September 10, 2016
People sometimes confuse depression with sadness. We can be sad and not depressed, so what’s the difference? When we are sad and not depressed, we continue to do the things we enjoy, be with people and find joy in life. For example, while we may not feel like celebrating, sadness alone will not keep us from accomplishing tasks and finding some pleasurable spots in our day. Depression on the other hand, is characterized by an inability to feel happiness when doing the very things that would have brought us joy in the past. When we are depressed, we may not want to be around people or take care of necessary tasks such as paying bills, doing school work, grocery shopping, cooking and exercising. Even small tasks can feel overwhelming. We might find ourselves feeling inert, shutting down and sleeping more or vegging in front of the TV for hours. We can feel more agitated and less tolerant. People will often tell me, “I know I should be exercising and getting together with friends, but I just don’t want to”. They think they are being lazy or self-destructive when in fact, they are experiencing common symptoms of depression. Going out with friends, exercising, engaging in creative or physical activities are things we feel motivated to do when we are not depressed.
Okay, great, what do you do? Step one: Get a physical. Thyroid issues and other medical conditions can cause depression. If you are having sleep issues, be sure to tell your Dr. Lack of sleep will contribute to mood disorders. Step two: Eat regular meals and be sure you are getting enough protein. I know, you don’t feel like eating, but you need to. PB&J, cereal, eggs or yogurt all provide nutrition to awaken your metabolism in the AM and provide your body with much needed energy. Please do not skip lunch or dinner. If frequent snacks are all you can manage, be sure those snacks provide nutrition, such as nuts, cheese, fruit and whole grain bread. Step 3: Talk to a professional. Ask questions before scheduling your first appointment. If you don’t like your therapist, get a new one. Your primary care Dr. can give you suggestions or you can check Psychology Today to get information on professionals such as location, fee schedules, therapeutic focus and methodology, etc. before that first appointment. Please be patient with yourself. You are not alone and depression is best managed with help. Lastly, if you are worried your Dr. or therapist will recommend medication, remember, that you are not obligated to take any medication you are not comfortable with. However, if by chance, you are smoking pot or drinking, you are already self-medicating and it’s not working.