There are several steps that folks with depression can take in an effort to stay mentally healthy. These are sometimes impossible when I’m in the middle of a depressive episode, but easier when I’m feeling better or when depression is in remission. So here’s what’s best, how it is when it’s hard, and how I’m doing with these tools now. (hint – room for improvement!)
Most medical advice is that adults should get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. For folks fighting depression, changes in sleep patterns can actually be one of several indicators of an episode – too much or too little sleep, or an inability to fall or stay asleep. That’s how it usually is for me – I struggle to fall asleep, and if I wake up, I find it very hard to fall back asleep. Some days can start as early as 4:30am!
Currently, I take prescribed medication that helps me with this, but even with the meds, I don’t always get 7 hours. I feel my best if I can get nine hours of sleep in a night. But that hasn’t happened for a long time – those nights were at least a year ago. It’s been a long while since I could say “I slept really well.”
2. Healthy Diet
We’ve all heard about the importance of making healthy food choices – eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, some whole grain fiber, a little healthy fat like olive oil. Reduce the amount of sugar and salt. Keep it natural – the fewer unpronounceable ingredients, the better! And drink lots of water.
When I’m depressed, eating is really not something I think about. I either eat too much or hardly anything at all. Making a meal is a real chore – too hard to do, and planning menus is almost impossible. I just reach for something and eat it. Or not.
Typically, I drink two cups of coffee per day, one or two cans of decaf soda per day, plus a glass (or two) of wine most nights, and at least three glasses of water, often lots more. My breakfast is usually a banana or breakfast biscuit and two cups of coffee with non-dairy flavored creamer. Today was a healthier lunch, with low-fat cottage cheese and fresh raspberries. I snacked on veggie straws (like potato chips) – gotta watch the fat and salt there, so I portion them out into a cup instead of eating from the bag. For supper, we often have salad and some kind of protein/meat, but pasta and pizza are staples for us. My snacks are usually a cup of ice cream or bowl of cereal with soy milk or a cup of yogurt or crackers. I admit to loving dark chocolate, so there might be a few pieces of that sometimes some days. I probably consume too much fake and sweet stuff – but I don’t do much mindless eating, which is good. That, too, can be hard in the middle of depression – just eating without thinking about it can lead to overeating for me. The worst part for me is that I’m “snacky” in the evening, 8pm or later. It would be better if I wouldn’t eat after dinner, especially since our dinner is often late.
Experts are all over the place with exactly how much and what kind of exercise is best. The majority still seem to say 30-60 minutes five times per week, with some (half?) of that being aerobic exercise, raising your heart-rate for a while.
That’s a lot when I’m depressed. Shoot, that’s a lot when I’m not depressed! When I’m in a depressive episode, exercise is not even an option. Getting out of bed is sometimes an exercise all by itself, let alone showering or moving from the couch once I sit down. Never mind walking out to get the mail, or around the block, or on a treadmill. It’s hard to move at all. And lots of times, it even hurts to move. If I could sleep, I’d just stay in bed with the covers pulled over my head. But without sleeping, I lay there and my mind races with negative thoughts. So even when I’m depressed, I’m not one to stay in bed, thought many folks with depression do.
Lately, I’m trying to adopt an attitude of movement. Not “exercise” – the dreaded E word. Instead, I park farther from the store entrance. I’ll watch an old episode of NCIS and walk on the treadmill for 20 or 40 minutes. I might swim the front crawl in the pool, even if I’m walking it, not scissor-kicking. The other night I walked around the cul-de-sac and up and down the street. I’ve thought many times about hopping on my bike – now I need to just do it instead of thinking about it so much!
There are more tools for fighting depression. They will be in the next post. Stay tuned.