By: Martianne Stanger
As the beauty of fall blooms around us, so do shorter days and colder weather.
For some, the increasing dose of darkness and cold in the physical world can increase existing depression or trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Indeed, fall and winter can be long, tough months for those who face depression.
So what can we do about it?
Every person’s triggers and triumphs are different, but, for me—someone who was burdened by serious depression for years and has now come to a much more peaceful place—these are some things that helped.
Yes, simply hold on for one more moment, because you never know what the next moment will bring, and, assuredly, one of the next moments will bring something to appreciate.
Count your blessings
It may sound cliche, but, over time, it works. When you purposefully focus on gratitude and celebrate greatness, you train your brain to see what’s good in life and build habits of healing and happiness. For many years, whenever signs of depression begin to knock on the doors of my head and heart, I practiced asking myself every morning, “What am I excited about?” and held myself accountable to think of at least one good thing about the day – even if it was simply, “The sun has risen,””I am breathing,” or “This is a new day with no mistakes in it yet.” And, then, at bedtime, I asked, “How am I fulfilled?” and would consciously think of at least one way the day brought some sense of satisfaction. Sure, some nights I really had to reach to discover a delight amidst the depression, but always I as able to grasp at least a tiny nugget of fulfillment, and, eventually, I found myself counting more blessings than burdens and realizing more hope than helplessness. I have since begun a habit of sharing gratitude and greatness with my kids which helps us all stay positive.
Speaking of not feeling helpless, I also found that increasing my ability to believe that I could solve problems, reach goals, complete tasks, and achieve things that I set out to do helped me overcome depression. To this end, I set pretty low bars at first, and, then, as I was able to hop over each one, set higher and higher ones until I realized I truly had the ability to reach the proverbial bards of a multitude of goals and could also choose to reset the bars when I could not reach them. This brought a sense of inner strength and hope back into my life.
During one serious bout with depression, the bars I set were physical ones: “I can run to work (which was nearby) and home.” “I can run a 5K.” “I can run a 10k.” “A half-marathon.” “A marathon.” Indeed, I ended up running myself right out of that bout with depression over time, and, only later learned that what I was experiencing through trial-and-error was a subject of research and, for some people, exercise is as effective as antidepressants. Since then, even if all I can do is walk-and-talk, I have made daily movement a key priority in staying healthy and mentally balanced.
I have no doubt that part of the reason running and walking worked so well for me in keeping the effects of depression at bay is because I tend to partake in exercise outside. There’s just something healing about fresh air and sunshine, and, even if all I am do is sit outdoors to read or partake in a simple picnic, I know that getting outside works wonders. The Vitamin D, the change of place and pace… scientifically proven factors and more colloquial ones all work together to make a breath of fresh air a vital breath to take.
Eat whole and healthy
Another factor that contributed to my healing was making healthier eating choices. When I began concentrating on increasing whole foods and ensuring that I choose a well-balanced, mostly plant-based diet that includes Vitamins D, B, folate, magnesium, and oh so many phyto nutrients, things certainly began looking up for me. I accepted the idea that plant-based foods can help depression and, since then, have experienced far fewer bouts of depression. (Your ideal diet may be different, but healthy choices are essential.)
Of course, there is more to mental health than how physical things, like what you eat, how much you exercise, and how often you get outside can affect your life. Social-emotional aspects are important, too, and, I can attest that living by the concept that “no man is an island” truly is a reason I am still here. For, in my darkest hours, family, friends, and strangers alike became a lifeline for me. Whether I reached out to them or someone just happened to say or do the right thing at the right time in reaching towards me, human connection became a priceless part of regaining and retaining mental health. I am a huge believer in making eye contact, sharing smiles, taking time to talk and, yes, touch other people – both figuratively and literally. A pat on the back, a hug, a high five, a tousle of hair, a helping hand… Literal human touch and a touch of social connection can do so much.
For me, trust was essential to overcoming depression, not just trusting myself, trusting others, nor trusting that the next moment might be better – all of which, of course, are important, but also trusting that I have a purpose in this world and that no one but me can fulfill that purpose. In my case, such trust comes as a part of my faith in God – a God who has never abandoned me even in the times whenI walked away from Him. A God who created me for a purpose and who promises me hope and a future. Wherever you place your trust, I encourage you to realize that you, too, have a purpose and that purpose is for good!
There is no doubt about it, depression stinks. But, it’s rankness need not overpower us. Even as we slog through the most oppressive moments of depression, we can hold on, count blessings, believe in our abilities, keep moving, take a breath of fresh air, choose nourishment, accept connection, and keep on trusting that this world is a better place for having us in it.
Nothing would be the same without you, and you, like me, can experience healing.
Know that you are loved.
To read more ideas about depression, be sure to click over to fellow Signature Moms blogger, Sandy Churchill’s thoughts on how depression can stir compassion and connection. You may also want to take a peak at fellow blogger Barabra Schwartz’s piece on suicide prevention.