Fighting Depression: 10 Step Do-It-Yourself Approachby Kar Malinim, MD | March 5, 2008
Few years back I realized that I was having many of the symptoms of mental illnesses: starting from anxiety, depression, to secondary delusion. They were all very much there. I had crying spells, bulimia, feeling of constant excessive worry, fear, tension and inner restlessness. There was an internal feeling of anger, which was often manifested externally as well. Though depressive symptoms (including a suicidal attempt) were there since a longer time, I could manage by keeping myself busy with work. For years I was ignoring the problems related to relationship. I had accepted them as my fate and was able to maintain a smiling face in front of others.
After sharing and discussing with two of my close friends it was decided that I should see a psychiatrist. However, when I went to a well-known psychiatrist in a premier institute, I could not describe the symptoms properly (thanks to my communication problem!). I was advised to start medication if the symptoms persisted. However, I didn’t visit the psychiatrist again. The stress had affected my physical health as well. I had developed hypertension and was advised to start medicines immediately. Though I knew it was essential to bring down the blood pressure, I was more worried about my mental health. I wanted my peace of mind back.
I decided to tackle the problem myself through life style changes. It took several months and gradually I could adjust myself to the new life style. Now I believe one can fight depression and stress adopting some simple life style changes. The following are some of the strategies which helped me to a great extent in getting out of the depression and acute mental stress related symptoms:
1. Overcoming “communication problems”: I gathered courage to clarify the misunderstanding with concerned people. Though the outcomes were bitter in many cases, at least it set others and myself free from the uncertainty feelings and from illusions.
2. Eating right and exercises: I made myself physically strong by doing regular exercises and eating healthy food. I am increasingly getting convinced that a healthy and strong body helps in developing a strong and determined mind. Other benefits of exercising and healthy diet: Look and feel better and younger, protection from many known and unknown diseases.
3. Reducing job related stress: I resigned from the stressful job and later switched to a low stress one; though I didn’t know what I was going to do when I left the first job. During the break, I did some voluntary work in a spiritual institution. (It may not be always necessary to switch job; and even if it has to be done, one can plan it beforehand. However, it is important to keep a guard against the stress level at work and strive to maintain balance between work and life. At the same time working for sometime outside home gives a feeling of wellbeing.)
4. Sharing problems with trusted friends: I started sharing my problems with close friends. It really worked and I felt less stressed. I had a closed personality and was very good at keeping my problems to myself; also I used to blame myself if anything went wrong.
5. Stopped living alone: Because the earlier job involved erratic working hours and traveling, my parents were taking care of my child. The important lesson I learned was “never live alone”. If it’s not possible to live with another human being, I think at least keeping a pet may be a good idea.
6. Doing manual work and singing: I started doing more manual (household) work. And while working I started practicing singing. The effect of working and singing is almost that of meditation.
7. Yoga: I learned yoga and started practicing regularly. I discovered myself to be pretty good at doing these difficult postures.
8. Laughing a lot: I also discovered laughing to be very helpful in immediate stress relief. The credit goes to my daughter, who does yoga with me. This 7 year old child found yoga to be very dry and monotonous and suggested tickling each other and bursting into laughter. We have been practicing it almost everyday after finishing yoga.
9. Practicing love and compassion for others: One of the greatest strategies in my striving for a stress-free mind is “consciously practicing love and compassion for others whenever feeling of anger, hatred, or jealousy comes up”. This needs life long practice I guess. But the results are wonderful as it frees the mind to a great extent.
10. Developing new interests and hobbies: With the relief from depressive symptoms, I could utilize my time more effectively and able to learn some new skills.
The above strategies are not new. They are part of the therapies suggested in most psychiatry and spiritual books. As I learned these through trial and error method, it took more time for me to understand the benefits of each. I did not really consciously practice all these steps. Some just happened, may be as a natural protective mechanism. For example, I first started singing, doing manual work and practicing yoga and later realized their importance in stress relief. Also faith on God played an important role.
I was debating whether it is a good idea of exposing my own psychiatric illness; but finally decided to do so, as others may learn from my experience. I understand that though help from other sources are important, helping ourselves is the most important thing we can do. We have to take responsibility of our own health, whether physical or mental.
With the rising stress level in day to day life, and emergence of stress related diseases into epidemic proportion, may be it is the time to look at the mental health aspect more seriously. As we go to hospital for a general physical health check up for early detection of diseases, we should also keep a tab on our mind, so that corrective actions can be taken at the earliest.
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