Depression can seem impossible to overcome. But many people underestimate the powerful healing effect that very simple, seemingly unrelated, changes to our lives can have on depression.
Those foundational elements, of which we’ve no doubt heard referenced a thousand times about our general health, are things like sleep, food, and exercise. At this point, we’re so used to hearing them being tirelessly advised in the sphere of modern life that we often make the mistake of not putting enough thought into what it might mean to utilize these elements. With depression, in particular, a return to the “basics” is often just the tonic that's needed.
Let’s Focus on the Basics
You see, depression all too often involves the neglect of these “basics.” Preoccupied with the looming darkness of the mind and all of its attendant thoughts, the depressed person is often too distracted or otherwise occupied, in a sense, to give adequate attention to the task of simply taking care of themselves in a proper fashion. This makes sense, after all, given that depression is localized in the mind and, thus, overwhelms it.
Which is why, in attempting to remove oneself from its snares, placing attention on more “physical” aspects is an expedient solution and can be a breath of fresh air. Instead of directly facing the crux of the problem (that is, the mind) and all of its troubled knots, the recommendation is to, instead, detach from the problem source and focus on executing manageable shifts in the “surrounding environment."
Depression all too often involves the neglect of the “basics.”
That said, it has long been championed in today’s modern self-help sphere that the best way to remove oneself from the trap of depression is to “change your thoughts.” This task, however, for the depressed person can be extraordinarily challenging given the entirely mental nature of the mission. Changing the mind, after all, is a prolonged ordeal that requires patience and an environment in which positive growth can be realized. So, changing one’s thoughts is a necessary step in the process, but it is, I believe, actually too advanced/too complicated/too premature at the beginning of one’s recovery trajectory.
Start by Changing Your Environment
This is why I advocate the following: In the beginning stage, don't try to change your mind first. Change your environment instead.
What does that look like? Let’s take sleep as one example: Sleep irregularities are no stranger to the depressed person. The affliction varies and can take the form of oversleeping in some cases, and with trouble sleeping in others. In any case, putting into place a sleeping schedule (with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times) that is adhered to responsibly has been proven to do wonders in alleviating depression. The courtesy paid to one’s Circadian rhythms as well as the added stability of a regular, unalterable schedule can have a soothing effect on someone who is depressed.
In any case, putting into place a sleeping schedule that is adhered to responsibly has been proven to do wonders in alleviating depression.
Let’s take a look at another of these basic elements: Exercise. Reams of studies have reliably shown that regular exercise can have tremendous success in alleviating depression. As with changing our diets and anything else popularly advised, we know that such a thing is good for us and will likely improve our lives. However, many of us predictably don’t do these things because we’re usually deterred by the element of discipline. However, believe it or not, most depressed people are craving some degree of regulation, however latently.
Find Discipline and Don’t Worry about Motivation
As it is, most depressed people are unhappy because their lives lack meaning and not because they’re merely superficially unhappy. With that in mind, asking someone depressed to drum up some discipline to instill basic habits like exercising daily and altering their diet is not a misguided, too-hopeful request.
One of the reassuring things about the “changing your environment” method that I’m advocating is that its elements are all corroborated as 100% worthwhile and beneficial by the medical community, so there’s no reason for someone depressed to fear that what they're expending valuable effort to do is necessarily in vain.
Changing your environment does not require any emotional motivation — it’s a very neutral task. All you need is a bit of discipline.
One of the trickier aspects of depression is that one often feels exhausted of resolve or enthusiasm for life’s many tasks. If you're depressed, you may feel painfully aware that you don't have sufficient fortitude or optimism for life itself. You may feel as if you're continually scraping at thin reserves. You may feel insecure about the ways in which depression has crippled your spirit. However, changing your environment doesn't require any emotional motivation — it’s a very neutral task. All one needs is a bit of discipline. If you're depressed yourself and you attempt this, know that you don't have to harbor any expectations of yourself to feel your former zest for life returning immediately. It will come in time.
What you're doing by changing your environment is engaging in the most efficient, accessible, and reliable means of starting your depression recovery. This is the necessary behind-the-scenes work that may end up surprising you. Because maybe you wake up one day and you feel a little bit more stable, a little bit more strengthened, a little bit proud of yourself. These are small victories worth celebrating.