Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Combating Depression

Depression is a normal part of life.  However, being depressed all the time is not.

Depression is rampant in the United States, which is odd, because we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and moreover have a large population of middle class people, despite what naysayers might tell you.  And oddly enough, it is often the wealthier people in the US who are depressed the most.

Chronic depression is of course, something you should consult a doctor about.  If you are chronically depressed, seek help - there is no shame in that.

Many people, however are just occasionally mildly depressed, and convinced that something is "wrong" with them - and they seek help in the form of a pill, which many Doctors are all-too-willing to prescribe.

But some depression is normal, in everyone's life.  And there isn't necessarily a reason for depression.  Emotions, as I have noted before, are like farts.  Everyone has them, and they are often a function of what you ate a few hours ago, more than anything.  So expect to be depressed on occasion.  It's OK, and once you realize that, you know that it will end later on.

The problem severely depressed people have is that they never see a way out of their depression.

But there are other, non-drug solutions to depression, at least for occasional or mild depression.  And Diet is one of these.  As I just noted, emotions can be related to what you eat, and Americans have horrible diets.  We eat diets high in carbohydrates - starches and sugars.  As a result, our blood sugar soars and then plummets with each meal or snack.  If you find yourself mood-swinging several times a day, take a good look at your diet. French fries and a soft drink are a recipe for a brief euphoria, followed by a prolonged depression, or a nap.

And such a diet will make your moods worse and worse, as you start to develop type-II diabetes.  Eventually, your blood sugar will be all out of whack, and you will be going up and down like an elevator.  Get ahead of this by swearing off sugar and sugary drinks - especially High Fructose Corn Syrup junk.  And stay away from starchy meals of all pasta or all potatoes - what is served in most restaurants these days.

Exercise is the other half of the equation.  Taking a long walk, instead of watching the TeeVee, is good for both your mental and emotional health.  You body needs to exercise, and lack of exercise forces your body into a stasis mode, where the metabolism basically shuts down to a minimal calorie consumption.   Lack of movement leads directly to depression.  And the American lifestyle - a sedentary lifestyle - eating, sleeping, watching TeeVee, driving everywhere, leads directly to depression.

Change is also one way to fight depression, as well.   My personal opinion is that depression is your brain's way of saying "Warning! Danger!  Take Action!" and yet many people smother that reaction with drugs and alcohol.  Depression, as simplistic as it may sound, is your mind's way of telling you that you are unhappy.  Unhappy with your lifestyle, your job, your spouse, or something.  Change is often a means of breaking the cycle of depression - even something as simple as a change in hairstyle.

You see, if you feel helpless and a victim of circumstance (and boy-howdy will the TeeVee pander to that!) you tend to feel depressed.  You feel that no matter what you do, it makes no difference in your life, so why bother.  It is a form of learned helplessness.

Taking charge of your life and demonstrating to yourself that you do have some control over your life will often cheer you up, as it jogs your brain out of that mode of helplessness and passivity.

Listen to depression, it is talking to you.  Are you unhappy in your job?  Never mind that it is a "dream job" that pays a lot and "you should be happy!" - the key is whether you ARE.  I see this all the time in the field of law - people who become highly paid lawyers with successful careers, and yet are not satisfied.  They go on vacation and look on with envy at the beach bum running the snorkeling concession on the beach - "That guy has it made!", they think, but of course, their wife wouldn't let them quit the high-paying job - they've got kids in school and she wants that new Lexus SUV.

And yea, I've seen people quit the "dream job" in mid-career and do something completely different.  I sort of did.  And you know, sometimes they find their muse - and they find that making a lot of money, and spending it as fast as they make it, isn't all its cracked up to be.

But short of going out for cigarettes and never coming back, there are things you can do to make changes in your life that will help alleviate depression.  Start a new hobby, plan a vacation, buy an old car and fix it up.  Something that involves you taking control for a change and not feeling so passive.

Television is what I call the "depression box" or as I derisively refer to it here, "Tee Vee" (a tip o' the hat to the Madman Muntz).  One way to change your life and to become less passive is to chuck it out entirely.  Boy, would that piss off the wife and kids!  And for that reason, many folks don't have the courage to do it.  But life without TeeVee is a happier life, and that $100 a month cable bill feels a lot better invested in the old 401(k).  Unplug the TeeVee - go for a walk.  Take the family to the library.  You will be happier, smarter, and healthier in the long run.

Procrastination  is something that also leads to depression.  The human brain wants to feel useful.  And yet, it is so tempting to play computer solitaire instead - accomplishing nothing.  A day of procrastinating is a day of depression, as it leaves you, again, feeling helpless and not in control of your life.  The best way to fight procrastination is to set some simple goal - sometimes something ridiculously simple - and then accomplishing it.  Once you do that, then set another goal and tackle that.  Pretty soon, you get a lot done.

Most folks do just the opposite - they set an impossible set of goals to reach, and then get all depressed by the end of the day when none of them are done.  But in reality, the goals were unrealistic to begin with.

It also helps to realize that some days you get a lot done, and others you don't - which is why I don't like working in an Office environment.  When you work at home, you can work when you feel productive, and do something else when you are not.  And by doing something else, I don't mean watching TeeVee.

Drugs can backfire in a big way.  I know a fellow who is chronically depressed.  He takes anti-depressants and other medications, and then washes them down with beer and bong hits.  I suppose one counteracts the other - maybe.  But if you are depressed, taking depressants (beer, pot) is not a step in the right direction.

Contentment is often more important than happiness.  In America, we are fed this myth that you should be "happy" all the time, and when your life doesn't measure up to that standard, you feel that there is something wrong with you.  Relax.  No one is that happy - unless they are on speed or something (and no, methamphetamine is a horribly wrong answer to depression).  Learning to be content as opposed to hysterically happy is, I think the key.  Only circus clowns are hysterically happy all the time, and even then, it is an act.

The long and the short of it is this - take control of the joystick of life, and prove to yourself that your inputs DO have some effect.  Depression for many people results when they feel helpless and weak - as if "nothing matters" because no matter what they do, nothing changes.

But if that doesn't work and you suffer from chronic depression, see a professional.  A pill should not be the first solution, but sometimes, for some folks, it can be the best.