Dear GQ Therapist,
I have been to the doctor and been diagnosed with depression and they have talked about me taking medication. Is that the best course of action or should I consider other options? I don't want to rush into taking drugs, but I need to do something to feel better.
Steve, by email
First and foremost – and I know we say this a lot – you are not alone: depression can affect anyone at any time. The Mental Health Organisation statistics show that in 2014, 19.7 per cent of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression, which was a 1.5 per cent increase from 2013. From what I have seen in my office, the numbers are increasing.
Most people go through periods of feeling down, but when you're depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days. Depression can make you feel helpless. And yet I want you to know you're not, because there's a lot you can do on your own to fight back. Medication is an option, of course, but it's only one of many that you can choose from. Choosing a more holistic route works for many people and often has even better results than medication. Changing your behavior, for example, your physical activity, lifestyle, food choices and, most importantly, your way of thinking are all natural depression treatments.
1. Prioritise mind management
It's of the utmost importance to learn how to manage one's mind. In my personal coaching sessions with clients and in school with students, I teach people how to focus and manage their minds because once they understand this aspect, their lives change. It's amazing to see people become happier and start living authentically, all thanks to a focused and managed mind. Simply put, minds that are managed get better results, guaranteed.
2. Learn to switch off
It's important to switch off because you are giving your mind a break, and all minds need a break. To learn how to do this takes practice. For some, it's about writing things down; for others, it's about creating a space and a time in your day or night to simply stop. My top tip is to schedule time in your diary to switch off – literally call it switch-off time. Take a hot bath, read a book, bake some nourishing food, turn off the iPhone/iPad/TV and go back to basics.
3. Beat workplace woes
Stress is a feeling generated by a thought, so I recommend people start to look at their own thoughts rather than blaming anyone else at work. Ultimately, no one can make you feel anything; you create your feelings from your thoughts, and choosing thoughts that create stress is painful for you and you only. Start to consider what you are thinking about or write thoughts down. Are the thoughts you're creating helpful or hurtful? If it's the latter, start to find a new perspective – choosing better-feeling thoughts is always the answer.
4. Accept the things you cannot change
So much stress and anxiety is caused by trying to control things that are beyond our control. When I first got into mind-management work, I recalled the Serenity Prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Being fed up and depressed about things you cannot control or influence is a pointless task. This often makes depression worse because it creates feelings of uselessness and low self-worth. You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. The past is a great teacher. Use its lessons to create a better now.
5. Find a work-life balance: Where are you happy?
If the answer is working 24/7 then fine, go ahead. But if you are happy only working 9-5, then it's important to balance out the times when you are not working. Balance comes in the form of joy - anything you find joyful could be part of your "balance". Another tip is to learn how to say "no" effortlessly. Once you get on the no train, you'll realise how much more time you have. It's important to remember that life is short, life is there to be lived, experienced and enjoyed; it is not a trudge, it is a blessing.
There is a link between junk food and depression. Serotonin (the feel-good hormone) is made in the gut and, as result, poor gut health can impact your mood. A study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal revealed that consumers of fast food are 51 per cent more likely to develop depression when compared to those who eat little or none. It is likely, then, that the more junk we eat, the greater risk we are of not only bad digestion but also risk of depression.
7. Getting active (especially in nature)
We spend most of our time at work, sitting down, yet we are not designed to sit in a chair all day. Neither are we designed to be inside all day long. Taking some cardiovascular exercise probably has the biggest impact on mood and reducing stress. It's really hard to still feel crap after a long walk in nature. Spending time in nature reconnects us with our natural environment and helps to balance mood.
8. Practise gratitude
Another favorite saying of mine is you cannot be grateful and depressed at the same time. And it is so true. Gratitude is a massive help in challenging your mindset. Making time each day to appreciate all you have to be grateful for shifts your focus to the positives in your life. It can be tiny things to huge things. Having legs to walk, eyes to see, a roof over your head - all things to be grateful for. Gratitude is the antidote to fear, anxiety and depression. It takes practice and it might feel a bit dumb at the start, but I promise you if you practice it daily, you will see your life and your feelings change.
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