I’ve been dealing with depression since I was 12. That’s about two decades (please don’t do the math) of learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to keep my sanity. I’ve definitely not learned all there is to know, and depression is an ever-changing beast, the ultimate chameleon that seems to find its way into every aspect of your life. But I’ve learned enough to help me not only get through the hard times, but find joy in life. If you’re suffering, then here are the tricks and tips that have helped me.
1. Read the Scriptures and Pray
I know this seems either 1) obvious or 2) unhelpful. But it’s number one for a very good reason: life is better the closer you are to God. Basically, having the Sprit of God with you brings light into your life. God equals light and light equals happiness. Despair can not thrive in a heart filled with light, and a heart is filled with light when it’s close to God.
Plus, prayer and scripture study is a conduit to the Lord. I spent the first four years of my depression—pretty much all of high school—almost perpetually in prayer, sometimes hours and hours on my knees. I wasn’t magically healed, but I was strengthened. Even now, after years of dealing with it, I still find strength in prayer and help and answers in the scriptures.
2. Do What You Love
Depression can make you withdraw inside of yourself, neglect life in favor of survival. The catch-22 is that the more you focus on survival, the more you neglect those things that will help you live; the more you stop doing the things you love, the more you sink into a morass of unhappiness. So even when it’s difficult, even when you want to curl within yourself or stay in bed all day and block out the world, do what you love. You may not think you love it at the moment, but the more you try, the easier it will get. One day you’ll be happy that you persisted.
Another pesky affect of depression? Hiding from the world and the people within it. But this is a mistake because people can bring light and joy. Family and friends want to help you and just having another human being to share your troubles with can make a huge difference. Plus, being all alone is even more depressing. Loneliness and depression build upon one another. Don’t do that to yourself; don’t make your life even harder and your depression even stronger.
When you’re depressed, you’re focused almost exclusively on yourself; it’s that pesky survival mechanism. All your effort and thought goes into keeping yourself going, into making it through just one more day. Another mistake. If you can turn your thoughts outside of yourself to somebody else, you’ll feel your burdens lifted. Even a moment of respite can give you strength. You don’t have to do anything big. Do dishes for your mother or roommate or spouse; call a friend in need; visit a nursing home. Go online to(index, just serve). Lifting others’ burdens can lift your own.
5. Get Help
Whether it’s medication, therapy, or counseling, get help. There’s no shame in doing any of these things. For about two years my parents agonized over how to help me. I was talking to a professional, but it wasn’t do any good. Medication was an option, but they didn’t want to put me on something that I’d have to depend on for the rest of my life…I wasn’t so picky. I just wanted the agony to ease. Long story short and some divine intervention, and I was finally put on medication that changed my life from night to day. The difference was stark and amazing.
What kind of help depends on your circumstances. Maybe you have a chemical imbalance, like me, and you need medication. Maybe you’re going through a trying time and you need to talk it through with a third party, somebody who doesn’t know you. Whatever your circumstance, get help and don’t worry about what others think. It’s not their life; it’s yours.
6. Develop Healthy Habits
The way that the body and the brain and the spirit are all so interconnected is a mystery that man has yet to figure out. Yes, there are theories, but it all comes down to one affecting all. Don’t you feel physically ill or tired when you’re depressed? While man might not fully understand this, God does. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have given us the Word of Wisdom more than a century ago, long before science had made the connection between physical and mental well-being.
I run every day. I have to. It’s the running, the physical activity that clears my mind and helps to relieve tension. On those days that I don’t run, I feel ill in body and spirit. Running obviously isn’t for everyone. Walk. Do yoga. Lift weights. Hike. So something that gets you moving in some way.
Just like exercise can help you physically and thus emotionally, so can a healthy diet. You know that food coma you go into right after Thanksgiving? You’re full of turkey and pie, and the next thing you know you’re asleep and drooling on the couch. THEN you wake up and feel like a truck hit you. That’s how I feel when I eat too much sugar, but the truck is depression. Know how foods affect you and eat moderately of those that are your theoretical truck.
Depression messes up all sorts of things, one of which are the natural rhythms of sleep. When I’m going through a depressed period, I find myself unable to fall asleep at night and sleeping in too late the next day. I don’t know what it is, but this is a fairly common phenomenon among people with emotional/mental problems. At the same time, I always feel emotionally better when I manage to wake up early. Although it’s not always possible, try to maintain a good sleeping schedule: early to bed and early to rise.
7. Be Patient
You’re going to have bad days (I call mine dark days), those times when you seem to be in a hole despite everything you’ve done. You can have done all these things on this list religiously (I do), and still find yourself struggling with depression. Be patient with yourself and the Lord. There’s no magical cure, no treatment that’s going to make you “normal.” It’s okay. Once those dark feelings come, examine them. Ask yourself why you’re having a bad day, and chances are something happened that you can deal with. Maybe you fought with a family member or heard a sad story. Fix what you can and have faith when faced with something you can’t.
8. Love Yourself
Love yourself, love the amazing, individual, deeply worthwhile soul that you are. No matter what you think you did or what you look like or how awful you feel, you are divine and important. Allow that amazing soul to shine forth. If you can’t embrace your whole self as a child of God, then start small. Find something good about yourself. If you can’t find something, ask a friend or family member. Or me. There’s a lot there to love.
9. Start a Happiness Journal
As nerdy as this sounds, it helps. I keep a collection of quotes and thoughts and pictures that make me happy. Every time I come across something that lifts my heart, I add it to the pile. You might want to jot down in your journal a few things every day that are good. I did this for an entire year after my brother died, and I discovered the beauty in the small things.
10. Choose Joy
Most importantly, you have to choose happiness. Happiness doesn’t just happen; it has to be a decision, an effort. Even during those bad moments—especially during those bad moments—smile. Smile, and choose joy.