Depression: Thinking about what might help
What is helpful?
What helps one person may not help another. Just as the reasons for feeling down-hearted are varied so are any answers. We also need to bear in mind that the depth of suffering varies from person to person. Importantly, neither is the depth of depression constant for each person - there are breaks (sometimes barely noticeable) in the darkness that shed light on what might be most helpful for that person.
In working with people I have no set formula. These ideas come out of my work with people over the years and are cited as examples and possibilities - they are not intended as prescriptive.
Intentionally I include here very ordinary and everyday experiences. Over the centuries people have benefited from nature, writing poetry, painting, physical exercise, and the like when feeling depressed. In saying this I am not suggesting that the answers are always easy, or that a person's suffering is not severe - but these days we do tend to undervalue the ordinary.
- What really matters (not just with deeply sad or desparing thoughts and feelings) is for people to find the way in life that best suits them, and at their own pace and in their own time.
- Some people benefit from talking with a trusted person who is not intrusive, willing to listen carefully, and is not in a rush to try to change or correct the person.
- It can be enormously helpful for a person to begin to connect how s/he is feeling with what has happened or is happening in their life. It sort of says: “I’m not making this up, I’m not overreacting, and I’m not just feeling sorry for myself.”
- For those who have become particularly anxious and inward looking it can be helpful to begin by becoming more attuned to their senses: taking the time to hear the birds, feel the wind, hear the sea, feel the waves, look at the moon and stars, watch a rabbit run, smell flowers (bring some wild flowers home), feel the warmth of the sun…
- Having a dog or cat (or borrowing one from a friend) can be life enriching. Horses make special friends too. I often hear this from people - from children and young people too. Hence, with some people my dog joins my psychotherapy sessions.
- Where there is deep heartache and pain a professional body massage (not the more intense sports massage) with an intuitive and skilled practitioner can be helpful. Choose the person carefully.
- Sauna and steam room can help in beginning to let tensions go. Some people like a swim first.
- Yoga can have the benefit of helping us to have a sense of ourselves as grounded physical beings. It seems to me that the modern-day focus on introspection and how we feel emotionally can be balanced by a more physical sense of ourselves. This is one way.
- It can be helpful for some people to find ways of expressing what they are thinking and feeling. This might be through reading or writing poetry or prose, artwork, drama, or music. This might include learning a musical instrument, joining a band, choir or orchestra. Clearly I mean over time. A person might even choose to write their life story.
- Some benefit from dialogue that helps open the way for a new understanding of themselves, with the opportunity to develop a new sense of purpose and hope for the future too.
- As some people who feel very down may feel angry about life and how they have been treated, it can be helpful to have a clearer understanding of how this relates to their past experiences.
- At the right time and in the right way, increasing physical activity helps raise the feel-good chemicals in our brain and gets us moving.
- It can be important to rule in or out any possible physiological factors through a GP. I mention some of these here.
- Attention to diet can have an enormous bearing on how we feel and on energy levels too. Considerations might include: sugar levels and a fresh and nutritious varied diet. A dietician can advise. I mention some deficiencies associated with feeling depressed here.
- Restoring sleep patterns can be very important – so that we eventually are able to rise in the morning without lying-in and also gradually readjust our inner clock so we don’t stay up too late. See my page on sleep here.
- There are those who benefit from grappling with the risks and dangers of life by some physical adventure, hardship and endurance.
- Over time, with a move away from inward looking, new interests and purpose may be found in making a difference for other people, perhaps through some charity or similar type of work.
- For some people, hope and purpose can come through developing their sense of spirituality.
- Many people who are depressed in spirit can benefit from the satisfaction of feeling pleased with some accomplishment, no matter how small. Success can help restore lost self-confidence.
- Just as stress and distress can de-press us, so ways to reduce and/or resolve these can be helpful.
- Practical support in helping to reschedule, plan and manage what feel like overwhelming pressures and demands can help reduce a sense of powerlessness, despondency and overwhelm.
- A careful and attuned therapist might help a person to the place where their energy, hope, and interest in life arise from within, and over time they become more outward looking. Being together in this way is life-affirming.