I heard about a woman who was suffering from depression, so her concerned husband took her to a psychiatrist. The doctor listened to the couple talk about their relationship, and then he said, “The treatment I prescribe is really quite simple.” With that, he went over to the man’s wife, gathered her up in his arms, and gave her a big kiss. He then stepped back and looked at the woman’s glowing face and broad smile. Turning to the woman’s husband, he said, “See! That’s all she needs to put new life back into her.” Expressionless, the husband said, “If you say so, Doc, I can bring her in on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Okay, that’s not how to treat depression, but I have a few other suggestions that make more sense. As a result of trial and error, over the course of thirty years, I’ve found ten blues battling strategies that often help me. These are not quick fixes, and this list is not exhaustive. It is also not a “must do” list.
When you’re depressed, the last thing you need is a list of expectations to live up to. Don’t stress about forcing yourself to accomplish all these things. They’re not items to be checked off a list each day. The only one that is crucial is number one. After that, you can experiment with the others as you feel able to.
1) Get the Facts and Get Help.
Web sites and books on depression abound. Find them and do some research. You need to know what you’re dealing with. Learn all you can about depression, so you can make educated decisions about your own health, learn how others cope, and find what medical treatment is available. Many books have self tests to help you determine whether you are experiencing clinical depression or temporary sadness in reaction to an event. In addition to reading everything you can get your hands on, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is seek medical help right away. Depression is much too complicated for you to solve on your own. Clinical depression is a serious medical condition that is very complicated to treat. Often it is a physical problem that requires long term medication. In my own experience, it’s taken years of medication, counseling, and practicing various self help methods to slowly emerge from it, and it’s still a daily battle.
Many people suffer needlessly from depression because they won’t consult a doctor. If you’re waiting for God to heal you, consider this: God gives scientists intelligence, which they often use to create helpful medicines; and He gives doctors wisdom to treat illnesses. Wise doctors and modern medicines are gifts from God and vehicles through which He often heals. Doctors can help you determine whether what you feel is truly depression, or if you are just reacting normally to a sad life situation.
If you’ve experienced depression, you already know it is not an illness you can “snap out of,” no matter what others may tell you. It’s not something to be ashamed of either. Depression can be a serious physical illness caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals or other factors. Like any serious medical condition, depression needs to be treated. Without the proper treatment, none of my suggested coping strategies will do any good.
2) Get Focused.
Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness pervade the life of a depressed person. The opposite of depression is a hopeful attitude. Focusing on hope and developing a hopeful heart is a must. It can be accomplished in a couple ways. One way is to search the Bible for the numerous Scriptures that tell how God has helped those who felt hopeless. It’s helpful to memorize verses like these: Hebrews 4:15 (For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.); 2 Corinthians 4:8 & 9 (All-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.); Matthew 6:34 (Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.); Isaiah 41:10 (Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.); and John 14:27 (Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.).
The story of Job and the book of Psalms are the most worn pages in my Bible. While at my lowest, I’ve read and re-read them more times than I can count. My fridge and the mirrors in my house are covered with sticky notes reminding me of how God intervenes in the lives of His people.
Another way to focus on hope is by practicing positive self talk. This simply means telling yourself good things. I made a list for myself of positive affirmations like “God cares and understands my pain. God values me. God is giving me strength. I am made in God’s image. I can choose my attitude. I choose not to put myself down. I’m a worthwhile person. I have a purpose. I enjoy life. I choose to be happy and I am competent.” If you struggle with depression, I think you’ll find it helpful to write down as many of these affirmations as you can think of and read them every day. Even if they’re not currently true or you don’t really believe them, it’s okay. Say them to yourself anyway. Your mind will come to believe what you tell it, so tell it you are already the type of person you want to become. Be sure to remind yourself often that God is with you and He is pouring his strength on you. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance. …For You are the God of my strength…” (Psalm 42:5 and 43:2 NKJV)
2 Corinthians 4:18 says we need to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Focusing on positive, heavenly things rather than earthly things will keep the feelings of hopelessness at bay.
3) Get Friendly.
Fellowship with other people is a mood lifter. Being alone is the worst thing you can do when you’re depressed. Unfortunately, it’s usually the very thing I want most. Depression grows best in isolation. I find it very difficult to get out and socialize when I’m depressed, but if I push myself to do it, I’m almost always glad later. Some ideas for socializing include joining a club, taking a class, inviting someone to meet you for lunch, or visiting a nursing home to chat with the residents there. It especially helps me to be with friends who enjoy the same hobbies I do. Shopping, watching movies, and rubber stamping are some of the things I enjoy doing alone, but they’re twice as much fun when I do them with friends.
4) Get Giggling.
I collect cartoons and funny newspaper columns. I visit humor web sites online, watch funny movies, and read funny books. Best of all is laughing with friends. One of the reasons I enjoy my grandson so much is because he makes me laugh. I can act goofy with him and let go of my inhibitions. We dance and sing and make up silly rhymes. I have photographs of us wearing funny glasses with big black mustaches. I laugh every time I look at those. Laughing affects brain chemicals. It releases endorphins, which make you feel good. Chocolate does the same thing, but a good laugh is less fattening.
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