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Let’s face it, we’ve been through some rough times lately. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last year and a half, like most of us, you have been affected by this unprecedented pandemic. I won’t even go into all the possibilities. We didn’t see this coming, never thought it would last this long, and now are trying to cope with conflicting messages from the media and changing instructions from the CDC. Many of us are also trying to deal with sinking spirits, the blues, and perhaps genuine depression.
Talking about mental health issues is not something people like to do, but as more and more celebrities break their silence about depression, anxiety, and other manifestations of long-term stress, the stigma is beginning to fade. When Michael Phelps—who holds the all-time record for Olympic gold medals and is the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time—publicly announced his own battle with depression and became a spokesperson for mental health, the world took notice.
If you’re suffering from serious clinical depression, it’s important to consult a mental-health professional. Like any other critical illness, coping with depression is not a do-it-yourself project. On the other hand, if you become aware that the events of the last couple of years are taking a toll on your outlook on life and you may be dealing with more than a simple case of the blues, there are some steps you can take. You may not want to do everything on this list, but do choose the ones that resonate. Doing something is better than feeling helpless. You are NOT helpless.
Here are seven suggestions based on an article by psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, published by the Cleveland Clinic. These are only the tip of the iceberg, so check out https://health.clevelandclinic.org/7-ways-to-head-off-depression-before-it-sets-in/
- Learn your warning signs
You must be alert to sense when you are beginning to sink. The sooner you become aware of depression on the horizon, the sooner you can begin to head it off.
- Reach out to friends, family, or a therapist
Don’t isolate. You’ve had much too much of your own company over the past year and a half. Pick up the phone, write an email, text a friend, call a counselor. If you don’t have a therapist, ask for recommendations from your physician.
- Practice good sleep hygiene
If you find yourself sleeping too much or too little, take control. Look up “good sleep hygiene,” and change your habits. Start by going to bed at the same time at night, and getting up at the same time every morning.
- Resolve to eat healthy, whole foods
The temptation to binge on anything from chocolate to Tostitos (my personal favorite) when that’s not your usual pattern is a sure sign that something is amiss. Go to a farmers’ market or subscribe to ready-to-cook, healthy meals. If that’s too much for now, go to the soup and salad bar at your local grocery store.
- Limit (or eliminate) alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant—the last thing you need. It will make your mood plummet, mess up your sleep, and lead to very bad habits.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise
If you’re thinking, are you kidding me? No, I’m not. Exercise may be the only step you can’t do without. Exercise will boost your mood, increase your energy, and improve your sleep. It should be a non-negotiable thing on your list.
- Do something fulfilling and fun
Staring at the ceiling is not very fulfilling. This may require some self-discipline, but get up and do something you usually enjoy: create an art project, knit, walk your dog, use your smartphone to photograph flowers, ride your bike, curl up with a good book, volunteer to do something useful, play music or, better yet, make music, go to your place of worship if you have one, watch a funny movie, bake a cake, or cook a delicious meal.