The Taconic Counseling Group

Nancy J. Ulrich, Ph.D.

How To Beat The Blues: Healthful Habits for the Relief of Depression

Depression can be called the "common cold" of mental health because the average person is bound to feel down at least once during his or her lifetime.  Simply put, sadness is a fundamental part of human experience which we all encounter at some point in time. 


Sadness or depression may be brought on by a number of different life factors.  Some people become depressed in response to a stressful and upsetting event, such as a loss, death or relationship breakup.  Other people tend to experience feelings of sadness or depression due to events which occurred in their younger years, which result in important yet upsetting memories.  Still others become depressed due to biological factors which are somewhat harder to identify. 


This emotional state can take many forms, ranging from a brief period of feeling sad to a more serious episode of depression.  If you are feeling sad or blue, there are many things that you might do to feel better.  Most depressions diminish within the first six months.  Here are some commonly recommended suggestions to help combat mild feelings of depression.  At the end of this list, there are some important indicators of more persistent or serious depression that might require professional consultation. 


1.  EXERCISE CAN HELP IMPROVE YOUR MOOD and combat anxiety by helping you to relax, increasing your stamina, releasing natural "tranquilizers" (endorphins) and improving your sleep.  Start with five to ten minutes of exercise daily and try working up to twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic walking, biking, running or swimming at least three times per week.  Check with your doctor prior to starting any strenuous exercise program.


2.  PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODY.  Frequent sickness can be a sign of depression. Good nutrition can fortify your body, while skipping meals or eating "junk" food may deplete your body of the essential nutrients that can keep you healthy. Be sure to eat only when you are hungry, don't skip a meal, and select wholesome fruits and vegetables as a treat.  Avoid caffeine and sugar, which can contribute to mood swings.  Take a moment before eating to relax and breathe deeply. 


Go to the doctor for a physical examination.  It is always important to rule out possible reasons for depression that may actually be caused by particular physical conditions.  Examples of these include Lyme disease, thyroid imbalance, or other syndromes which, if treated, can help you to feel less depressed. 


3.   REST TO RESTORE YOURSELF.   Try to get 6-8 hours of sleep beginning at your regular bedtime in order to feel rested the next day.  If you are unable to fall asleep after half an hour, try getting out of bed and drinking a cup of hot milk or chamomile tea -- it may help you to relax. If you find yourself sleeping a lot more than usual, perhaps as an escape from feelings of sadness, it may indicate that you should seek a therapist for help.


4.  AVOID HARMFUL SUBSTANCES.  Taking drugs or drinking alcohol can make depressive symptoms worse or can trigger a dangerous interaction with medications. 


5.  COMFORT YOURSELF WITH SUPPORTIVE COMPANIONS.  Seek out supportive people who will listen to you without judging or giving unsolicited advice.  Helpful people can remind you of your strengths and better times.  Spending time with people you enjoy or doing things you like to do will also raise your spirits.  Try at least one favorite activity a day, or talk with one person who makes you feel special. 


6.  USE POSITIVE THOUGHTS TO STOP "NEGATIVE SELF-TALK."  When depressed, people often find fault with themselves.  It helps to review self-criticism to see if something truly needs to be done.  However, you may find that you are berating yourself over and over; such negative self-talk helps no one.  Stopping negative self-talk can help.


It is always helpful to remind yourself: "This, too, shall pass."  If you catch yourself in negative self-talk, try to consider new angles to the problem.  Turn "black and white" thinking into shades of grey.  Think out loud or talk things over with a friend.  Actively listing your own strengths can help remind you of your best capabilities.  This can help you cope. 


7.  ENGAGE IN ACTIVITIES WHICH RENEW AND INSPIRE YOUR HEART AND MIND.  Many activities, such as meditation, prayer, or deep breathing for relaxation can help you to remember the things that are most valuable and important to you.  Look for meaning in your life and seek your own spiritual path.  Spend time in nature.  Seek out beauty.  Find ways to accept yourself and forgive your mistakes in life.


8.  FIND YOUR VOICE THROUGH CREATIVE EXERCISES.  Activities such as writing in a journal, creating art, or listening to music can help express feelings that may be hard to understand.  Many artists and writers have used these avenues to eloquently describe their emotional experiences and to begin to feel less depressed.  All of these exercises can be done independently or with a friend. 


9.  WHENEVER POSSIBLE, MAINTAIN YOUR DAILY ROUTINES.  Sometimes, keeping up daily routines can help one to get back on track.  The expression "Put one foot in front of the other" is useful to many, because it helps to accomplish the things one is capable of achieving. 




Feelings of sadness may be more accurately termed "depression" when one experiences a number of related difficulties in one's life, such as changes in sleep habits, changes in eating habits, significant weight gain or loss, reduced level of energy, increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide.  If you are experiencing any of the above difficulties, it is recommended that you seek help from a professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, in order to get the help you may need.