If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, the road ahead may be tough, but it is never hopeless. I would be amiss if I did not share with you some practical tips for overcoming depression. These are some things that I learned on my own journey:
Faith in God – I give all credit and glory for my recovery to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He walked me through every moment, even when I felt like my faith was hanging on by just a thread. But let me tell you, I did not feel close to God at all in the beginning of my struggle. I agonized over the belief that I was losing faith in God. I did not sense Him in my prayer time and I often felt abandoned. This seems to be a common experience amongst believers with depression and it is a normal consequence to chemical imbalance. When a person is depressed, their oxytocin and serotonin levels are usually low, these are the bonding, happy, love hormones that your body produces. This will likely affect all of your relationships including your relationship with God. He is always present with you, He never will abandon you, but sometimes your body’s dip in hormones will make it difficult for you to feel Him there. I believe God gives us earthly relationships to help us understand our relationship with Him better. I find a lot of parallels between our relationship with God and our relationship with our spouses. Most married couples will agree that there are periods of time when you are not full of love-feelings for your spouse, but this by no means indicates that you are not committed to love them. The same is so with God, you may not be feeling all the fuzzy feelings you experienced when you first became a believer, but you must commit to honoring and choosing to love Him in spite of your feelings.
Community – I cannot emphasize the importance of community enough! I am talking about the kind of community that knows your dirt and will be there for the long haul. Unfortunately, it seems community groups have been waning over the last few decades. People are more spread out and less likely to live near family, mega-churches are making a debut and intimate fellowship is suffering, more women are working these days leaving little time after work for relationships outside of immediate family, and the women who stay at home are often isolated in their neighborhoods because many of the other moms are working. This paints a pretty bleak picture, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningful community; it just means you might have to work harder at it. In spite of how you may be feeling, you need to join small groups at church, meet up for coffee with your girlfriends, or befriend the other women in your neighborhood. I baked cookies and took them door to door to meet other women in my neighborhood. Some people shut the door in my face, but for the most part my neighbors were just as desperate for friendship as I was. If you are caring for somebody who is depressed, they may need a little bit of a push to be social. If large groups cause anxiety, then one-on-one is the way to go, however I recommend having a minimum of two close friends to share with. Carrying a person through depression can be emotionally draining, if the sick person has more than one confidante this alleviates some of the pressure and it is more likely that your friendship will have healthy boundaries and thrive. So maybe you have a lot of friends, but there is not much depth to your relationships. Nobody wants to be the first one to confess their problems to their friends, but I have an inkling most people are longing for honest relationships just as much as you are. Deep down pride is keeping you at an impasse. Somebody is going to have to break down the walls of superficiality and that person is you. It’s a lot to ask of somebody who is depressed to make the first move, but there is no time to lose; your emotional health depends on it. Be wise in choosing your close friends of course, but don’t let fear stop you from meaningful friendships.
Get Help From a Professional – Depression or no depression, I think periodic counseling would be beneficial for everybody. Yes, therapy is expensive, but so is a psych ward. Many churches offer free counseling and Army bases offer free counseling for soldiers and their families through their chaplaincy programs. Do your research and look around. You probably have more options than you think. There is such a stigma associated with going to a shrink, gosh I hate that term. It’s a lie, friends. A lie of the Enemy meant to keep people from getting help and being functional members of the Body of Christ. As a Christian, I recommend only going to faith-based counselors. A secular counselor can do a lot of damage by offering only world-based wisdom.
Medication – I think the decision about whether or not to take antidepressants should be approached very very carefully. Medication can make a huge difference in your recovery from mental illness; however, every antidepressant can react differently for different people. I tried five different pills before I found one that helped me. One pill made me so lethargic I slept through two days, another felt like ice rushing through my veins, another made me pass out twice. These aren’t minor side effects! Some of my friends have reported that medication made them feel drastically worse and suicidal. If you do decide to take antidepressants, make sure that you are properly monitored. It really does take someone on the outside to see whether you are functioning well on your medication. Whether you decide to take antidepressants or not, taking B-complex daily will help improve your mood. You can also use essential oils to overcome depression. My favorites were the Young Living blends, Valor and Peace and Calming, along with Frankincense. I would rub the oils between my hands and cup them over my nose and mouth breathing deeply. I could feel the tension in my shoulders relax right away. If I was having a hard time bringing my thoughts under control, essential oils helped me focus.
Caffeine – This is a tough one because I love my cup of coffee in the morning, but cutting out caffeine practically stopped my anxiety in its tracks. Be warned, decaf still has some caffeine; so, trying to cheat may not be helpful in this case. However, I did find a caffeine free tea called Teeccino that has a coffee-ish taste. Not as good as the real thing, but it did curb my cravings for a hot drink in the morning.
Exercise – Walk, dance, bike, swim… anything that gets your body moving. Excercise helps your body produce endorphins which are natural mood enhancers. Getting physically fit can improve your body’s chemistry, build up your self esteem, jumpstart your energy, and help you stay engaged throughout the day.
Natural Light – While I was depressed, dim lighting kept me down and influenced my thought life. Florescent lights were the worst! I don’t know the science behind it, but as long as I had natural light I felt better. When my depression first started we lived in a 1950’s ranch style house with small windows and low ceilings. It was terrible for my mood. They sell natural-light light bulbs so we replaced all the lights in the house with them and that helped some. Going outside and just soaking up the sun made the biggest difference. When we moved into our 1930’s house with big windows everywhere I really began to feel myself heal. If you are feeling down, open up your windows as much as possible. Try to let in as much natural light as you can.
Cut Down on Media – I cut out news completely while I was depressed. It exacerbated my irrational fears. Instead, I had my husband tell me the highlights. Some news is of international and local importance, but a large chunk of it serves no other purpose than to produce anxiety. The same went for movies. A lot of my flashbacks were from scary or suspenseful movies and I didn’t need to add to the Enemy’s arsenal. Be mindful of what you are putting in your mind, especially when you are so vulnerable.
Adjust Your Schedule – There are two extremes on the schedule scale. Some people keep their schedule so chock full, they don’t give themselves enough time to process life challenges in a healthy way. When I was in the psych ward, I met a young student who had been so overworked in school it pushed her over the edge of mental stability. Fortunately, after adjusting her schedule and getting some counseling, she was able to face some of her feelings and return to the world healthy and whole. I was on the opposite end of the scale, I was isolated in a new place and didn’t work; so, I had a lot of time to ruminate on my problems. All of my thoughts turned inward and I wasn’t able to focus on anything else. Where are you on the scale? You might need to make some adjustments before you can get completely well.
Deep Breathing – When trying to overcome a panic attack or manage irrational thought processes, deep breathing can help slow down your heart rate and force oxygen to your brain. Take a deep breath through your nose; make sure your breath inflates your stomach and not your chest. Count to three and then exhale through your mouth for three. Repeat this process for however long it takes to feel calm.
Volunteer – This is a tough step for somebody who is struggling with depression. Usually the last thing a depressed person wants to do is go out and be social. Participating in a good cause will benefit you on so many levels: focusing on someone else takes your mind off of your own problems and sadness, it increases feelings of love and empathy, and helps you realize that other people struggle just like you do. Volunteering boosts your self esteem and gives you a sense of purpose.
Bible Verses – The Word of God is our offensive weapon against depression. Ephesians 6:10-18 “ Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
These are the verses that helped me:
2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Psalm 139:14 “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works and that my soul knows very well.”
Psalm 17:8 “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wing.”
Psalm 36:7 “How precious is your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.”
Romans 8:37-39 “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”