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.
A friend of mine, who had a very frustrating job, told me that one day she was inspired by someone who had a huge, bright smile. She decided to emulate that woman and smile at everyone she encountered. Right away, she realized that smiling was addictive. It seemed to make the time pass more quickly and she found herself less frustrated and more at peace. She told me, “It sounds corny, but it really works!”
Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NKJV) I’ve heard that a person can act her way into feeling better. Act happy, act glad, and it helps you to feel happy and glad. Paul exhibited this truth in his own life. Acts 16 tells how Paul and Silas were attacked, beaten, locked in stocks, and thrown into solitary confinement. Yet, at midnight, what were they doing? Feeling sorry for themselves? Asking God, “Why?” Moaning and complaining like I do? No, they were singing! Sure they were suffering, but they knew they were children of God. Paul may have even been remembering his personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. (Acts 22:10) They were praising God because they had been rescued from their sins, filled by the Holy Spirit, and added to God’s family. No jailer could take that away. That was worth being grateful for, no matter what else happened to them. Even if they were to be killed, it would only send them to heaven. So why should they fear? That’s some awesome faith, isn’t it?
5) Get Rhythm.
When I feel a case of the gloomies descending, that is not the time to play melancholy music. Positive upbeat tunes are in order — the sort of music you might hear at a parade or a circus. Music gets your toes tapping and your blood flowing. It makes you want to sing. Singing and dancing sends a message to your brain that you’re happy. Your brain is an actualizer. Whatever it “thinks” is true, it works to bring about. This is why positive thinking works. You tell yourself, “I’m happy” often enough and your brain accepts it as fact. It actualizes that truth, making it happen. I’ve found that when depression takes hold of me, I tend to ruminate on negative thoughts. Listening to good, Christian music with positive lyrics helps to pour good things into my brain and crowd those negative things out. There’s a list of good things to ponder in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. It says to think about whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, noble, right, or admirable. Philippians 4:8 says, “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Christian music helps me accomplish this.
6) Get Busy
We all need to feel like we’re involved in something significant. We need to participate in something outside ourselves. You might consider volunteering at a local women’s shelter or food pantry. I’ve enjoyed both and discovered that when I stay busy helping others and concentrating on their problems, I get a break from focusing on my own troubles. This is how HUGS and HOPE began. It started with a small effort to make a difference for one family and it grew. I’ve learned that joy boomerangs. When you give it away, it comes back to you. Helping others gives you the heart-warming satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference in the world. That will elevate your mood as well as your self esteem.
7) Get Physical
This is two-fold. Physical exercise is good for us, but physical contact is equally important. Our bodies need to move to be healthy, and going for a walk is the easiest exercise for me to do when I’m depressed. It doesn’t require as much energy and motivation as other activities. Breathing the fresh air and looking at the beauty of nature can be helpful, and taking my dog along is even better. Just watching his ears flop as he bounces down the road in front of me often brings a smile to my face.
Exercise affects brain chemicals, and the healing touch of physical closeness does too. If you’re depressed, hug somebody – anybody, everybody! A hug is good medicine. It reduces stress and tension and it boosts your immunity to illness. Hugs raise self esteem and lower blood pressure. They feel good and make people happy. And they’re free! Hugs are the universal language that communicates love and acceptance. They’re healthy for the “hugger” as well as the “hugee.”
I need to lean heavily on God’s word and spend time with Him. When I pray, I talk things over with God. When I read the Bible and meditate on it, I hear Him speak to me and I contemplate what He says. I’ve found this to be one of the best anti-depressants there is. However, I need to add a word of caution here. Too much solitude can worsen depression. Isolating yourself and avoiding people can make depression grow. Don’t use meditation time as an excuse to avoid human contact. Time with God is of the utmost importance, but balance between quiet time alone and time spent with others is essential.
9) Get Forgiveness – And Give it Too!
I’ve read that many psychiatrists agree that depression is guilt or anger turned inward. David is an example of someone whose guilt led to depression. After committing adultery, he wrote, “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)
Sin makes you feel bad, but when you receive God’s forgiveness, your guilt is removed; and often depression is removed too.
Depression can sometimes be caused from the need to forgive someone else or yourself (whomever is making you angry). Grudges cause feelings of frustration, which aggravate the hopeless feelings of depression. When we forgive, we let go of past hurts and give up bitterness. Then depression has no negativity on which to feed. If you free yourself from feelings of hate and open yourself up to feelings of love, you may feel as if the depression is physically lifting off your shoulders.
My friend Nance went through a difficult divorce, which left her bitter about the past, anxious about the future, and miserable in general. She harbored a lot of grudges and guilt, and she worried constantly. She felt the need to control everything in her life, yet she knew she couldn’t. After attending a women’s retreat, Nance realized what her negativity was doing to her.She released her worries, fears, anger, and resentments at the foot of the cross. Then she felt a renewal in her heart. She was happy and at peace.
When she was dying, Nance told me that the most difficult thing she’d ever had to do was forgive – both her ex-husband and herself — for past mistakes. She said forgiving was even harder than dying!
Forgiveness isn’t a simple one time event. It’s a process that often takes time (sometimes years), but it’s an important step to healing.
Jesus taught forgiveness when he said we’d be forgiven in the same way we forgive others, and when he told Peter we should forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven. Of course, Jesus also lived forgiveness. While hanging on the cross, he looked at his torturers and said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
10) Get Thankful.
When I’m depressed, I need to make a conscious effort to count my blessings. An attitude of hopelessness and discontent has a hard time competing with an attitude of gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:28 says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s important to remember that depression is not fatal and it doesn’t last forever. You WILL survive! Remind yourself that this cloud of despair will pass eventually. It may seem like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but trust that there is; and be thankful for that, as you wait for the light to appear.
So, while kisses from your husband (or a psychiatrist) may be great, they can’t cure depression. But along with medication and the proper treatment, now you have some practical steps you can take for your own well being. There are times when one of these strategies may be more helpful than the rest. Other times, it may seem that none of them makes a huge difference. But I keep practicing all of them anyway, because I know they are steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Following them on a regular basis may not eliminate depression forever, but they help me to minimize their severity.
These tips can be helpful for people who are not depressed too. They can be useful for anyone who is a little discouraged, a little blue, or needs to refocus on more positive things in life.
I hope that by trying these ideas you may find yourself on the way to experiencing more joy.
Author Marsha Jordan is founder of a nonprofit charity called Hugs and Hope for Sick Children (http://www.hugsandhope.org). More of her articles on depression are in her book, Hugs, Hope, and Peanut Butter, a compilation of essays illustrated with drawings by critically ill children. A wonderful mix of the serious and the zany, this book warms the heart and lifts the spirit. PROCEEDS BENEFIT SICK KIDS! This book was written to encourage anyone who faces disappointment — which is EVERYone! Some essays in the book include “What Did I Do To Deserve This?” “What Was God Thinking?” and “More Than I Can Handle.” Order the book or learn more at http://www.hugsandhope.org/book.htm