ALL THE LIFESTYLE STUFF
You are super sad and lethargic right now, so telling you to take up sprinting and kale is a base cruelty. Nonetheless, I want you to feel better, and there are science studies (also common sense) that say the following stuff helps.
1. Exercise. This one is the worst. Your will is a blade of grass and your body is made of lead, and I’m asking you to do wind sprints? It’s enough to make a person burst into tears. Feel free to take a crying break here. Or throw a book at the wall.
Then text a friend and ask them to meet you for a walk. If you are some kind of Marvel-Level Superhero, you can do something more ambitious, like power lifting or cross country snow-shoeing or goat yoga.
My little brother is a fitness buff--like the kind who runs ten miles a day--and he says that walking counts as real exercise, especially if you can make yourself walk for forty-five minutes or so. This was news to me. Just pick something you can tolerate, and then (I am so sorry, I am a monster) do it every day. (And, in case it is at all helpful, here are my exercise tips for people who hate exercise.) I only have three tips. I’m not great at exercise.)
2. Sleep 7-8 hours a night. (Assuming insomnia is not a part of your depression nightmare.)
3. Eat Healthy, like, I don’t know, 80% of the Time?
I’m not going to define healthy, because different people flourish on different fare. Most people feel better when they eat more fruits and vegetables, but my friend’s father claims to have cured his depression by eating only meat. (Like, only meat. Steaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner).
4. Hang Out With Friends
If you are depressed, this probably sounds like a terrible idea. Nevertheless: text a friend and ask them to meet you for tea or a walk at 7pm next Tuesday. Sunday afternoon at 2pm is also acceptable. Talking to a friend will get you out of your horror show of a head. I am a big fan of the regular meet-up. Like, pizza every Friday. Or walk every Wednesday. Or phone dates Thursdays at noon. That way you don’t have to go through the planning rigmarole as a prerequisite to the mercy of seeing another human face.
Whatever you do, please do not neglect to eat the food that brings you joy, because chocolate ice cream and boxed macaroni and cheese are delicious. And please don’t diet. Diets are terrible for your soul. Probably also your brain. (I recommend checking out Maintenance Phase, a stellar pod cast debunking diets and wellness culture.)
*Note: your life circumstances may render the lifestyle stuff impracticable.
If you have a bad knee or live in a neighborhood where it is unsafe to walk around, walking may not be an exercise option. If you have a newborn, sleeping 7-8 hours is a joke. If you are working two jobs, you don’t have time to chop celery root. Healthy food can be expensive. I f you struggle with an eating disorder, feeding yourself is itself an ordeal.
My daughter thought this looked like a garbage can of groceries. It is supposed to be a grocery cart. I have no formal artistic training.
And if your depression is super severe you may not be able to get out of bed. There is a certain cruelty in telling suffering people to bootstrap their way out of the pit by doing pilates and making avocado smoothies. If you don’t have the get up and go to do squat jumps (and I am skeptical that any human actually does), I forbid you to add a second layer of guilt to your suffering. And before you tackle any wellness resolutions (Lord how I hate the word wellness. I hate it almost as much as I hate phrase coping mechanisms.), you must first rally some help.
MORE LIFESTYLE THINGS TO TRY
Exercise, sleep, food, and friends are the big ones. But there are a panoply of other things that might be worth trying. I include these not to suggest that you are obliged to take on seventeen burdensome obligations. Especially when you don’t feel great! But if any of them sound appealing, they might be worth a shot.
*15 minutes of sunshine a day. Vitamin D, bro. I had a friend who was suffering from a terrible bout of depression, and it turned out she had an extraordinarily low level of Vitamin D. Taking over-the-counter vitamins provided her with great relief. Sunshine (especially in the early morning) also helps regulate your melatonin levels. This will help you sleep.
*Meditation. I hate straight up breathing meditation, because I have to confront the gaping chasm of emptiness within. But it seems to work well for the Dalai Lama, and Oprah also endorses it. Many people find it transformative. Free apps like Insight Timer (there are many others) can help. If you are a person of faith, you can, of course, pray. When I am in the pit of doom, I read sad psalms. It somehow comforts me that, five thousand years ago, people also experienced crushing despair. (My favorite lines include: "I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold." And: "My days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers… I am like the desert owl, and owl among the ruins . . .”
What's wrong with being a desert owl?
And to think those robed patriarchs didn’t even have Prozac! For me, with meditation, I feel like I have to breathe right for it to work (I'm 100% sure this is an inaccurate understanding of meditation), but with prayer, I feel like I just have to show up. I can be a pile of smoke and embers devoid of hope, and an exterior force untouched by my despair will do work in me.
Despite my meditation failures, I love listening to Tara Brach's awesome insight mindfulness podcast. She tells jokes, and she has a kind voice, and her insights are on point.
What a kind face.
*Yoga. Yoga helps some people with depression. I did yoga regularly for a year (when I was underemployed and a cheap yoga studio was close to my apartment). Yoga didn’t make my depression evaporate, but it did help me feel calmer and less cramped up in my body. Also, yoga doubles as exercise. Two birds with one stone.
I have a deep and abiding love for the "Abs yoga for beginners" DVD. Probably because my dad did it every day in the middle of our living room while my baby brother climbed on his back and my big brother and I bickered about who ate all the Wheat Thins. (It was my brother. He used to dip them in cream cheese. Which actually holds up pretty well as a snack.)
*Nature. I am indoorsy. Sometimes I pass an entire day without stepping outside. But wind and trees can get you out of your head and back into your body. If you are in the chasm of despair, even stepping outside to drink your morning coffee can help.
*Acupuncture. Studies indicate that acupuncture can help alleviate depression.
I tried acupuncture and each session made me slowly weep. Then when I got home I would collapse into bed for three hours. Perhaps the acupuncture released repressed emotion? I would have kept up with it, but my particular acupuncturist wanted me to adopt a Paleo diet (not usually a feature of Eastern medicine). I became an irritable sweet potato obsessed zombie.
Then the pandemic happened, and that was the end of acupuncture and me. For now. I’m looking into an appointment with an acupuncturist who has a firm pro-carb stance.
*Support Groups can be really helpful. You may fear that support groups will be full of weirdos. But look into your soul: are you not a weirdo yourself? More on support groups HERE.
*Volunteering. If you want to live in an America where justice and kindness reign, the last century may have been rough on your heart. Joining the good fight can help.
Whew! So much lifestyle stuff! I want to state again that there is something messed up in the touting of lifestyle stuff to defeat depression--a sort of idea of "well, you're not meditating a half hour a day, and you haven't been doing your sprinting, so OF COURSE you're depressed."
Applying all the above lifestyle recommendations would be a half-time (if not full-time) job. Also, if you are in a deep depression, its hard to work up the motivation to take a shower, let alone go on a run. You have to get to a certain level of okay-ness before you can muster the motivation to do the things that will help you feel okay. Which is why you need to start by getting help.
Tree, you will never understand my woe.
You don't know my life.
Bipolar Bear & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Health Insurance: a Fable for Grown Ups is a graphic novel about a bipolar bear who gets lost in the Labyrinth of Health Insurance Claims.
When Mystical Creatures Attack! is a novel about an idealistic teacher who has a nervous breakdown and corresponds with her former students from an inpatient psychiatric facility.