By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
When we are in the process of recovering from emotional pain and trauma, we aren’t helpless. Even if we don’t have any insurance to go to a counselor, or to pay for expensive antidepressant medications that we might actually need but can’t afford, , there are many things that we already know how to do, and know that they are good for us. The best part is they are free!
When we are “down” and depressed, we become lethargic and we don’t want to move or do anything. We just want to crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after us. We lose interest in the parts of life that are fun, interesting and would make us actually feel better if we would do them. The first thing that we already know to do to make ourselves feel better is to move! Yep, simple exercise helps to decrease depression and increase the feelings of wellbeing.
According to an article in the December 2011 edition of Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, research has shown that exercise can help alleviate long-term depression.
Michael Otto from Boston University says, “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts.”
Getting enough sleep is extremely important for both physical and mental health. Lack of sleep is actually used as torture in prisoners of war. Lack of sleep keeps the body from healing and hurts the immune system as well. Lack of sleep causes short-term memory problems and decreases our ability to make good decisions and choices.
Too much sleep is also problematic. Sleeping too much increases our feelings of lethargy and decreases our desire to make good decisions.
Eating right may sound like a “too simple” solution, but what we eat and when has a great deal to do with how we feel. A well balanced diet; eating breakfast, lunch and dinner; and not either over or under eating; will give our bodies the fuel they need for both physical and mental health.
Getting outside in the sunshine is another very important part of our anti-depression crusade, because sunshine has a positive effect on our moods. Being deprived of enough sunlight will make your mood more gloomy. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depression experienced by people who live in areas of the world were wintertime has little sunlight, so they do not get enough sunshine to meet the body’s basic needs. Even in parts of the world where there is adequate sunlight, we don’t get outside we don’t take advantage of it. While the “happy lights” may help, nothing helps like natural sunlight hitting your eyes.
Socializing with others is also something that we know we need to do. It may be as simple as attending your place of worship, or going to a meeting of your book club, or an AA meeting, or going out to eat with friends, or having friends in.
Doing for others
Volunteering at your local homeless shelter or food bank is another option for social interaction. That is another way to raise your mood as well, doing for others who are in need. Volunteers are always needed at hospitals, shelters, food banks and pet rescue shelters.
Curbing our addictions
If you are using tobacco, alcohol, or other substances, especially in excess, it is important that you put these aside. However you want to do this, I know it won’t be easy if you are addicted to substances, and that includes large amounts of caffeine (Yes, caffeine is a drug!). After my husband’s death I smoked up to four packs of cigarettes a day for almost a year. I finally made up my mind to quit, and quit fooling myself that I “intended to quit” when I knew darn well I had no intention of really quitting! So, I do know how it is to be addicted to something, something I did not want to quit, but knew I had to quit or die.
I used nicotine replacement for several months after I laid the cigarettes down, and I admit, there are times even now, years later, when I still want one. I don’t regret for one moment, though, that I did make the effort to quit my addiction to nicotine.
Take time for yourself
If you have a job and other responsibilities, like child care or whatever things you are responsible for, it is important that you have the energy to meet the basic necessities of your responsibilities. In order to do that, you may need to make some adjustments. Look at what you are responsible for and decide on what is really important and what can wait or be eliminated. Sometimes, you just need a “mini-vacation” so let the dishes wait until tomorrow, or find just a few minutes or a few hours to spend just with yourself.
We all have intrusive thoughts when there are unpleasant things that are causing depression, worry and anxiety. Thoughts just seem to keep on coming, and not go away. The harder we try to not think about “pink elephants,” the more we can’t think about anything else!
When these thoughts come, let them come, acknowledge them, “Yep, there I am thinking about what a jerk Joe is,” or “There I am worrying about how much longer my car will hold together.” Let those thoughts come, then say to yourself, “Yes, my car is old, but worrying about it won’t change a thing,” and then move on to thinking about something else. If that doesn’t do the trick, start to sing a song (even silently in your head) that you know very well. Since the brain can’t talk to itself in two voices, you can “drown out” the worry voice. Besides, “singing” even silently to yourself raises the spirits as well.
Start with baby steps
There are a “million” positive things that we can do for ourselves to increase our physical and emotional health that are free and easy to do. Start with baby steps; don’t try to run a marathon the first week. If you are not in the habit of exercising, start with just a lap around the block, then in a few days make it two. You don’t have to join a gym or wear a string bikini to exercise, you just have to start, take a few steps and you’re moving!
Taking care of ourselves in many positive ways, even with just small improvements, such as smoking less if you’re not yet ready to actually quit, can make a world of difference in how we feel, and in our actual health.
In the last few years research on the brain anatomy and physiology has taken amazing leaps. Our brains actually do make new connections, as well as chemically change, in relation to our environment. The fMRIs and other scans that can actually see inside the brain and how the brain changes in response to stress are amazing.
While stress, especially long-term or severe trauma, can have some very negative effects on our brains and bodies, we are not helpless. Many of the best things we can do are “self help” things that we all already know are good for us. So get up and get going!