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Handling Depression When It Knocks

Handling Depression When It Knocks

As a child, I was well trained in the “stranger-danger” concept. If I didn’t know them, I didn’t talk to them. If they knocked or rang the doorbell, I ran.

For most of us, at some point in life a stranger named depression knocks. We don’t like the look of it. Our instinct is to run.

Some meet depression early in life. Others meet it later. Some have sporadic, rare encounters with it. Others seem to be plagued by it wherever they go.

First of all, let me make a disclaimer. I’m not a licensed professional counselor. I work as a hospice chaplain and grief specialist, and none of my content is meant to diagnose or treat any disease or disorder. I write this as a fellow struggler in the battle of life.

Depression has knocked on my door repeatedly. Over the years, I’ve talked with hundreds of others who have also dealt with it. Depression can be nasty. It wants to steal our sense of hope.

We can’t allow that. Ever.

Our personal history matters

Life is challenging. Circumstances and people aren’t always kind. We get wounded, and we carry some pain with us. Bruises can pile up and shape our outlook about life, ourselves, and others.

Over time, we lose people, possessions, and dreams. We lose abilities and perhaps even our independence. We can't do what we once did. Our motivation dwindles. Our world seems to shrink.

Along the way, encouraging and supportive people make a huge, positive difference. Conversely, frequent conflict, negativity, and unnecessary drama can take their toll. Estrangements, addictions, and even special needs can wear us down over time.

We can grow frustrated and angry. Maybe we’re not explosive, but our irritation level is on the rise. We fault others, and ourselves.

Our anxiety grows. We wonder what's happening to us. We don't like feeling this way. We ask, "Where did the old me go?"

We become listless. Life loses its color. Our sleep, eating habits, and even personal hygiene can be affected.

Some hide behind humor. Some increase their activity level. Some medicate themselves with food, possessions, alcohol, drugs, or entertainment. We create whatever noise we can, almost as if we're afraid to hear the voice of our own hearts.

Others wear their emotions on their sleeves. It's clear that they're struggling. Or perhaps they simply no longer have the energy to wear their happy mask.

How we were raised and what we were exposed to has shaped us, including the number and degree of the losses we experienced. Family dynamics, deaths, moves, financial loss, illnesses, divorce, and abuse all contribute. Genetics and brain chemistry also play a huge role.

Our world is challenging and demanding. Life can be tough. Experiencing some depression is common.

7 Suggestions for Tackling Depression

The depression most deal with is like a seasonal storm - it comes and it goes. We "feel depressed" at times, but the demands of life and the accompanying emotions are still manageable.

Here are seven suggestions to help when you find yourself feeling depressed:

1. Get out. Resist the temptation to withdraw. Sufficient alone time is important and healthy. Isolation is not.

2. Eat well and hydrate. Basic nutrition has a huge impact on mental well-being.

3. Get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation can have serious results over time. Sufficient rest is key to emotional health.

4. Exercise appropriately for your age and situation. Exercise contributes greatly to overall wellness and releases endorphins that can combat temporary depression.

5. Forgive. Grudges and unresolved wounds from the past contribute to depression more than most of us realize. Forgiveness, of ourselves and others, releases our hearts to heal.

6. Serve. When we use our gifts and talents to benefit others, our hearts benefit greatly. Service bolsters our sense of purpose.

7. Reach out to your support team. None of us can do life alone. We all need a good team around us - a viable, caring support system – especially when things get tough.

A good support team might include:
• Supportive family
• Caring friends
• Spiritual mentors
• Medical professionals
• Mental health professionals

All these have unique roles and make different contributions to our overall health (mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually). Having them in place when we need them is a real bonus.

If your support team is a little thin, don’t be discouraged. Simply work to get the next team member in place. And then the next. Stay at it. That way, when you need them, they’ll be there.

Don’t deny the people who care for you an opportunity to support you. They can help, more than you realize.

Don’t burden yourself trying to do all seven of these at once. Start with one and work on it until it becomes a habit. Then work on another. It’s not about being perfect or getting it right. It’s about progress, growth, and healing over time.

Most who develop these seven life skills find themselves able to handle depression when it knocks.

What if things get serious?

There are also times where our usual resources are not enough and we need specialized help.

Depression is getting serious when…
• Not wanting to get out of bed becomes not getting out of bed for days at a time.
• We find ourselves isolating, pulling away from people and activities we once enjoyed.
• Our anger increases significantly, and we're expressing it against others or ourselves.
• Sadness and despondency takes over our life.
• Sleep and eating habits change significantly.
• An old addiction reasserts itself or takes over.
• We begin to neglect self-care and personal hygiene.

These are signs depression is doing more than knocking. It has moved in and set up shop. It’s time to contact a physician, a counselor, or both. If suicidal thoughts are present, 911 or a suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) should be contacted immediately.

We’re in this together

If you know someone struggling with depression, please put judgment aside. Try to support them where they’re at. Accept them and be with them as you can. Your presence and concern are powerful.

None of us want to hurt. We’ve all been wounded and done our share of hurting others. It’s time to replace fear and self-serving comparison with compassion, comfort, and encouragement.

We’re in this together. And that can make all the difference.

Gary Roe is an award-winning author, speaker, and chaplain with Hospice Brazos Valley. Visit him at www.garyroe.com or contact him at groe@hospicebrazosvalley.org or 979-821-2266.