Given the current political landscape and post-holiday season, it’s hard to avoid feeling depressed and anxious sometimes. But what if these feelings are more than just occasional? According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, a condition that—unlike the normal and temporary response to life’s challenges—can become a serious and debilitating health problem.
As hard as it may be to believe when you’re experiencing it, depression doesn’t have to get the best of you. Here are three coping skills for depression that help you take back control.
Exercise to Boost Your Mood
It’s no secret that exercise makes you feel good. Whether you’re blowing off steam after a stressful day or releasing some anxious energy, working out can be a powerful mood booster. That’s why so much research has been done on the use of exercise to treat depression, with remarkable results. According to one data review, an overwhelming majority of the many studies looking at the effects of exercise on depression have found that it helps reduce symptoms. In fact, research shows exercise alone may be as effective as conventional treatments for relieving depression symptoms.
Since depression can make it extra hard to get yourself moving, here’s some advice on how to motivate from U.S. News & World Report:
1. Schedule your workouts
If you wait until you feel like it to exercise, it might never happen. Set a time for working out, and stick to your plan.
2. Be realistic
Setting the bar too high will likely leave you feeling discouraged. Set doable goals like taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work.
3. Buddy up
Whether you sign up for a group exercise class or hit the gym with a friend, making your workouts social will help motivate you and make it more enjoyable.
Socialize to Prevent Loneliness
As I explain here, it’s not uncommon for people struggling with depression to isolate themselves, or to lose interest in activities they used to enjoy. Are you hiding at home on weekends rather than doing stuff like going out for meals, playing golf, or seeing a movie? Do you avoid calls from family and friends? Depression could be causing you to withdraw. Loneliness can also contribute to depression, so you may find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle where avoiding people because you’re depressed compounds your depression.
It’s important to maintain connections with other people, even if you sometimes have to force yourself. Schedule dinner with a buddy you haven’t seen in a while or take your spouse out for a night on the town. You could also consider volunteering in your community, which gives you a chance to help others while you interact with them, not to mention the “warm glow” we all feel when we do a good deed. Check out VolunteerMatch to find volunteer opportunities in your area.
Practice Mindfulness to Gain Perspective
I talk a lot about the power of mindfulness meditation to relieve stress, but science suggests it can also have a positive impact on depression and other mental health issues. A major study conducted at Oxford University found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was as helpful for relieving depression symptoms as commonly prescribed antidepressants. Other research indicates mindfulness may prevent people who previously struggled with depression from relapsing.
You certainly don’t need to be clinically depressed to feel the mood-boosting effects of mindfulness—Dr. Oz says his team at The Dr. Oz Show would participate in a group meditation session every day to lift their spirits after a busy day of production, and they all felt better for it.
One of the greatest things about mindfulness is how accessible it is. There are tons of resources available for people looking to learn how to meditate, including smartphone apps like the ones I list here.
Depression can be debilitating, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Sign up for my newsletter here to learn more:
About Myles Spar, MD
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher