Most of the time most of us cope with the normal stresses of life and make a positive contribution to our families, our jobs and our communities. Occasionally something happens and we feel miserable and find ourselves down in the dumps. Bad times are unavoidable and feeling low is normal, as long as we can bounce back. Healthy habits and the right outlook make all the difference to how well you cope. Here’s how to defy depression and get your life back in balance.
Food is certainly one our greatest pleasures. Eating well supports good mental as well as physical health and maintaining a nutritious diet, no matter what life throws at you, is key to a stable mood.
Comforting little treats hit the spot when the going gets tough, but too much of the sweet stuff can end up making you feel worse. This is because sugary food is quickly broken down into glucose molecules in the small intestine, which then flood into the bloodstream. This produces a spike in insulin production to quickly bring your glucose levels back to the normal range. The energy high you notice when you eat something sweet is followed by an energy low, and this can make you feel sluggish and irritable.
While these feelings may make the biscuit tin look more tempting than ever, it’s much more sensible to minimise sweet treats. Carbohydrates that slowly break down into glucose, like brown rice, grainy bread and good old vegetables, keep your blood glucose levels steady. This is much better for your body and much better for your temper as well.
Hungry for a sweet something that is indulgently healthy? Try our caramel banana split.
Looking for a low-carb start to the day? Try our cool summer berry smoothie.
Your brain loves fish that is rich in omega-3 fats. Try our steamed seafood parcels.
Exercise to beat stress
When you’re down and troubled, exercise has numerous beneficial side effects. Here are a few:
- It releases feel-good brain chemicals
- It reduces immune system chemicals that make depression worse
- It takes your mind off your worries while you’re focusing on your body
- It improves the quality of your sleep
- It gives you a sense of accomplishment – something positive to log in your online diary!
It might seem like the last thing you want to do, but once you get moving you’ll cheer up. You don’t have to sweat it out in the gym or pound the pavement either: doing some gardening or taking a brisk walk or breathing deeply in a yoga class are just as effective at clearing the cobwebs.
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Get a good night’s sleep
Stress and worry make you exhausted, but anxiety often inhibits sleep. The result? Less energy to cope with the next day’s stress and worry and more exhaustion.
Break this cycle by establishing good sleep habits. Routine is essential for your snooze schedule, so go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including the weekend. Don’t overheat your body under a too-cosy doona as your core temperature has to drop 1 degree in order for you to nod off. And, obvious as it may sound, make sure you have relaxed before hitting the sheets. Switch off the computer and focus on calming down and bringing the day to a peaceful end.
The world is a much brighter place when you have had a good night’s sleep. If your insomnia is persistent (i.e. it lasts longer than 3 weeks), talk to your medical practitioner. Perhaps you would benefit from consulting a sleep specialist.
How can you adapt your diet to improve your sleep? Find out here.
Habits that don’t help
When your hassles are getting you down and life seems like a struggle, it’s all too easy to slip into habits that indulge your desire for escape or comfort, but don’t help you to cope effectively. As such times you should be looking after your health more not less. Watch out for these unhelpful behaviours.
Self-medicating. An extra glass of wine, a couple of sleeping pills or even a few cigarettes at the end of a bad day only increase your risk of depression. Similarly, a large helping of your favourite dessert brings short-lived pleasure and long-term guilt – not to mention the chance of weight gain.
Hiding from the world. You’re not your usual cheerful self and you can’t be bothered making conversation. But avoiding social contact deepens your sense of isolation and gives you more time to ruminate on your troubles. Making the effort to connect with people, to feel accepted and – best of all – to have a laugh are powerful antidotes to a blue mood.
Be grateful for what you’ve got
Being depressed means you tend to focus on what is wrong in your life. It can take over your thinking so you are totally preoccupied with your problems. This thinking contributes to your unhappiness and you can become stuck.
Being in the habit of acknowledging the good things you have helps to keep events in perspective. One way to stay mindful of these good things is to write a gratitude list every day. It need not take more than a few minutes, you don’t have to list more than 3 or 4 items and they can be as big or small as you like. The funny song your son sang to you, going for a coffee with a work colleague, your favourite TV show being on again, the smell of jasmine in the air ... Special little moments happen even in the difficult days, and reminding yourself of them can make a huge difference to the way you feel.
When feeling blue becomes depression
Problems with depression are widespread, but not always well understood. People who are seriously depressed and their families don’t always realise that they have a medical problem or that it can be resolved with the appropriate help. Clinical psychologist Dr Cindy Nour explained to The Biggest Loser Club the 7 signs that indicate possible depression.
- A low mood most of the time, more often than not over a period of 2 weeks
- Loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks
- Weight loss or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks
- Insomnia or sleeping more
- Feeling worthless, hopeless or helpless
- Recurrent thoughts about suicide
- Diminished ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks
Don’t suffer because you feel depressed. Seek the help you need.