will help you when it comes time to sleep.
- Read something…preferably a non-fiction book that’s not too exciting! This isn’t the time for murder mysteries haha
- Have sex! YES! This does work. Even better, if your partner is up for it, ask them for a sexy massage followed by some pleasure. Orgasms release endorphins and they cause intense relaxation. A strong (or any orgasm really) is just the ticket to put you in a sleepy state of mind. Close contact with your partner will also help you to feel safe and secure which will ease lingering anxious thoughts.
- Don’t toss and turn in bed. If you cannot sleep, leave the room. You don’t want to associate your bedroom with being awake. Leave the room and come back when you feel tired. That way, when you enter your room on a regular basis, your brain will have associated the space with sleep.
There are so many ways to prevent a depressive episode and, as I’ve mentioned, they can be very personal in nature. Only you know what works in your situation. Or, maybe you don’t and that’s okay too.
Take some time to figure it out and get to know yourself better. When you do, drop me a line and let me know what works for you. I’d love to chat about it 🙂