The 10 Basic Dos and Don’ts of Depression

There are a number of simple things that anyone can do to lift their mood. You may already be doing some of these things, and you certainly don’t need to be doing them all. Just do the ones that you feel most comfortable with, or that are easiest for you. As your mood begins to lift—and, believe me, sooner or later it will—you can make more and bigger changes to your routine. If you can hold on to these good habits once your mood has lifted, you will not only be feeling better, but better than ever before.

1. Spend more time with sympathetic friends and relatives. Talking to others about our feelings helps us to process them, put them into perspective, and obtain advice and support. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you need their help, or feel guilty for accepting it. If you feel uncomfortable talking to friends and relatives, or are unable to, you can phone one of the helplines listed at the back of this book. Perhaps you prefer not to talk about your feelings. Even so, spending time with sympathetic people and doing things together should help to lift your mood.

2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew: break down large tasks into smaller ones, and set yourself realistic deadlines for completing them. Try to reduce your levels of stress. Don’t blame yourself for ‘doing nothing’: you are merely giving yourself the time and space that you need to get better. Just think of it as taking a step back to jump further.

3. Spend more time doing the things that you normally enjoy, even if they no longer seem so appealing: read your favourite childhood book, go to the shops or cinema, prepare a meal, spend time with an old friend—anything that gets you out of yourself and takes your mind off negative thoughts is likely to make things better.

4. Get out of the house, even if only to buy a pint of milk or walk in the park. Bright daylight, fresh air, and the hustle bustle of everyday life can all be very helpful, as can the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. If you can, try to take some mild exercise, such as 20 minutes of brisk walking.

5. Fight off negative thoughts. Make a list of all the positive things about yourself and your situation (you may need help with this), keep it on you, and read it several times a day. However bad you may be feeling, remember that you have not always felt this way, and will not always feel this way.

6. Be realistic about your progress: improvements in mood are likely to be gradual rather than sudden, and you may even get worse before you start getting better. Once you are on the right track, there are going to be bad days as well as good days. Bad days that come after one or several good days may seem all the worse for it. Don’t blame yourself for the bad days, and don’t despair.

7. Avoid making or acting upon important decisions such as leaving your job, getting divorced, or spending a large amount of money. While in the throes of depression, thinking errors are likely to impair your judgement.

8. Get as much sleep as you can. A single good night’s sleep, or even a nice nap, can make a world of difference to your mood. To sleep better and longer, follow some of the advice in this related article.

9. Make an appointment with a health professional such as your family doctor, psychiatrist, or key worker, and enlist their advice and support. Maybe ask for some counselling and take things from there.

10. Decide whom to call in an emergency should you feel overwhelmed by negative or suicidal thoughts. This may be a relative or friend, your key worker, or a helpline. Think of a backup in case you can’t get hold of your primary support. Carry the appropriate telephone numbers on your person at all times, for example, on your phone or in your wallet.

Adapted from the new second edition of Growing from Depression.