Step by Step - Dealing with Depression

Step by step - dealing with depression
Recent research showed that people suffering with depression reported reduced symptoms when walking regularly. I don’t doubt for a moment that walking reduces symptoms and can aid recovery however in this article I look at what implications this might have more generally if you have depression.
So let us start with the act of walking. Wikipedia states “Walking is one of the main gaits of locomotion among legged animals”. Sounds so obvious you are probably already losing interest but please stick with me a little longer. 
There are two words in particular that I think are important in the definition the first one is “main”. The word itself implies something positive / strong and if “walking is one of the main” this means it is something where there is an expectation of it being “usual”. 
One of the problems with depression is that sufferers can start to wonder whether they are unusual and become self critical. Such thoughts bring up other difficult feelings and further difficult thoughts and it is really important to break that downward spiral!
So, the very act of walking is to start to do something “usual” and when we experience ourselves doing something “usual” it challenges our negative thoughts and feelings. What I conclude from this is that finding ways to normalise our experience can reassure us that fundamentally we can be ok, that we can move towards a life without depression, life more usual.
When I have patients with depression one of the first experiences they are likely to report is a sense of relief that they are able to talk to someone easily about their experience and in turn being able to talk easily has a normalising effect. 
This is usually further helped by the fact that they feel further relief as they know they are speaking to someone who has talked to many people about depression. Talking to someone who knows what you are going through, what it feels like and asks questions which you find helpful can enable you to think more clearly, see things differently and see a way forward.
If you are depressed and have not yet done any research on depression I recommend it. Not only is there a great deal of knowledge out there but first and foremost you will find out just how “usual” it is to have depression.
The second word from the Wikipedia definition I want to think about is “locomotion”. This word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “the ability to move and the act of moving from one place to another”. Again, ability connects with our need to be “usual” whilst I think “the act of moving” is also about our sense of ourselves as having “agency” - of doing! In buddhism it is believed that making progress is an innate requirement for wellbeing and when we do we achieve - even if it is a simple task - it reinforces our sense of self.
One of the first questions I ask my patients with depression is about lifestyle. Exercise in particular has been found to have a physiological benefit for depression. Movement releases endorphins and other natural chemicals in the brain that lift spirits.
Of course doing is also a great distraction from the difficult thoughts and feelings that can arise from doing nothing. If you find you are sitting around thinking and the only thing that is happening is you go over and over the same thoughts then maybe this is telling you what needs to happen cannot to be sorted by thinking - but doing. Do something to break that thinking!
So in summary two main things to think about if you have depression:
  1. Embrace your depression - learn about it, study it and think about what it might be telling you about your life and how you are living it. Look at any negative perceptions you hold about yourself and challenge them - get ok with being yourself. You will be on the right path when you don’t think you might be unusual.
  2. Get moving and stop repetitive thinking - look at the key areas of your life - health, relationships, interests, spirituality and identify what improvements you might make. Avoid the mistake of setting too big a challenge -  remember you will feel better achieving a 2 mile walk than setting out for a 5 mile walk and feeling defeated after 4 miles. 
I hope you have found this article helpful, if you have been struggling with depression then please be assured it is treatable and that there are many sufferers like you. You are not alone.