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Balancing Your Mood: Effective Strategies For Working Through Depression

Posted Jul 04 2012 10:05pm

Posted in , | July 3, 2012 |

  

By guest author Elana Miller

Have you struggled with a persistently sad mood? Difficulty sleeping? Poor appetite? Trouble concentrating and functioning in your day-to-day life?

If so, you may be depressed. The word “depression” means different things to different people, but the clinical definition includes a sustained period of persistently depressed mood (at least two weeks), decreased interest in things you used to enjoy, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, decreased or increased appetite leading to a change in weight, decreased energy, and trouble concentrating. All of these symptoms can lead to overwhelm in the face of trying to fulfill your everyday responsibilities.

So what can you do if you’re feeling depressed and don’t know how to snap out of it?

“Time heals all wounds” the old adage goes. It is a true for depression as for anything else. Many studies have shown that depression tends to go away over time – whether or not you seek professional treatment. Not to say you shouldn’t get help if you need it! But know that just because you feel depressed now doesn’t mean you’re going to feel that way forever – you almost certainly won’t.

How long do you need to wait? In randomized controlled trials studying treatments for depression, even those people in the placebo arm (i.e. not receiving treatment) tend to get better within six weeks.

You already knew that exercise was good for your body, so it’s probably not a surprise that it’s good for your mind, too. Not only does regular exercise help protect against getting depressed in the first place, but it can help you snap out of depression. Studies show that exercise can be as effective a treatment for depression as certain types of therapy.

How does it work? Exercise releases endorphins, which are your body’s feel-good hormones, and reduces cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. It also can improve your energy and help regulate your sleep cycle, improving two of the major symptoms of depression.

How much exercise do you need to do? The scientific data aren’t exactly clear, but three times a week for 30 minutes to an hour is a good guideline. The more you do, the better you’ll feel – both physically and mentally!

More and more, the benefits of Eastern mindfulness practices are being recognized and integrated into Western psychology and psychiatry. Many recent studies demonstrate that meditation leads to actual physical and structural changes in the brain.

In particular, a specific type of mindfulness program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), can help you become more present in your everyday life, and react more healthfully to stressful circumstances when they come up (which they always do!). This type of approach is particularly helpful for people dealing with persistent stressors that probably won’t go away in the near future, such as chronic illness.

Search for MBSR programs or courses in your area, or look for a practitioner specialized in teaching these skills.

The process of talking out your thoughts and issues, and actively working to develop healthier patterns of thinking, is instrumental in treating depression.

There are several specific types of psychotherapy that can be effective in restoring balance to your mood:

  • In supportive therapy, the therapist uses strategies like encouragement and praise to help a patient improve self-esteem, reduce symptoms, and work through an acute crisis.
  • Interpersonal therapy is based on the premise that depression does not occur in a vacuum, but rather is affected by the person’s environment. Therapy focuses on solving specific problems in the individual’s relationships.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (or CBT) is a time-limited, goal-oriented therapy with the aim to restructure negative and maladapive thought patterns and behaviors. People who are depressed can catastrophize (“everyone hates me” or “nothing ever works out”) – a skilled CBT therapist will point out these cognitive errors and teach a person more healthy thought patterns.
  • Psychodynamic therapy is a long-term, explorative style of therapy that seeks to to bring to the surface a person’s unconscious motivations and insecurities to break down deep-seated road blocks that keep them from feeling how they want to feel.

People often have diverging views on medications – some see them as the cure-all, others say they want to avoid medications at all cost and do things the “natural” way. The best approach is somewhere in the middle.

If you have moderate or severe depression, medications can help as part of your overall strategy. They don’t solve the problem by themselves, but they can help support you psychologically so you can work through therapy more effectively. Medications can help problems with sleep, appetite and energy so that you are more physically able to function in your day-to-day life.

The most popular class of antidepressant medications is the SSRI’s (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors) – such as Prozac, Celexa and Lexapro – which work primarily by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. They have very few side effects and can be safely used in almost all people.

These medications take four to six weeks to reach their full effect, so they’re definitely a longer-term treatment rather than a quick fix. Talk to your doctor if you want to learn more about how medication might be a part of your depression treatment.

If you are struggling with depression, try out the above strategies, and seek out a professional to help guide you toward the right type of psychotherapy and medications.

Have you faced depression? What strategies did you use to work through it? Did you seek professional help or try to do things on your own? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Elana Miller, M.D. is a psychiatry resident and founder & author of Zen Psychiatry , a space to explore integrative strategies to be happy, live well, and fulfill your greatest potential . Follow her on Twitter or join the discussion on .

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