On the world mental health day, how can I protect myself from depression?

Woman standing on the beach during sunset

With every turn in the calendar’s page and every tick of the clock, life imparts us with innumerable beautiful memories; first love, the first baby born, first salary, time spent with good friends, and a plethora of other memories. But, just like how we experience beautiful moments, we also experience moments of sadness and grief due to the loss of loved ones, retirement, and health issues. This feeling of sadness is normal and usually remits over time. However, when a person experiences sadness that lasts for two or more constitutive weeks without a possible trigger then, according to the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health (DSMV), it is a serious mental illness known as major depressive disorder.

Just like a dark cloud, depression comes out of nowhere, darkening every aspect of a person’s life to the extent that it is even difficult to notice other people and seek for help. Depression can occur to anyone and at any age without any trigger, the good news is that it is not inevitable. With the proper strategies, support, and self-help, you can improve the way you feel and cope with life’s ups and downs.  

So, how can you protect yourself from depression?

1-Say no to negative thoughts

As we grow older, many of us get deeply internalized by cruel voices, voices that are the outcome of every failure and every difficult situation in the past, voices that serves as nothing but to make us feel bad about ourselves and a burden to others; insignificant, unworthy, and unlovable. To some, these voices might be just thoughts that fade with time but to others, these negative thoughts are the fuel that ignites depression.

Here, it is imperative to stop those thoughts by asking yourself, do these negative thoughts help? Do they prevent a negative incidence from happening? Do they help solve your problems? If the answer is no, then it is time to rewire your brain and accept life as it is. If you ever feel that life is giving you more than you can handle, take some time and think about every difficult situation that you once thought you can never get past it and how it passed.

Remember, although difficult times are inevitable, they shall pass.

2- Stay close to the people you love and care about

Socialization is the key to the survival of every species, and as a human being, you are not an exception. Each day, make sure to spend some time with your family, friends, and people you love. Talk, laugh, and discuss whatever is bothering you, no matter how small it is, never let anything in your heart. You will be amazed by the relief experienced by just sharing your feelings. It has been proven that socializing not only stretches your mind but is also crucial to combating depression. It adds meaning to your life and distracts you from thinking about your problems. Happy people are the ones that have some close friends whom they can share the good and bad times with and can share the activities they enjoy with.

Remember happiness always doubles when you share it with others.

3- Exercise and watch what you eat

It is well known that people who exercise live healthier and longer, but, what is astonishing is that, they even live happier. Yes, this is true. Exercise is one of the most efficient stress relievers and antidepressants. It is not only the rigorous exercise that does the magic but anything that gets you moving helps. It is as simple as taking the stairs, walking to the supermarket, or even doing some housework. To amplify the benefits of exercise, try walking or exercising during day time. Walking at daytime has the advantage of exposing you to more sunshine and hence more vitamin D, which is also important to protect you from depression. Exercise not only combats depression but also protects you from heart diseases, blood pressure, diabetes, and can even improve your sleep. 

Apart from exercising, you can combat depression by consuming food that helps in the synthesis of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin (happiness hormones). These include foods rich in vitamin B, magnesium, and Omega3 such as fatty fish (tuna, anchovies, mackerel, and salmon), low-fat dairy products, whole grain products, green tea, walnuts, and dark chocolate.

4- Identify new activities that you enjoy

Practising new activities that are either constructive or pleasurable is crucial for mental health and happiness. They distract the person from negative feelings and thoughts. Indulging oneself in new activities not only prevents depression but also protects from anxiety, guilt, and worry. The activities need not be tiring and exhausting but can be as simple as arranging items at home, planting a new plant, reading a new book, trying a new recipe, learning a new language, volunteering to look after the children, or even travelling to a new place. These activities despite being simple, impart a sense of accomplishment to individuals. 

Remember the time you had a list of activities that you wanted to try but had to keep them on the waiting list as you were too busy settling other more important life responsibilities, well, it is time to try them all.

If any of your loved ones present with symptoms of depression:

  • Spend time with them and listen to their feelings
  • Support them
  • If needed, advice and accompany them to see a psychiatrist
  • Make sure they take their medications as instructed
  • Watch out for suicidal signs
  • In the process, make sure to take care of your emotions