When you’re clinically depressed, being sad is easy. Being tired, sleeping for many hours at a time, and making dark jokes from the shadowed back of any room come naturally to you. Being clinically depressed, you know how to chill out, have perfected your blanket and couch technique, and your collection of horror movies is probably superb. But enjoying life to the fullest and making the most of each day is like walking over hot coals. Getting up bright and early in the morning, smiling at everyone and walking with a skip in your step does not come naturally. Why? Because your brain is constantly experiencing a life-long chemical state known as clinical depression. It brings you down, it makes you feel achy and tired, and it can cause you to hear everything people say in the worst way possible.
In other words, clinical depression is not your friend. It is a chemical state inside your brain that stands between you and making your loved ones happy, getting that next promotion, and your ability to enjoy life when it’s good. But what can you do?
Depression and Medication
Some people have found antidepressants and other psych meds to be the perfect solution. They ‘balance’ their brain chemistry and no longer feel depressed. While this is great for them, psych meds aren’t the best choice for the vast majority of people who suffer from clinical depression. Antidepressants can be a nightmare, often literally. Weight gain, suicidal thoughts, night terrors, compulsivity, these are just a few side effects from psych meds and you never know which pill may or may not work or send you into an even worse mental state. If you’re not comfortable seeking a pharmaceutical solution, we completely understand.
However, this means you’re going to have to face your depression head-on. Mano-a-mano. Fortunately, there are several great ways to work around your depression and live your life the way you want to. You will always have a tendance toward feeling blue or getting tired early, but you don’t have to let it rule your life. Here’s how it’s done:
Separate Yourself From the Depression
The first step is to realize that you are not your depression, any more than you are your metabolism. When your neurotransmitters are unbalanced in a certain way, you feel depressed. But that doesn’t mean that you’re intentionally thinking sad thoughts. Clinical depression is a physical sensation that can influence your mood, but it can’t control you.
Start separating yourself from the depression. This will not only help you, but it will help your friends and family understand that you’re not sad about anything in particular. In fact, you’re not even sad. Think of the depression like a head cold that makes you feel groggy and unhappy. You can still spend time with people you enjoy and have a good time, but you may need to explain that your cold/depression will cause you to seem more down than you really are.
Try saying things like
“I’m having a great time, but physically I’m feeling pretty run-down” or
“This is great. Don’t mind me if I seem a little blue, it’s just clinical depression” or
“My depression is pretty bad today, could you help distract me for a while?”
When you and your loved ones understand that you are separate from the depression, you can start to battle it like an outside force instead of it being a part of your personality.
Appreciate Life on Purpose – Smell the Roses
Now that you are no longer assuming that depression is a part of who you are, you can start working around it. You don’t feel down because life is wan and boring, you feel down because you have too little or too much serotonin in your brain. This is freeing, in its way. It frees you to identify your own happiness underneath the depression and to appreciate it in spite of the ‘down’ feeling.
Start taking time to enjoy things. Gratitude and appreciation create dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin which counteract depressive neurotransmitters. When you step into the shower, take a moment to really feel the pleasant sensation of water on your skin and shamelessly go “ahhhhh” as you enjoy it. Chew your food more slowly and let the flavors roll over your tongue. Make that ‘so good’ face you see in commercials and really let yourself savor at least a few bites to remind yourself why your favorite meals are your favorite. When you see, smell, or experience something beautiful, give yourself time to really enjoy it.
With your loved ones, take a moment to privately study their faces, listen to their voices, and remember why they are special to you. This sounds cheesy until you try it. Don’t be surprised if you choke up a little, feeling connected and happy can be hard for someone who has been clinically depressed for a long time. But it’s a good feeling.
After even a few enjoyment exercises, you will start to realize that you can, in fact, enjoy life even when depression is physically bringing you down.
Sleep – Quality over Quantity
Sleep is a big issue for most clinically depressed people. You may have insomnia or no matter how much you get, it’s never enough. This is because chemical depression is usually linked to a deficiency of serotonin, one of the primary sleep neurotransmitters. While you may never get ‘enough’ sleep, it’s not actually about the number of hours, it’s about the quality of your sleep. If you toss and turn, wake up constantly, or sleep uncomfortably, you will wake up feeling an overwhelming desire to hit ‘snooze’.
Instead, work on improving the quality of your sleep. Flip your mattress, get new sheets, cool down your bedroom, and address any medical issues that might be causing bad sleep. The first really good night’s sleep you get, you might be surprised by just how good you feel in the morning. Depression or no.
Exercise – The Power of Endorphins
Almost all depression symptoms are based on a constant physical desire for more serotonin. Sleep, sad movies, and being sad are all serotonin-creating behaviors, but you probably don’t want to feel that serotonin sleepy-sad all the time. Most people, especially those who are depressed, want to feel energetic, engaged, and ready to take on challenges. Fortunately, you can battle neurotransmitters with neurotransmitters.
Exercise generates endorphins which make you feel happy and energetic. When you work up a sweat, endorphins flood your brain and shift your mood. Combine this with water to help you flush the serotonin currently sitting in your system and soon you’ll start feeling better than you have since your energetic teens.
To be honest, exercise is going to hurt at first. Your depression is going to tell you that you will die if you keep doing pushups or jumping jacks or running. Your muscles will ache, your body will scream ‘stop’. Don’t do it, that’s just the depression trying to defend itself. Once you’ve been sweating for a few minutes, your joints will loosen, your muscles will relax, and your body will feel lighter than it has in years. Every time you feel depressed and don’t want to, you can exercise it away and this should win you a few hours of blissful clear-headed happiness.
Enjoying Life While Clinically Depressed
Being clinically depressed doesn’t actually mean that you’re doomed to be unhappy for the rest of your life. Merely that you’ll have to go around or push through the depression to achieve happiness. When you have separated yourself from the depression and started living your life to the fullest in spite of those down feelings, you are on the path to truly coping with your situation and enjoying your life like you know you should. For more information or to speak with a counselor about depression, contact us today.