It’s not always possible to prevent yourself from becoming depressed. Sometimes that will happen despite your best efforts and strategies. However, these highly practical tips will give you options to improve your resilience when you’re under high stress.
1. Take a micronutrient supplement.
This tip is by far the easiest on this list. When people are stressed or becoming depressed, it’s easy for their diet to suffer. High levels of stress may also increase your need for micronutrients. Studies of how people coped psychologically after a major earthquake (and many ongoing aftershocks) demonstrated that taking a micronutrient supplement helped people’s resilience. (Research on this topic is summarized in this book.)
2. Schedule these two types of activities.
For a positive mood, we need to regularly engage in two types of activities. First, we need activities that give us a sense of accomplishment or mastery. Second, we need activities that provide pleasure.
Think of your day in three sections—morning, afternoon, and evening. Plan one activity that will provide pleasure and one that will provide a sense of accomplishment in each of the three sections. You should have six activities planned each day (three of each type).
Morning: Write a magazine article (accomplishment), and go for a walk in the sunshine (pleasure).
Afternoon: Change my sheets (accomplishment), and eat a yummy lunch (pleasure).
Evening: Clean expired food out of the fridge (accomplishment) and play ball with my child (pleasure).
It takes less self-control to complete behaviors when those behaviors are habits. So, slot particular activities into the same place each day. For example, I do a “deep work” session (usually writing) at roughly the same time each morning,
Plan out your activities once a week for the week ahead. It’s too onerous to do it more frequently than this. Keep it simple. If you feel any sense of dread about what you’ve chosen, choose easier activities.
Still feel dread? Choose even easier options. Shrink activities so that they don’t feel overwhelming. For example, pick throw expired items out of the fridge, not clean your whole kitchen, or even clean your entire fridge.
3. Do one activity every day that doesn’t have a deadline.
When you’re planning activities that will provide a sense of accomplishment each day, include one small task that doesn’t have a deadline. For example, changing your air conditioner filters. When people are stressed, these tasks can end up ignored, but then they pile up. When this happens, we sense we’re not doing a very good job of adulting. When you do a tiny task that wasn’t urgent, it will give you a boost of efficacy. It will help you feel you’re on top of your life, and this can have flow-on mood-boosting effects.
There are two approaches to protecting your mood. You can either play defense or offense. One way you can play “offense” is to try novel activities that give you a sense of personal growth. These don’t need to be arduous. Try activities that give you a sense of discovery, like discovering parks around your city you’ve never been to.
Trying new forms of movement is a great idea too. Again, these don’t need to be arduous. Book a spot at that pickleball court you’ve walked past 100 times. Try a climbing wall. Play frisbee with a friend at the park.
Depression is associated with retreating and being very self-protective: for example, the urge to stay in bed all day. It’s hard to feel depressed if you feel like your sense of self is expanding in positive ways.
5. Find meaning in your struggles.
When we experience stress, it gives us an opportunity to learn something and to practice our skills at something. For example, I’ve been going through infertility treatments for the past two years. As part of this, I joined some peer support groups. The experience of being in these groups has improved my empathy and sensitivity beyond the ways my training shaped these skills. What can you take from your struggles?
6. Actually try the things you think might help you.
Depression and anxiety both make us hesitant. And when we’re stressed, we often have a lot of decisions to make but become indecisive from decision overload or self-doubt.
You may have had good, simple ideas of what would help your mood but have hesitated to act on those. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I purchased a $25 cooling vest so I could still walk outdoors in hotter temperatures. It’s great. I kicked myself I hadn’t done it earlier since walking outside helps my mood a great deal.
Have you already had good ideas but not acted on them? It’s OK if not everything you try works. Even 50 percent success is still great.
None of these self-help suggestions are substitutes for formal treatment if you’re already clinically depressed. If these ideas feel too hard, that’s a good indicator you might need more support than just trying self-help. So, use that information to show you the path forward rather than as fuel for self-criticism. But, if at least one of these ideas feels doable, try it. When you do, some of the other suggestions might start to feel doable too.
From Psychology Today