Depression can really creep up on you and before you know it, you’re in a hole, desperately looking for ways to climb out. That’s what happened to me in September after a job I’d been offered didn’t work out. Despite having experienced depression on a number of occasions, I still didn’t see it coming. It was only when I looked at the symptoms of depression on the NHS website that I found myself ticking the boxes: feeling hopeless, tearful, constantly tired and lacking any energy or motivation to do anything, taking to my bed, feeling anxious and even having fleeting suicidal thoughts. After ruminating unhelpfully for hours on how this could be happening to me again, I turned to a more useful question: how could I lift myself out of depression? And here are three of the things that have helped me to achieve this:
- Finding my Purpose – after becoming unemployed I really lacked direction and a reason to get out of bed, which work had given me – especially as my identity has always been so wrapped up in what I did for a living. Not having a sense of purpose fueled my anxiety and completely knocked my confidence. And life is so much harder when you have low self-esteem. My wife suggested I did a careers quiz which threw up a few alternative job suggestions and as a result I signed up for a couple of courses: an introduction to counselling course and a cricket coaching course. I may not ultimately end up becoming either a counsellor or cricket coach (I hope I will), but just by taking the positive and proactive step of signing up to these courses was a catalyst for my recovery from depression. Suddenly I could see a glimmer of hope and I felt lighter, less trapped and more optimistic. Neither of the courses were too expensive and there are loads of free online courses available, so I would definitely recommend having a look for one that might interest you.
- Tracking my Mood – I notice that when depression and anxiety strike, my memory is affected and I can’t remember how I was feeling the day before or even when I last felt happy. This makes sense as I understand, from my basic grasp of neuroscience, that depression can shrink the hippocampus which is the memory-forming part of the brain. I find it really helpful therefore to track my mood throughout the day, rating myself out of 10 and noting what triggers or activities have affected my low or high mood. At the end of the week I’ll work out my average daily score which is a useful indicator of my progress. This is massively helpful as you quickly learn what things work well for your mental health and what hinder it. The Moodbeam wearable device is a valuable addition to my mental health toolkit. It helps track my mood at a push of a button and I’ve set up several prompts to remind me to record how I’m feeling at key points in the day. I can add notes using the app so I can check back at any time and see what is helping to lift my mood. Moodbeam even helps me track my step activity and how much sleep I’m getting each night. It’s a unique Fitbit for my mind!
- Staying Connected – not working, feeling depressed and the Covid situation are a toxic mix that can lead to significant feelings of isolation. You naturally begin to withdraw and your world quickly becomes very narrow. However, it’s vital that you resist the urge to hide under the duvet and, instead, start reaching out to others. Humans are social animals and we need this connection. After doing a bit of online research, I found a number of support groups – both virtual and face to face – that can provide company and comfort such as the excellent Hope in Depression charity’s free evening course. You’ll discover that far from being alone, there are loads of other people struggling with similar feelings of depression and anxiety – just knowing this fact can really help. I also opened up to friends and family and in return received only kindness, love and support. These are challenging times and the more we can give one another a helping hand the stronger we will all be.
There is no silver bullet for managing depression or anxiety and the suggestions above may not suit you and your needs. The key is to find what might work for you – whether it’s exercise, medication, talking therapy or another activity you enjoy – and just give it a go. The ‘five ways to wellbeing’ researched and developed by the New Economics Foundation is an excellent place to start.
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