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  • Writer's pictureSue Saunders

HACKING DEPRESSION

Depression feels different from anxiety or worry or stress because all those things require that you have investment in an outcome. Depression is a black hole that sucks you down into a pit where you stop caring about the outcome. This is the hardest thing about it because in order to pull yourself out of the hole, you have to care enough to try.

I have suffered from depression in one form or another most of my life. From the life threatening kind, in my 20's to the sporadic menopausal kind now in my mid 40's. It's never easy but it has gotten easier to handle through experience and self awareness.


Over the years I’ve become able to recognise the early signs that I’m getting depressed and have developed ways to stop myself spiralling down. I talked to a client about this recently who found it extremely helpful so I thought I’d share what I call my ‘depression hacks’ which are the things I do and the measures I put in place, when I feel myself sliding into that hole.

  • CONNECT I tell someone I trust how I’m feeling. Depression disconnects you from the real world so seeking out connection helps me find my way back. Telling someone also means I have to say the words out loud and sometimes, just verbalising my thoughts and getting the feelings out of my head is enough to burst the bubble and put the genie back in the bottle.


  • EAT GOOD FOOD And by that I mean nutritionally awesome food that scientifically proven to alleviate the symptoms of depression. What we eat is one of the biggest factors, in our control that can impact our mood. This is due to the gut-brain axis and the huge influence our microbiome has on the production and efficacy of our neurotransmitters (our brain chemicals). This is why Nutritional Psychiatry is one of the fastest growing areas of mental health care today. Resources to check out on this subject are: Dr Uma Daidoo and Dr Drew Ramsey Both have written excellent books on the subject of eating for mental health.


  • MOVE This is a tough one because it’s often the last thing I feel like doing but the science is indisputable on this - it works! And to clarify, You don’t have to throw yourself into a heavy gym session to feel the benefits. If a gentle walk or some yoga is all you can do right now, don’t think it’s not worth it. Every little helps. Our brains are wired to move (the survival of our species depended on it!) and science has shown that being sedentary changes our brain chemistry, reducing our feel good hormones, making us depressed and anxious.

Conversely, the minute we move, our brains reward systems kick in, producing lovely dopamine, serotonin and endocannabinoids (a molecule made by your body which binds to the same receptors as cannabis, down modulating pain and increasing feelings of wellbeing). What’s more, recent research has found that our muscles, when contracted, manufacture and secrete chemicals into the bloodstream called ‘myokines’ Because of their powerful effect on your brain, as a fast acting anti depressant, scientists have dubbed them ‘Hope Monocles’. I love this fact!


Depending on how much energy I can muster, I usually either swim, run, gym or walk which brings me to No. 4...


  • GET OUTSIDE If I can combine 3 & 4 then I’m usually onto a winner. A walk or run in the countryside or a swim in the sea is sometimes the only therapy I need. This may sound ‘touchy-feely’ but studies have shown that time in nature can reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase serotonin and dopamine (the feel good hormones). It certainly works for me.


  • GET CREATIVE Creativity has been compared to meditation for its calming effects on the brain and body, thanks to the dopaminergic (reward and pleasure) pathway. And you don’t have to be an artist or be super crafty to reap the benefits. Things like cooking, gardening, blogging, singing or writing gets the creative juices flowing. I like to bake, craft and write but my husband builds Lego models and cooks beautiful food.



  • REST When I am health coaching, I talk about all of the above being fundamental pillars of mental health with sleep being the foundation. So when I feel depression rising I do whatever I need to do to get better sleep. I increase my magnesium, I switch off screens early, I reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol and make sure my bedroom is dark and cool. Most people don’t realise that melatonin (a sleep signalling hormone) is made from serotonin (the happy hormone so often depleted in depression) so disturbances in sleep related to depression can become a vicious cycle. To avoid this I throw everything I have at hacking the cycle to prevent spiralling down. It’s also why sleep is one the first areas I focus on with my clients.

In addition to the above, I am also lucky to have surrounded myself with people who will either throw me a rope or climb down and sit with me in the pit. The empathy of others is invaluable was you are depressed. Sympathy, however, is less productive and (well meaning) people often confuse the two. For clarification I see empathy as: "I hear you, I see you, I'm here". Whereas sympathy is: "Poor you, how awful, but at least..."


Brene Brown shares an excellent video on the difference between empathy and sympathy and says "Rarely does an empathic response begin with 'at least...' " When you're depressed your don't want 'at least', you just want to feel safe and supported until the storm blows over.


Which brings me to my last piece of advice - know it's going to end. Don't let the existential dread get to you - these feelings, this person is not who you are. Hang in there, wait for the storm to pass. Its only brain chemistry... Do all the things that bring you joy or as close to it as you can get. Eat well, move, sleep, be kind to yourself and know that IT WILL PASS.


With love and empathy.


Sue

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