In last week’s blog I wrote that there are two simple things one can do to fight back against depression. In fact, there are literally dozens of straightforward ways to smack depression in the nose: and this is what you want to do, get angry at depression. Angry enough to see it as an enemy that is stealing your happiness. Robbing you of living life at its best.
But describing dozens of ways to beat depression, all within a single blog post, would make for a boring read. Let’s avoid that trap and focus on two simple approaches (for those of you who would like a more in depth discussion that includes a variety of strategies for overcoming depression consider buying the 10 Step Depression Relief Workbook).
Get moving! Go for a walk, a run, a trot, even a gallop. Go to the gym and push some weights. Head to the dance studio and tango. You get the idea: exercise.
We don’t need to get bogged down by overthinking when deciding on how to exercise. The main thing is to get moving. Push yourself. Not so much that you are about to go into cardiac arrest, or cannot keep your lunch down. No need to go that far in order to derive the mental health benefits of moving your body. But do push yourself to the point that you feel that your body has had to do some work.
How long to exercise? Ideally, 20 to 30 minutes… or longer if you like. If that is too much for you, at least at the start, then make it 10 minutes. The main thing, as Dr. Nike likes to say, is “Just do it!”
You can always add minutes later on. The 10-minute walk will become 15 minutes, and this will later turn to 20 minutes, and so forth. You are building a habit, getting into a routine. The most important thing is to simply get started. The number of minutes you exercise is of less importance than getting some momentum on starting the habit of exercising. You can always experiment with how much time to devote to it later on.
How frequently? Every day would be great. Can’t do that? Not to worry. Begin with three times a week. Less than that and you will not see much impact on your mood. Pro Tip: Mark the time you plan to exercise in your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself. If you do not carve out a dedicated time for exercise, it probably will not happen.
One last thing to keep in mind. If you decide that walking/running is how you will start to exercise then consider finding a park or other nature area. Studies show that being out in nature decreases depressive symptoms. Of course simply being outdoors will also help you absorb more vitamin D, which in turn may provide a modest boost in fighting depression.
Set goals, make a plan, execute, achieve. Depression causes you to feel less competent. A sense of helplessness easily sneaks into one’s life.
Setting and reaching goals is the antidote to such feelings. When depressed people tend to set vague goals, and have equally vague plans for reaching these goals. Consequently, they are much less likely to succeed. This lack of success leads to a deepening sense of frustration and failure, thereby worsening the depression.
How to avoid this trap? Start with small, clear goals. You should be able to write such a goal, and plan, on an index card. For some people with whom I have worked these goals are as simple as getting up by 9:00 AM, showering, and being ready for the day by 10:00AM. For others it has been to grocery shop twice a week, pay the household bills and meet a friend for lunch.
When depression is severe, it is usually best to set goals that take aim at achieving small victories. That might be having a productive weekly routine, or maintaining contact with friends. As the depression begins to retreat, you can take aim at more ambitious goals.
If you are depressed I hope you will give these two easy strategies a try. They might be just the thing that helps you begin to feel better, and build momentum for even bigger changes.