If you are vulnerable to depression, it would be wise to develop an action plan you can implement when you begin to sink. You could even give it a name — your ‘Emergency Plan’, or ‘Plan D’, for example. Whatever form it takes, it should include some, or all, of the following.
1) Be very strict about what you eat. Even the most cautious let their diet slip when things are going well. Once depression has taken hold, cut all caffeine, fizzy drinks, processed and junk food from your diet. Be strict. If the depression is severe, or seems to be heading that way, live on the following: probiotic yoghurts (which keep the gut, where 75% of neurotransmitters are produced, healthy), bananas, brown rice, turkey (which contains tryptophan), cottage cheese (which boosts dopamine levels), oily fish (sardines, mackerel, tuna, salmon, herring etc, all of which contain the mood-boosting EPA), organic fruits and vegetables, seeds (especially pumpkin and sunflower) and nuts (especially brazil and walnuts). Do not skip meals.
2) Be careful what you expose yourself to. Psychotherapists and counsellors often discourage their depressed patients from watching the news or reading newspapers. During a depressive episode, you will find it much harder to shrug off horror stories about climate change or overpopulation. Instead, have a special store of DVDs and books that always cheer you up. Comedies are ideal. Do not underestimate how much a great stand-up routine or comedy show might lift you. Some turn to P.G Wodehouse novels or the Monty Python films. It really doesn’t matter so long as it makes you smile and helps you view the world in a different light. You could even buy a scrapbook and, over time, cut out stories you read that uplift you. They could be stories about new medical breakthroughs and future technologies, or simply feel good pieces about individuals who risked their lives to save others, or devoted themselves to a charity or good cause. It really doesn’t matter so long as it cheers you up. You could also buy a journal and copy into it any passages of poetry or prose that move and uplift you. Then, when depression strikes, drag out these scrapbooks and journals and read them out loud.
3) Get moving. Be careful, though. During a depression, some people believe an hour sweating in the gym will lift their mood. But excessive exercise can make you feel worse. A brisk walk in natural light is best.
4) Be careful who you spend your time with. Depression feeds depression. Just as two angry people will inflame one another’s anger, so depressives need to stay apart. Seek out the company of cheerful, mellow, life-loving individuals. Animals are another wonderful antidote, especially dogs. If you know someone who has just bought a puppy, or a kitten, ask if you can visit. Be honest. Tell them you are feeling low and could do with cheering up.
5) Get control of your thoughts. During a depression, the mind can turn against you, replaying past failures, and resurrecting old guilt. Question and counter these thoughts. Recognise that such thinking is both a cause and a symptom of your low mood. If you can, try mindfulness meditation. Those prone to depression would do well to take up a mindfulness course as an insurance against the next bout.
6) Get some perspective. Depression keeps you wholly focussed upon yourself. The more you can view your torment, and that of the human race, in a broader context, or with a ‘God’s eye view’, the calmer and happier you will feel.
Depression can be a horrendous experience, one of the worst in life. But, as William James once remarked, it is like the weather: all you can do is wait for the rain to cease and the black clouds to disperse. By following the six tips offered above, you should speed the dispersal of those clouds.