Things you CAN do to fight depression and anxiety

I think that one of the worst things that I’ve found in dealing with depression is the hopelessness that comes with it.  One minute you’re fine, and the next, you’re…not.  Medication and therapy help, but depression is a chronic condition.  It comes back.  And while you can limit it, manage it…it still comes back, and sometimes worse than others.

I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: Professional guidance, and a controlled regimen of therapy and medication, can make all the difference in the world.  When it comes to chronic mental illness, the evidence is clear: Treatment works.

But, treatment doesn’t just mean that you rely on medication and/or therapy to get better.  To some extent, and I’ve certainly found this in my own life, you have to take control of your own illness.  Yes, you may be a victim of a bad roll of the dice, but no one need be depression’s victim.  There are things you can do, on your own, to help keep depression away (again, please note, NOT advocating any of the below in place of therapy, medication or any other professional advice that a licensed medical professional gives you…can’t emphasize that enough).  Here are a few tips that worked for me, and can hopefully work for you.

Exercise

Here’s a good one with a ton of benefits: Exercise can make a huge, positive difference when it comes to depression.  According to the Mayo Clinic, it does so by releasing “feel-good” chemicals, reducing immune system chemicals that can make depression worse and by increasing your body temperature.  Better yet, any physical activity can be helpful, so fear not!  You don’t have to launch yourself into a massive weight lifting program.

On a personal level, I’ve found the gym to be a savior.  Not only does it help you get in shape, feel better and look better, but it makes you feel like you are accomplishing something.  All too often, when you are depressed, you want to just lie around and Netflix & Sad.  You become depression’s bitch, and that is exactly the time to get up and force yourself to move around.  It takes a lot of hard work to overcome this natural inclination to slug-out on the couch, but it is well, well worth it.

Meditation

The evidence is clear: Meditation can help to ease the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.  It doesn’t have to be long – the article I link to says 2.5 hours a week – but, a bit of meditation goes a long way.  What I found somewhat interesting here was that most articles relating to depression and meditation don’t just discuss meditation, but a specific type of meditation – mindfullness meditation.  This specific type of meditation is defined as “a technique of meditation in which distracting thoughts and feelings are not ignored but are rather acknowledged and observed nonjudgmentally as they arise to create a detachment from them and gain insight and awareness.”

What is remarkable is that at least one study found that meditation “helped prevent depression recurrence as effectively as maintenance antidepressant medication did.”

Okay, I’ve resisted this all my life.  Not “resisted,” really…just, haven’t allowed myself to do it. I’ve come up with excuses, I’ve done it for a few days, I’ve stopped and started and just haven’t been able to sit down and meditate.  This blog entry has convinced me…again…of how important meditation can be for depression!  Must.  Do.  It.

Also, try the app Headspace.  I’ve used it a couple of times and it seems interesting.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene?  It’s exactly what it sounds like – using healthy practices to help you get some real rest.  Sleep and depression have a complex relationship – a lack of sleep can lead to depression, and depression can lead to a lack of sleep, which makes getting a good night’s sleep all the more important.  Good sleep hygiene includes:

  • Limiting naps.
  • Not drinking caffeine too close to bed.
  • Limiting screen time too close to bed.
  • Having enough exposure to natural light (huh, didn’t know that).
  • Having a set sleep and wake-up routine.

During some of the particularly rough periods of my depression, I had a REAL hard time sleeping.  It was the canary in the coal mine of my symptoms – I couldn’t sleep, and suddenly, there I was again.  Sleep hygiene – particularly the routine and screen time part (which I still really need to work on!) – is vitally important, at least to me.

Video Games

I discussed this the other day, but felt it was worth repeating: Video games can help with depression.  First, the basics: There are studies which show that MMORPG and other social games can help reduce social anxiety, while puzzlers can reduce stress and anxiety levels.  Other apps and video games have also been found to reduce levels of depression.

Of course, video games can have serious negative drawbacks.  There is, unfortunately, ample evidence that some are not working and are instead playing video games, and there are real fears that mental health plays a role in this.  Video games provide an immersive escape, where there is no judgement, no consequences, and no real failure that cannot be eradicated by reloading the last save file.  This, of course, is dangerous when it comes to entering and remaining in the real world.

As I said earlier in the week, I’m a believer that video games can be great – if used in moderation.  They provide a nice retreat when necessary and can recharge your batteries – getting you ready to relaunch into the real world.

Anything you want to add?  What works best for you?  Let us know in the comments!

Video games and depression

One way I cope with depression is video games, which some studies have noted can help improve social anxiety, depression and stress levels.  I wanted to elaborate on this one a bit.

First: I love video games.  And I mean I loooooove video games.  I can tie most major periods of my life to some sort of video game.  I still remember playing Halo 3 on Xbox live before I went out on my first date with my wife (the guys I was playing with wished me luck when I said why I was leaving for the night).  I remember Final Fantasy X before college graduation.  Skyrim when my son was first born, too little to move and would curl up on my chest while I slayed dragons.  My kids are named Auron and Ayla…bonus points if you can figure out what games those names came from.

I still remember being almost five, coming home from Heather Cohen’s birthday party, and my Dad leading me into our basement, where he gave me the most magical birthday present every: A Nintendo Entertainment System.

Video games have a special place in my heart.  As I grew older and began my journey with depression and anxiety, they offered a safe place and a retreat from reality.  I can see myself playing Grand Theft Auto 3 when I was going through a rough patch with my girlfriend at the time.  During the worst of my anxiety in college, again, it was Final Fantasy X. I still remember being a lonely, awkward middle schooler and just being obsessed with Tie Fighter, because it made me feel good at something.  In the Star Wars universe, no one cared that your hair wasn’t stylish, or that your forehead resembled a pepperoni pizza more than any normal persons should.  You just shot at the bad guys.  End of story.

That being said – that concept of escaping into a video game – is it a good thing?

Personally, I’ve had some experience with MMORPGs, but not a ton.  As much as I love video games, I don’t have enough time to truly enjoy them.  I’ve played my share of them – Warcraft in particular – but, as a newcomer, always found them to be too intimidating to really get into.  However, there’s no question about it – some people get into video games at the expense of real life.

On one hand, there is research with shows that video games can be helpful in reducing stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.  They provide a creative outlet and a safe place to retreat to when the real world can get overwhelming.  Of course, that retreat can be toxic, which leads to the concept of video game addiction.

Now, to be clear, though there is no shortage of media reports about video game addiction, it is not yet an officially recognized disorder by any major medical governing body.  On an anecdotal level, I suspect that many of us know people who are way, way too into fantasy worlds, but that doesn’t mean they are “addicted,” per se.

I also think it’s worth noting that video games have never been an area free of controversy, and the conversation about whether or not games are addictive have been going on since Space Invaders.  So, clearly, this is a conversation that has gone on for quite sometime.

Are video games good or bad for mental health?
Like the answers to most perplexing questions, this one is evolving.  Video games have positive benefits on depression and anxiety, as far as I am concerned.  I’ve found them to be a safe retreat and a chance to temporarily escape the pressures of the real world.  In my opinion…again, just my opinion, not any medical advice…they can be great, but no different than any other hobby.  You use them briefly to recharge and recalibrate before launching yourself back into the real world.  The challenge, of course, is acknowledging when enough is enough.  For some people, that can be more difficult than others.