Tag Archives: actions

Top Ten Principles for Depression Recovery

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” — Henri Nouwen

For depression levels: All

These Principles form a strong foundation for health and everyday happiness.

There’s been one positive, unintended side effect of having recurrent debilitating depression over the last several years: It’s given me time to think. In between depressive episodes, I have pondered what it really takes to get well and be well on an ongoing basis.

I came up with 10 foundational Principles that have helped me to keep moving in the direction of wellness. I can’t say as I’ve mastered them all; far from it. As I’ve mentioned before, having depression and choosing to undertake the journey to recovery is an ongoing hero’s journey (see Hitting the Trail–Part 3). However, keeping these Principles in mind helps me to bridge the gaps between despair and hope, passivity and activity, and disempowerment and empowerment. More importantly, practicing these Principles makes the essential difference between remaining ill with depression and recovering from it fully.

As an example, here’s Principle #5: “I am not a victim. Even though depression has taken away my motivation, there are still some things I can do to help myself. Therefore, I do one thing right now to feel better.” One of the ways I live this Principle is by belonging to a wellness center operated by the local hospital. The monthly, no-contract fee is very reasonable; it’s near my house; and I can go to as many yoga, water aerobics, and studio classes as I want. Because the classes are on a regular schedule, and because the instructors and other members know me and remark if I don’t show up, it’s relatively easy for me to grab my gear and just go. I seldom actually feel like going, but I know I will feel so much better afterward; conversely, I know I am inviting depression if I don’t exercise.

The Principles

1.     I am not my depression. Depression is an illness I experience. Therefore, I quit saying, “I’m depressed,” and look for ways to treat the illness.

2.     No matter what diagnosis I received, it is not definitive. Remission and even complete healing are possible. Therefore, I choose to believe that I can become completely well and go on to live a rewarding life.

3.     My feelings are not facts. They are real only if I let them be. Therefore, I make choices based on what I know and not on what I feel.

4.     I am not alone. It may feel that way most of the time, but there are lots of people who are willing and able to help me. Therefore, I reach out for support daily.

5.     I am not a victim. Even though depression has taken away my motivation, there are still some things I can do to help myself. Therefore, I do one thing right now to feel better.

6.     I am not my past. While understanding how past experiences contributed to my depression can be useful, ultimately, this will not heal me. Therefore, I forgive the past to the best of my ability, see the good in my present, and project hope into the future.

7.     I am responsible for improving my state of health and state of mind. No one can heal me, rescue me, or make my life better but me. Therefore, I stop waiting and start acting.

8.     The Universe is on my side, even though it might not seem like it. The more aware I become of Divine forces working on my behalf and call upon them to help me, the more they will do so. Therefore, I develop a simple daily practice of prayer and meditation.

9.     Although depression affects every aspect of my life, it isn’t personal. Life isn’t out to get me. Therefore, I choose to stop feeling persecuted and start looking for the deeper meaning of my illness.

10.  My experience of depression is unique to me. Although friends, loved ones, and colleagues care about me, they will never “get it.” Therefore, I stop demanding that others understand me and make specific, practical requests for help instead.

Working with these Principles invites beauty, order, and wellness into your life.

Working with the Principles

Rather than seeing these Principles for depression recovery as “to-do’s” or “shoulds” that you have to memorize and act on immediately, I invite you to simply write down in your journal or on a scrap of paper that you post in a visible location the Principle that speaks to you the most right now. Just read it aloud a couple of times a day and ponder the possibilities that Principle could open up for you.

Say to yourself, “If this were true, I could… .” Or, “If this were true, it might mean… .” Do some journaling in response to these springboards. Discuss the Principle with a friend or therapist. Introduce it at a support group meeting. See what opens up! You may find that you are inspired to take certain actions. Write down these inspirations so can keep track of them; select one to follow through on, asking for help from your support team if you need it.

When you feel that you’ve got this one embedded in your consciousness, pick another one and go through the same process. You might wish to rotate the Principles once a month, coming back to the first one you selected in the rotation after 10 months. Each Principle informs all the others, and you’ll be able to look at the older ones with fresh eyes and a heightened consciousness.

Share Your Experiences

I invite you to share your experiences in working with these Principles by leaving a comment below. I hope they make as much difference for you as they have for me.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Filed under Finding Your Way Home, Principles, Top Ten Lists

Quick-Start Guide

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent van Gogh

The last time you bought a computer or installed new software, you probably found a quick-start guide bundled with the package (for those who hate to read the manuals). If you are willing and able to take some concrete actions to combat your depression without having the explanations for them, then this list is for you. If the list seems overwhelming, then pick one Level 1 item and do it. You can always try some of the other items later. If a blog post has already been written about the technique, the link to the post is listed next to the item. Eventually, there will be blog posts corresponding to each of these items.

Level 1 Actions

[ ]  Make your bed every day: “The Dailies.”

[ ]  Take a daily 15-minute walk: “The Dailies.”

[ ]  Talk to a supportive friend every day: “The Dailies,” “Friends on Call—Part 2.”

[ ]  Avoid eating refined white and brown sugar.

[ ]  Eat some lean protein every day.

Level 2 Actions

[ ]  Increase your walks to 20-30 minutes per day: “The Dailies.”

[ ]  Do Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) once a day (http://www.eftuniverse.com/).

[ ]  Take vitamin B-12, the amino acid L-tyrosine, and mercury-free fish oil every day.

[ ]   Limit your wheat (white flour or whole-grain) intake to two servings per week: “Eating Wheat Can Cause Depression.”

[ ]  Do something that brings you satisfaction—no matter how minor—every day.

Level 3 Actions

[ ]  Increase your walks to 30-40 minutes per day: “The Dailies.”

[ ]  Eliminate wheat from your diet altogether (this includes whole wheat): “Eating Wheat Can Cause Depression.”

[ ]  Have regular bodywork (massage, Healing Touch, craniosacral, etc.).

[ ]   See a cognitive/behavioral or interpersonal therapist at least once every two weeks.

[ ]  See a doctor to rule out any illness-related causes of the depression.

(c)  2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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The Dailies

A made bed just feels better!

“Action is the antidote to despair.” – by Joan Baez

As you can see by the 12-day gap in blog entries, staying in action consistently can be difficult for a depressive. (If you have depression and have figured out some effective strategies for keeping yourself moving, I’d love to hear them! No doubt, many others would, as well. Feel free to enter them in the Comments section.) Having my mother visit for two weeks may have been a factor, but I want to be effective in my life and achieve my goals regardless of who’s visiting or what’s going on, barring the occasional hurricane or insect infestation. As you may have gleaned by now, my recovery from depression is a work in progress.

So, what to do? Ahh, fodder for many blog posts to come. The place to start, I think, is with some gentle structure—what I call “The Dailies.” These are three simple actions that, no matter how inconsistently you perform them, will give you an emotional and physical boost. The more consistent you are with completing these tasks daily, the better you’ll feel and the more their completion provides a foundation for further accomplishments. As your health improves, you’ll be able to take on greater levels of sustained action.

The Three Daily Actions…

The three actions that you can strive to perform daily are as follows:

  1. Make your bed every day. This takes about five (5) minutes. Do it immediately after getting out of bed. Yeah, I know, it took you an hour to wake up and another hour to put your feet on the floor; that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be Better Homes & Gardens; just toss the pillows aside, brush off the bottom sheet and pull the top sheet, blanket, and spread up. Put the pillows back. The physical exertion required to do even this much will get your blood moving and your brain working just a little bit better. And you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment at the beginning of your day (even it if is 1:00 in the afternoon).
  2. Do some kind of physical movement for 10 minutes every day. This could be doing easy arm and leg exercises while you’re lying in bed. It could include taking a couple of turns around your apartment complex. Or it could look like putting on an upbeat CD and dancing. Anything to get your body moving. Enlist one or two of your support team members to be exercise buddies. A neighbor would be ideal in this role. You’ll likely feel a greater sense of optimism after you’re done.

    If your depression is moderate: Increase your physical activity to a 20-30 minute walk. Walking is truly one of the best exercises for people with depression. It doesn’t require any special equipment, can be done at any time of day, and it’s free. If you have access to a pool, take advantage of that. For days when the weather is too hot or too cold to be outside, check out exercise videos from the library that contain several brief workouts.

    If your depression is mild: Increase your physical activity to a 30-40 minute walk or workout. This will catapult you into a feeling of well-being and greater functionality.

  3. Call a member of your support team. Even if it’s just to check in and say, “Hi, I’m still alive,” you should be in touch with another human being by voice or in person every day. I encourage you to call rather than text, as the sound of another person’s voice provides a greater sense of connection. Make your phone call as early in the day as you can to power you up for the rest of your day. If you need help with something, ask.

Make your bed. Move physically. Call someone supportive. That’s it. Just three simple daily actions that will improve your life in ways that may seem insignificant but will be, in reality, both uplifting and healing. If you can’t do all three actions, then do what you can.

…And How to Get Them Done

Here are some suggestions on how to actually accomplish these actions:

  • Set a timer or stopwatch.
  • Bookend with a member of your support team—this could be a resident family member or roommate. “Hon, I really need to go for a 10-minute walk, but I won’t do it if it’s just me. Would you mind coming with me?” (“Hon” could probably use the walk, too. And if “Hon” says no, ask someone else.)
  • Give a member of your support team permission to remind you to complete at least one of these actions every day.
  • Set a virtual reminder in your online calendar or PDA. Don’t turn off the beeping until you’ve started the action.
  • Go low-tech: post stickies with reminders in key places (bathroom, fridge, etc.).
  • Write on a piece of paper, “Love and support come to me through my phone,” and tape it to the back of your phone. Read it every time you pass by the phone or pick it up.
  • Project yourself into the future to the time after you’ve completed the action(s) and imagine how much better you’ll feel.
  • Ask your Higher Power for the motivation you need to complete these actions. You’ll be amazed at how your mood and energy shift after saying this simple prayer.

I recognize that these actions are simple but that completing them may not be easy, depending upon the severity of your depression. Do not allow yourself to feel bad if you don’t do them, or only do one or two of the actions; this is not an exercise in inducing guilt or adding to your stress load. It is an opportunity to practice nurturing yourself, boosting your brain chemistry, and reminding yourself that you’re not alone.

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen

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