I’ve dealt with major depressive episodes. Here are things I do now to stay mentally healthy.
What's up y'all! I'm Christiana Smith, founder of A Positive Seed. I wanted to share some of my personal experiences dealing with depression and some practices that have helped me along the journey.
I’ve dealt with debilitating major depression episodes for years. Here are some important things I do now to maintain a balanced mental health:
Get enough sleep. During episodes if I was having a hard time getting sleep I would begin by reducing distractions at bed time (TV, phone, lights) then start to include natural supplements like melatonin if I was still having trouble. Now- being healthy in a balanced mental state I continue to make getting enough rest a priority in my everyday life, and I'm able to see how my overall health thanks me for it.
“There is a very strong association between sleep disturbance and major depression,” “Sleep disturbance is one of the key symptoms of the disease, may be the reason that depressed patients first seek help, and is one of the few proven risk factors for suicide.2 If sleep problems remain after other symptoms are ameliorated, there is a significantly increased risk of relapse and recurrence.” Links between sleep and depression are strong. About three quarters of depressed patients have insomnia symptoms, and hypersomnia is present in about 40% of young depressed adults and 10% of older patients,” Epidemiological studies have pointed out that insomnia in nondepressed subjects is a risk factor for later development of depression. There is therefore a need for more successful management of sleep disturbance in depression, in order to improve quality of life in these patients and reduce an important factor in depressive relapse and recurrence.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181883/
Getting active/ making small commitments to myself (and being proud of myself for them). Starting small in making commitments to yourself as simple as getting out of bed can go a long way and when those smaller commitments become easier and more natural, you can start to do more. Be proud of yourself for even the smallest steps you begin to take, it takes a lot of strength to do that no matter the size of the commitment. When I was depressed I lost the joy from all of the things I used to love and enjoy doing. I could stay locked inside for weeks and months at a time. Starting with small steps, I began forcing myself to try the things I used to enjoy, getting outside, skating, seeing family/ friends when I had the energy to, and going for walks/getting sunlight and vitamin D. At first I still wasn’t feeling any happiness from these things but the more I committed to it the more and more I started to feel that joy again. And realized me not having joy from these things wasn’t me, it was a symptom of the current episode I was in and I still do love those things.
“You may start with setting one small goal to accomplish each day (e.g. writing down 3-5 things you’re grateful for in a journal or going to sleep an hour earlier than usual). Ask yourself, "What's one thing I can do today that helps me get closer to where I want to be?" Once you become more confident, you can work on accomplishing larger, more long-term goals. Think of the short-term goals you set as stepping stones to your larger recovery goal.” https://depressioncenter.org/outreach-education/community-education/depression-toolkit/want-stay-mentally-healthy/goal-setting
“an increased region-specific expression of vitamin D receptors (VDRs) in brain areas (such as prefrontal and cingulate cortices) known to play a key role in mood regulation; second, the modulatory role proposed for vitamin D in the association between depression and inflammation (through a possible immune-modulatory mechanism)[12,13]; last, the emerging insights about the neuroprotective properties of vitamin D (by virtue of its anti-inflammatory effects).” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6970300/
Reaching out for help, whether it’s family, friends, mental health professionals, free online resources. There are people here to support you and you are not alone in this battle. If you are struggling it’s important to reach out. I began therapy in that time and continue to even when I’m feeling good.
10 ways to ask for help:
"1. Reach out to someone you’re comfortable talking with
2. Consider seeing a therapist
3. Practice the conversation first
4. Talk with someone who knows what you’re going through
6. Try not to feel ashamed or guilty about your depression
7. Practice asking for help
8. Create a list of the areas in which you need support
9. Try not to be afraid of a diagnosis
10. Make a list of questions” https://psychcentral.com/depression/10-ways-to-ask-for-help-when-depressed#try-not-to-be-afraid-of-a-diagnosis
Unplug online and spend time grounded in nature.
“multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. “ Social Media and Mental Health - HelpGuide.org
“Spending time in nature can act as a balm for our busy brains. Both correlational and experimental research have shown that interacting with nature has cognitive benefits” “The stress reduction hypothesis posits that spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that lowers stress levels. A third idea, attention restoration theory, holds that nature replenishes one’s cognitive resources, restoring the ability to concentrate and pay attention.” https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature
Maintain a balanced diet. I experienced loss of appetite. If you’re having trouble eating try smoothies, protein drinks, or high protein foods instead.
“Appetite and weight changes are common but variable diagnostic markers in major depressive disorder: some depressed individuals manifest increased appetite, while others lose their appetite. Many of the brain regions implicated in appetitive responses to food have also been implicated in depression.”
“In light of the variable involvement of eating-related symptoms in depression, it is significant that the orbitofrontal cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and striatal-pallidal neurocircuit are involved in various aspects of appetitive responses to food (11-17), and some of these regions also exhibit histopathological and functional differences in major depressive disorder patients that are thought to underlie depression”
“Major depressive disorder is a leading cause of chronic disability (1) and mortality (2) worldwide. Many of the health consequences associated with depression are due to the fact that this disorder predisposes and exacerbates other chronic medical conditions,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4818200/
If the depression is prolonged and it feels like there’s nothing you can do, ask a doctor about medication to help manage it. I was getting at that point because my episodes were lasting so long and effecting my everyday life and productivity so much, but I decided to try a natural approach first. There are great natural supplements you can take to support your brain health, mood, and stress. Everyone is different in what will work best for you, but I found taking Ashwagandha helped me manage my overall stress and mood along with some of the practices I've listed. I'd recommend consulting a mental health professional or doctor before adding any supplements or medication.
A lot of the things I listed can sound pretty basic and almost like “yeah right, that’s not gonna do it” and I thought the same before. But taking small steps is one of the most important ways to get out of a depressive episode along with continuing those practices that are vital to your overall health even when you are healed. I never thought things that sounded so simple would be so important to keep practicing for my well being. But now they are priorities in my everyday life.
If you are currently dealing with depression, know that there is no shame and it’s completely okay to not be okay. Depression is not a sign of weakness, it’s a health issue the same way a physical injury is like breaking a bone. Your brain is the headquarters of your whole being, when that is “injured” / imbalanced it needs to be treated just as we do so for physical injuries. Also know this season will not last forever, it is temporary and you are so strong and brave to still be here, even if you're doing nothing at all.. call it rest! And rest is needed. As well as lows to really appreciate the highs in a much more joyful way.
We are so glad to have you here. And if you can get through this, you can get through anything. Keep up the great work even if that work is just surviving and know that the flowers will come after the rain. And you will be more equipped with knowledge from your previous battles and even stronger the next time life tries to throw you another test.
I am the strongest today than I have ever been, but that is a result of going through the pain and battles I’ve faced that brought me to where I am now. Life has its ups and downs and you need to experience, understand, and feel lows to really appreciate the highs. Ebb and flow.
*I am not a mental health professional. These are personal experiences being shared on things that have helped me. Hope they can help or you can relate! and always feel free to reach out to us at A Positive Seed to chat, submit a story of your own that may be helpful, and connect with others! We'd love to hear from you. This is a safe space, this is your space!