There are times in our lives when we feel ‘under the weather,’ ‘low,’ ‘down,’ or ‘a bit depressed.’ Things happen that may not make us feel quite as thrilled with life as we’d like to be.
When you don’t feel positive, there are several things you do as a reflex. You slouch, curl your shoulders inward, keep eyes downcast, cry, withdraw from social contact and your movements and actions slow down. Of course each one is different. Some may respond very differently by throwing themselves into work and camouflaging the negative emotions with distractions. Some others may address the problem by turning to alcohol or other addictions. It all depends on how your mind perceives the emotion and how it tries to deal with it.
Below are some questions you can look at to see if you feel or have experienced any of the common side effects of feeling low, or more seriously, have been clinically depressed.
- Do you feel low or in a sad mood much of the time?
- Do you wake up feeling low?
- Are you unable to concentrate on the things you actually want to?
- Have you lost interest in things that used to interest you before?
- Have you lost your appetite? Or do you eat too much, indiscriminately and without really much pleasure or without thinking about it?
- Do you have thoughts of suicide?
- Do you cry often?
- Do you feel emotional about simple things, which perhaps may not have otherwise bothered you?
- Do you feel angry or upset much of the time?
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Do you feel a lack of purpose in life in general?
If you experience any of these symptoms, you are most probably suffering from depression.
The causes are varied and need to be addressed.
- Low-level stress over the years (bad marriage, difficult childhood, lack of love while growing up, poverty, difficult job/employer with harassment at work). These things do not necessarily cause you to sink into a depth of despair overnight, but can, over a period of time deplete your ability to deal with day-to-day existence, in a positive frame of mind.
- Acute stressors like divorce, loss of a loved one, moving home, loss of home, bankruptcy, etc, may cause you to slip into depression suddenly and quite severely. Although feeling down or depressed is part of the healing process, a persistent feeling of a low mood following such an event should be addressed.
Some people are hardier than others, enabling them to ‘just deal with it.’ That doesn’t mean they are immune to the effects of stressors. It just means they have developed an effective coping mechanism.
Create your own social network. It’s important to have an inner circle of close confidants that one can trust and rely on.
What could you do about it? Here are some simple strategies to incorporate into daily living to minimise the effects of stressors that invariably come our way. These are also ways to combat feeling of negativity when they do envelope us.
- l Eat whole foods. Cut down sugar and processed foods; they cause inflammation and weight gain, which in turn can make things worse. Poor body image, self-criticism and negative feedback about the way one looks only compound feelings of inadequacy and sadness.
- Exercise regularly. It will elevate the mood by releasing endorphins or the feel-good hormones. Done regularly, exercise will help one cope better even with low moods.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of good sleep is one of the major reasons for poor productivity, low mood, fatigue and depression.
- Take supplements like Omega-3, a multivitamin and Vitamin D3. Vitamin deficiency has been shown to lower mood. Omega-3 is important for brain health.
- Learn ways to specifically manage stress. Meditation and conscious relaxation techniques are very effective for calming the mind.
- Create your own social network. It’s important to have an inner circle of close confidants that one can trust and rely on. The second circle of ‘social connections’ is wider and consists of people one loves or cares about, but does not necessarily confide in or even connect with all the time. It could be family, friends or old classmates. These are people you interact with socially, perhaps meet often, chat with, enjoy a drink with and are comfortable with. The third circle is your extended social circle of people you are really not close to but whom you know and meet occasionally.
It’s important to make these clear distinctions between people you know and interact with in your life. Your innermost circle consists of people who can influence you. There may even be someone in the third circle that you may be influenced by. Perhaps an old school teacher, a mentor whom you are not close to but respect and try to emulate. These people are your distant influences. You may have many, including non-living legends and heroes.
The innermost circle may be small but is the most important for your mental health. If you are assured of a couple of people you can turn to in times of need or talk to when feeling under the weather, you can quite effectively manage to ward off depression.
Find a good therapist. Not just someone who will medicate you to suppress symptoms but someone who can be a third party listener for you to talk to. Medication will most definitely treat the symptoms but often, when the cause itself is not dealt with, it gets you nowhere eventually. A good therapist is almost a necessity these days when no one really has the time to listen! He is an unbiased person who can listen to your problems (or perceived problems) and help you come up with a solution. Many a time, even your close friends or family may have a vested interest in how you react or respond to a situation. Their evaluation of your problem is often subjective because of their relationship with you. At times like this, it may be better to spend time with a therapist to find the best way around your feelings.
Having said the above, I must add that anti-depressants have a real role to play in the management of depression. They may be required in cases of severe depression that does not respond to the above lifestyle management. Or, for those who suffer from severe bouts of depression despite lifestyle management. They need to be prescribed and monitored carefully. Many have side effects that have to be clearly explained to the person and her family.
But the addition of lifestyle management is paramount if you want to wean off medication and lead an improved and productive life.
(The author, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, is a Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant, and has published two books: Get Size Wise; Gain to Lose)