Claire Miller is an Aerospace Engineering student and casual writer. She writes about mental health issues on her blog: I Bit The Piranha.
Around one in five people in the UK suffer from anxiety or depression, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Depression is slowly becoming more understood and accepted in society, and there are now some well-known ways that a person can use to overcome their battle with depression. I would like to share with you eight ideas for coping with depression.
Make exercise more of a convenience
We're always told that exercise helps battle depression due to the release of endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body. The problem with exercise, for me, however, is the inconvenience of physically having to go out to the gym or out for a run, especially with it being cold. After all, it's just me I'm letting down, right? Who cares?
If that's the state of mind you're in when you think about exercise, change it. Find a way to make exercise more convenient for you, whether it's by getting a gym membership to motivate you to get your money's worth or having a partner to exercise with on a regular basis (this can be running, or going to the gym, or playing a game like squash or football - anything).
If you have the money to splash out a bit, you could even start exercising from the comfort of your own home by buying your own personal exercise machine. I purchased a Ultrasport Home Trainer F-Bike on eBay (it cost me £40 second hand and is in fantastic condition) and try to do at least 2 km two days a week. Sometimes I come home from college or work feeling extremely annoyed and I take my frustrations out on the bike; 3+ km later I feel the euphoric rush of endorphins and no longer care about the exasperations of the day. And I haven't even had to leave my house to get that hit.
I have also started completing some of the 30 day exercise challenges, which make me feel a sense of achievement, even if they do sometimes hurt like hell. These challenges give you targets to meet every day, whether it be lunges, push ups, crunches, or sit ups. There are rest days every five days for you to recover as well. I am coming to the end of the 30 Day Easy Squat Challenge, and although I am so looking forward to it ending, I can't wait for the next challenge. I may do the sit up challenge next.
Even dancing around like a lunatic in your room is a form of exercise; plus it can be really fun and allow you to loosen up after a tense day. Do whatever you can. The idea is to make it as easy and as convenient as possible for you to exercise regularly. Get those muscles pumping!
Breathe: Yoga or Meditation
Yoga and meditation can be used to train your mind to dismiss negative thoughts that can worsen your anxiety or depression. Just ten minutes of yoga or meditation a day can be enough to reduce your anxiety, improve your sleeping patterns, and relieve any strain in relationships with friends, family and co-workers.
Yoga and deep breathing classes are a great way to maintain a routine, learn different poses from a professional yoga trainer, and meet new people. However, if this does not suit you, there are other alternatives. Does anyone still have the WiiFit? If you do, there are a number of different yoga poses to try on there. There are also a number of YouTube channels to choose from for your yoga fix. YogiApproved.com have a list of 18 recommended YouTube channels to suit your needs.
In terms of meditation, again there are a number of meditation classes and YouTube videos to choose from - check out Mindful Muscle's 7 Best YouTube Guided Meditations for some inspiration and see what fits your needs. There are also a number of apps to choose from. I personally use Headspace. It's available both on iPhone and Android and each session is just 10 minutes long - ideal if you don't have a lot of time.
This probably seems an obvious one, but I've still put it on the list because it's incredible how many people dismiss it for whatever reason. There is no shame in asking for professional help. Some people just need a leg up, and some need a bit more assistance. Either way, counsellors and antidepressants are there for a reason. And if something isn't working, don't do what I did and give up: try something else.
I tried a number of different counsellors in my area, as well as fluoxetine and citalopram, and nothing was making me feel better, so I just gave up and somewhat submitted to the dark cloud of depression over my head until my boyfriend pressed me to try again. I have now been on 50 mg of sertraline for about 6 months and I finally feel like I can start to overcome depression with these different ideas. So definitely go back to your doctor if you feel your prescription isn't working for you.
Your doctor might also suggest you set a monthly or bi-monthly appointment with them to monitor your progress on the medication, which you should definitely do if possible. Note any side effects and hopefully you will find an antidepressant that works for you. If not, don't worry - there are other types of treatment out there, which I'm sure your doctor will go through with you.
Counselling aims to talk through any problems you are having, identify key events that may have lead to your mental illness, and coach you on how to challenge any negative thoughts that you may be having. Just because the counsellors in my area didn't suit me doesn't mean that they won't be useful for you.
There are a number of different types of counselling to choose from, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal therapy, and Psychodynamic therapy. Talk through your choices with your doctor and see how it goes. And if you do go to counselling, try to be as open as possible with your feelings and requirements as possible (I asked my counsellor to be less sympathetic because I got enough of it back home, and he was actually really great about it). And if you feel you're not progressing with that counsellor, try another. They are paid to help you, so shop around as much as you can.
Animals might be the key to your recovery - how amazing is that?
A therapy pet's duty is to give a person struggling with mental health issues a loyal companion while also helping to boost their confidence and reduce their anxiety. The fact that a living creature depends on you to feed it and look after it can give a person a strong sense of routine, something that they may have lost track of if they are struggling with depression or anxiety, and the reward of gaining their love and trust is inconceivable. Just simply stroking an animal or watching fish swim around is well known to lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
Therapy pets can be any animal you wish, and since the needs of different pets vary widely there is no need to worry about biting off more than you can chew. Whether you want a dog to help you to start walking every day, or a goldfish that just needs a pinch of food every day and regular tank cleans, a therapy pet can help significantly with your mental health.
I have five rats as therapy pets (I know, that sounds absolutely insane!), and they brighten up my life so much.
The reason I chose rats is because I missed having rodents in my life, and rats are perhaps the most rewarding rodents you could keep as pets. They are extremely affectionate (I just wanted all of the love), and highly intelligent - you can train them much like you can a dog. They also really love to play, so I knew I would never feel alone with them in my life. They don't get overly grumpy or judgemental like humans can, and their love is unconditional. Basically whenever I feel down I turn to my rats to cheer me up, and they haven't failed me yet.
Another great thing about rats is that, like dogs, you can enter them into shows! I am a member of the North of England Rat Society, which is fantastic for meeting new people and giving and receiving advice on looking after your rats.
There are a lot of pros and cons to each animal, so it's always worth doing some research before you choose a therapy animal, and make sure that you can afford potential vet bills.
Of course, there are people out there who can't get their own therapy pet due to living circumstances or just not having the time or the money to keep them. However there are other ways in which to get your furry fix. Going horse riding has the added benefit of fresh air and exercise.
Do things that make you feel good - even if you don't feel like it
One of the ways in which depression makes us feel utterly alone and useless in the world is by making us lose interest in the things we used to love. It makes us feel too overwhelmed to even think about doing those fun things, and before we know it life just seems pointless.
While you may not be able to force those feelings away and have fun, you can push yourself to do things that you enjoyed once, whether that be a sport that you enjoyed, a walk in the park, some music or art, or just going out with friends. Set yourself little goals that are really easy to achieve and you could be surprised by how much better you feel for it. You might even start to have some fun again!
I used to do a lot of writing, which I haven't done for a good couple of years due to my depression. I recently decided to set myself a daily task of 100 words a day - or more if I feel like it - just to get back into the habit of writing again. It didn't have to be good or make much sense. It just had to be a minimum of 100 words each day. Sometimes I don't manage it, and I have to remind myself that it's okay to not always meet this target - it's a work in progress to make this a habit again. But the fact that I am writing - somewhat - again feels amazing. I feel as though I'm slowly seeing the real Claire again. I try not to think about the fact that this post took me three weeks to write!
Learn something new!
What better way to earn a sense of achievement? It can be absolutely anything and has the potential to become a new hobby for you to turn to in times of need. I'm learning how to knit and crochet and it's actually been so ideal for me. I can do it whenever I want, whether it's while I'm watching TV or working out on my exercise bike, and it also gives my hands something to do - I have a condition called dermatillomania, which causes me to obsessively pick at my skin, so knitting and crochet have reduced this significantly for me.
You could also try learning a language, photography, sewing, a musical instrument, anything that is doable for you and that will give you a real sense of achievement.
Stay connected to friends and family who can offer you support
This may seem like an obvious one, but one of the biggest things that depression does is make you feel alone in the world. You don't feel like going out with friends anymore because you feel like you'll just be a constant downer and they won't want to hang out with you.
You are WRONG.
We are fortunate today that society is becoming more aware of mental illnesses, and understand better that depression is a whole lot more than just "feeling down". There is more respect and support now for those who struggle with mental illnesses than ever before.
The worst thing you can do is shut yourself away from those who can help you overcome this. Friends and family are there for us to reach out to when we're in the darkest of places, just like we are for them in their hour of need. You are not a burden; you are a human being fighting a mental illness. The fact that you have decided that you have accepted this and decided to find ways in which to conquer it just shows how strong you are. But a battle is never won alone. You need comrades.
Going out with friends can take your mind off your depression for a little while and make you feel better about yourself. You can also confide in them about how you're feeling, and maybe help support them in their woes - if you're anything like me, then you can deal with anyone's issues but your own!
Social support is essential to your recovery, so make the time to call or hang out or send a message.
Keep a Bullet Journal
This is a fantastic way to plan your days, set goals for yourself, and unleash your creative side. As the Bullet Journal website puts it, "The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less."
Your bullet journal can be as simple or as extensive as you want it to be. You can jot down a list of things to do and goals to aim towards each day and places you need to be. You can also create 'collections' of information you want to keep a record of, such as books you want to read, movies you want to see, new healthy habits you want to start up and maintain, and savings goals. It can also help you to introduce the previous coping ideas into your life without you having to remember it all in your head.
It is your own planning and creative haven for you to do as you wish with.
If you're still not sure about bullet journals, there are plenty of websites and YouTube videos out there to help you figure out if keeping one would be useful for you. Boho Berry is a particularly good channel to go to in order to gain a good idea of how to start and use a bullet journal.
I hope that these ideas help you to get onto the road to recovery. Regardless of whether you have suffered with depression for a day or 10+ years, you are not alone and you can get through this. You just need love and support, and with that you can get through anything, even this horrible chapter in your life.
And remember: you are worth every second that you are in this world.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 Claire Miller