Depression: Strategies for Coping, Healing, & Living

BY Dr. Bert Pitts

  1. Give yourself as much structure as you to get through your workday today. Instead of pacing yourself until the end of eight hours, pace yourself only until the end of THIS hour. Does doing this make the day very long? Oh, yes. Is that OK? Probably. Will things get better eventually? Yes. Are you still a good person? Yes. Can you only do what you can do today? Yes. Is that STILL OK? Yes (It has to be.) You see, if it’s all you can do, and if you’re doing your best, that’s always OK.) Know somebody you can call? That’s OK, too. (See if they will talk to you on the phone, or maybe even come over tonight.) Please ask them…they might just think you’re worth it…you would do it for them, (or maybe you even did once).
  2. Call your primary physician and schedule an appointment. Get a referral to a counselor or mental health professional—talking it out usually helps, and you can gain valuable strategies for coping, healing, and preventing relapses. If your depression is significant or severe, in addition to counseling, your physician may suggest that you try an anti-depressant (medication). If so, consider giving this a try, as it may significantly shorten your recovery period. If you are reluctant to take an anti-depressant, ask a trusted friend for guidance, or get a second opinion from another physician.
  3. Better foods beget better moods. Make sure that you are eating enough whole grains, fiber, and fresh fruits and vegetables (including some raw produce, such as apples, pears, citrus fruits, carrots, celery, spinach, leafy greens, and so on). Avoid excessive fat, sweets, and alcohol.
  4. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration leads directly to fatigue and a drop in energy, which will only worsen your mood.
  5. Take a leisurely walk. Don’t push the pace, unless you really feel able. The point is to defy inertia, and not let the depression glue you to the couch or your bed, where your pain (and everything else in your life) tends to look and feel worse.
  6. If the weather is nice, spend some time outside. If the weather is not nice, consider bundling up and/or arming yourself with a raincoat and umbrella, and breathing some fresh air, anyway. Even on a cold or wet or gray day, a few minutes outside can be energizing. (At least, it can beat boredom and “cabin fever.”)
  7. Buy a newspaper or open your own. Do any of the following that might appeal to you:
    Pick one or two articles to read.
    b. Try working the crossword or scramble or sudoku puzzles.
    c. Read one or more cartoons.
    d. See if any of the movies appeal to you, and if you have time, go see one. Going to a movie alone can be fun, but certainly, invite someone, if you prefer.
    e. Clip and file coupons.
  8. Bathing, grooming, and dressing in the early part of the day helps many people to feel better, even if they do not plan to go out.
  9. Call a friend or loved one to talk. If you are in crisis and cannot think of someone to call, call a crisis line. In the Birmingham area, call the Jefferson County Crisis Center, (205) 323-7777.
  10. Write a letter or e-mail to a friend or forward something funny. Check your own mail or e-mail.
  11. If you know an elderly or infirmed person, call them and ask how they are doing. Pay them a visit, if you and they feel up to it.
  12. Visit a house of worship. Spend time in prayer or quiet meditation. If you prefer, ask the minister, priest, rabbi, or cleric to speak with you about your burden, and what they feel might help you. If you desire, they can provide scripture references to facilitate your patience, perseverance, and healing.
  13. Serve a meal or volunteer to help at a shelter for the homeless or abused persons.
  14. Gather some clothes you no longer need and take them to a donation bin or agency. Go through your pantry and gather some cans and boxes of non-perishables, or pick up a few extras at the grocery store, and deliver your gift to a food bank. Send a check to the Salvation Army or your favorite charity.
  15. Volunteer time in response to any need to which you feel drawn:
    An individual or family in need.
    b. An elderly person or relative of yours that could use a visit, or even one down the street who needs their front walk swept, or lawn mown (but be sure to ask them first, and let them know who you are, as not to scare them)!
    c. A church, school, or community agency.
    d. Picking up trash along a road or highway, or in a park, river, lake, or other public area.
    e. Any entity you feel is a worthy cause.
  16. Limit unbounded time on the computer or watching television. Consider “earning” each hour with, perhaps, a half- or full-hour doing something you need to do, like housework, bill-paying, or exercise.
  17. Personify your depression. Give it a name. Picture it as a school yard bully that you want to “deck” on behalf of all those he has hurt, including you. NOW LET’S GO KICK SOME BUTT!
  18. If you are avoiding opening your mail or even looking at (much less paying) your bills, ask a family member or friend to help you, without delay. (Many areas also have public agencies which can provide such assistance. Your local crisis line or mental health center likely can provide a referral.) Even if you cannot make full payments, making a small payment is much better than ignoring or “hiding” from the bill. Please, don’t get yourself into financial trouble, if you can avoid it. Don’t let pride or shame keep you from asking for help.
  19. Go to a bookstore or library and look for a book or magazine to which you are drawn. Even if you do not plan to buy or check out anything, you can still sit down and sample it for a while.
  20. Fix yourself a cup of coffee or tea. Herbal and decaffeinated varieties of each can be delicious, and some with notable health benefits. Dr. Pitts is a singer, and his favorite when he has a sore throat is “Throat Coat,” by Traditional Medicinals. It tastes great with honey and will help you (and/or your singing voice) to get back in the game. And it tastes good and is perfectly safe for you, even if you don’t have a sore throat!
  21. Bake a cake, pie, or plate of cookies and take them to somebody you love, or one who needs love (yourself included).
  22. If your depression is accompanied by some kind of addiction, please, call for help, or ask a family member or friend to do so for you. It is too strong for you to battle alone. You do not have to remain in prison. Einstein once said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” All you have to do is take the first step. Please…do it for your family…your children…your future. You are worth it. Be of good hope…help is waiting for you, right this second.
  23. Many people engage in the ritual of journaling their life on a daily or regular basis. When you are going through the “deep valleys” or painful stretches of your life, there is much learning, character, strength, wisdom, and courage to be gained. Even a few minutes of recording your thoughts and feelings (written or spoken into a recorder) a few times per week, could yield much gold for you down the road (and maybe for someone else, who you one day will help).
  24. The arts have long benefited from pain in the artists’ lives, yearning to be expressed. You don’t have to be an artist, though, to benefit (yourself) from a creative outlet. Get a pencil or paint brush and wait until an idea comes to mind…or let your emotions guide you. Sit down at the piano and allow a melody to be born. Sit at the computer or with a legal pad and compose a few lines of a song or poem. Mold a piece of clay or throw it onto a pottery wheel. Carve a piece of wood (carefully, please!). Who knows, you and your creative outlet may not only relieve yourself of hurting for that day but create a thing of beauty which shines far beyond this dark period of your life, and perhaps gives light to numerous lives.
  25. Go through your DVD collection, or explore NetFlix, RedBox or any number of other movie sites available, pick a movie that you love, and watch it. Ask a friend or loved one to watch it with you, if you like. Don’t forget the popcorn and Coke.
  26. Treat yourself to a relaxation massage.
  27. Take a long, hot soak in the tub with your favorite CD playing. Fixing a cup of coffee or hot chocolate to enjoy with your bath (or lemonade in the summer) can add a nice touch, as can reading a nice book or magazine while you soak.
  28. Visit the grave of someone you loved and talk it out with them.
  29. Fix yourself a nice pot of chicken vegetable soup, your favorite stew, or beans.
  30. If it is cold, build a fire or turn on your fireplace, get a blanket, and curl up with a good book or magazine. Don’t forget the hot chocolate or coffee or hot tea.
  31. Remind yourself that things really, really will get better, but probably not today, or next week, and maybe not even next month. But you can still persevere, and if you can believe in God, please know that the One True God (i.e., the same one that Christians, Jews, and Moslems and many others believe in) honors perseverance, study, service to others, love, humility, gentleness, courage, patience, prayer, and hard work.
  32. If you believe in God, prayer and having a spiritual life, PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens. (And Then Keep on Praying, When It Does!).