Although we all get sad from time to time and most of us are well acquainted with feeling the blues, depression is technically something different from just feeling down. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is "a serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working." (NIMH, Retrieved, September 2018). Sometimes people experience depression and don't realize the vast amount of support that is available to them. In addition to the immediate symptoms of your chronic illness, it is important to remember to address any symptoms of depression that might present themselves. By doing so, you are giving yourself another boost toward overall health and wellness.
There are several types of depression, so it is very important that you don't try to diagnose and treat your symptoms yourself. Also, remember that symptoms must be present consistently for a period of two weeks to be considered diagnosable. An important strategy for addressing bothersome symptoms is to keep a journal. Commit to jotting down how you are feeling throughout a two-week period. Make sure to note any details that seem out of the ordinary for you or that seem to interrupt your daily life distinct from your other diagnosis of chronic illness. A simple check-list is not sufficient for a diagnosis of depression, but it is a good starting point and will be useful to show your doctor or mental health provider.
Do you notice any of the following?
Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
Decreased energy or fatigue
Moving or talking more slowly
Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
Appetite and/or weight changes
Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment (NIMH, Retrieved, September 2018).
You do not need to feel guilty for feeling depressed. It is a common misconception that those who struggle with depression do so because of some kind of character flaw as if they are just not strong enough to "get over it" or are "lazy". It is a complex condition, but it is highly treatable. The first step to treating your depression symptoms is to involve your doctor or mental health provider. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to go directly to the counselor or psychologist of your choice or you may be required to get a referral from your primary care physician. In the latter case, you don't have to worry. Most doctors are well aware of how to get you the help you need and recognize the benefits of treating depression symptoms in their early stages. They also understand chronic illness and depression can coexist and feed treatment outcomes for both illnesses. Together, you and your doctor can create a plan for addressing your symptoms of depression. (NIMH, retrieved September 2018)
The most common treatments for depression are medications and counseling from a licensed mental health provider. Medications come in several varieties; they are not one-size-fits-all. You may try several different types or brands before finding one that is a good fit for your needs. These are important conversations to have with your doctor. She may also suggest certain vitamins to add to your treatment, or even certain vitamins to avoid depending on the medication. In addition, counseling therapy can be crucial to treatment. (WebMD, Retrieved September 2018)
In addition, here are some lifestyle habits that can aid your treatment for depression.
Set realistic goals for yourself. Give yourself the daily gift of success. If you are struggling in one area, such as task completion or exercise, ask yourself to simply do a little bit more than yesterday. By using this slow-increase strategy, you will find more consistency across the week and experience a feeling of more success.
Organize yourself. Use calendars, planners, or lists. Use these tools, without feeling overwhelmed, by limiting the amount you put on them. It also forces you to prioritize and say "no" to things that are not necessary.
Postpone important decisions until you have a diagnosis and treatment plan from your doctor or mental health provider. Some examples of things that might need to be postponed are: marriage, divorce, changing jobs, or moving. You can set yourself up for more success if you deal with your depression symptoms before addressing these decisions.
Let others into your life. You don't have to tell everyone about your problems, but it is important not to isolate yourself. If you find it difficult to be in social situations, set a realistic goal for yourself to socialize with at least one or a few people on a regular basis. Hold yourself accountable to this goal.
Eat well. Fill yourself with the right fuel so you won't have enough appetite for the junk. Eat from a perspective of nourishment, not deprivation.
Exercise. As mentioned earlier, you may not be at a place in which a 5k run is realistic. Start from what you are already doing and add a little more each day. Are you sedentary? Don't judge. Adjust! Ask your doctor what a good starting place would be for you taking into account your physical health limitations.
Manage stress with soothing activities: Listen to music, read books, meditate, pray, draw or paint, play games. You may not feel the desire to do these things right now, but you will be glad to see the affects on your depression management.
You may not feel the desire to do these things right now, but, if you do, you may be surprised to see their positive impact on your depression management.
National Institute for Mental Health, Depression. Retrieved September 2018
WebMD, Depression Health Center. Retrieved September 2018
WebMD, Exercise Can Chase Away the Blues. To a Point, Retrieved September 2018