Depression can play a serious role in how a couple functions within the marriage. I’ve worked for several years with couples who function fairly well until a bout of depression comes in. Sometimes, it’s the wife who struggles with depression, sometimes the husband, and in rare cases, both the husband and wife have a diagnosis of depression.
Symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, isolation, loss of interest in daily activities and anger or irritability. This means that when one spouse experiences depression, they are highly likely to push the other away. Clearly depression can wreak havoc on your relationship.
Luckily, there are many ways that you can lessen your symptoms of depression. Here is my list of ten things to try when you are feeling depressed.
1. Find the Source
This can be a tough one. Sometimes there are readily identifiable stresses, while at other times it can be nearly impossible to find a reason that you are experiencing a low mood. If you experience a low mood often, seek assistance in finding what the problem may be. This means getting labs drawn with your physician, getting assessed for medical issues that may play a role (thyroid is a big one to check and so are hormones in general), assessing your sleeping patterns (lack of sleep can cause mood and energy issues), and thinking about family history. Do you have genetic links that make you more susceptible to depression? Be your number one advocate and keep a mood chart to determine if there are patterns involved in your low mood states. Here is one you can use with some great tips about tracking your progress.
2. Support From Others
I’m a therapist so of course I am going to mention support groups. But, beyond a group setting, support can be found in a counselling session or with caring friends and family. Don’t have just once source of support or one friend to talk to. Have several! Great healing can be found when you surround yourself with people who understand depression from an experiential perspective.
One group that I really love is the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). I’ve been to quite a few of the meetings and have found that the people that attend really, truly care about one another. They also work with caregivers (i.e. your loved ones) to help them understand depression (and bipolar disorder) better and help them learn how to support you when you are feeling your lowest. Check them out!
3. Diet Changes
What we put inside of our bodies absolutely affects the way we feel overall and over time. Every bite you take can either add energy and health or it can further deplete your reserves. Steer clear of processed foods and concentrate on a well-rounded diet. Since serotonin levels play a significant role in overall mood, try to incorporate foods that are serotonin-producing, like kiwi, bananas, sour cherries, tomatoes, walnuts and dark chocolate. Also, aim for foods that are high in tryptophan and B6 since they work together to boost serotonin. Foods high in tryptophan include spinach, eggs, fish, and turkey, among others. Foods high in B6 include tuna, chicken, potato, and spinach.
There is more than enough research available to show that exercising enhances mood and decreases depressive symptoms. The wonderful thing about exercise is that you can set your workout to fit you. If you hate to run, don’t get on the treadmill. Hate the idea of free weights at the gym? Try lifting at home or learning some bodyweight exercises. Love to be outdoors? Take a walk with a friend, go on a nature hike, go bike riding, or play tennis. Want to spend time indoors instead? Take a yoga class, a Zumba class, or do some low-impact aerobics. And remember, if you are new to exercise, get a personal trainer or talk to your doctor about incorporating fitness into your schedule. If you have the money to spend on a gym, many of them offer free personal training sessions when you sign up and you can find fitness videos free online or on Amazon for purchase.
5. Get Rid of the Alcohol!
Just say NO! Alcohol is a depressant. Depressants do not fuel happiness. You may feel better temporarily when you drink, but drinking to avoid pain only lasts as long as the buzz. Once the buzz wears off, the pain is back. Don’t get in the cycle! And, if you happen to be on anti-depressants, it is even more important that you don’t drink to cope. Please, please, please, don’t use alcohol to relieve depressive symptoms.
6. Get Some Vitamin D
Research shows a link between low levels of Vitamin D and depressive symptoms. It is unclear if low Vitamin D causes depressive symptoms or if depression causes a depletion of Vitamin D. The connection is basically the chicken and the egg question. But, regardless of which comes first, Vitamin D supplements do seem to help. In fact, it can be helpful to get all of your vitamin levels checked so that you can take the vitamins you need at the level that’s most appropriate.
Seriously. Researchers have found that they can enhance people’s moods by simply having them smile. And, the effects of smiling don’t just last for the length of the experiment. They carry over for several minutes. So, forcing a smile can actually lead to a true smile and feelings of happiness. Try it!
8. Get a Dog
Oh the benefits of having a mutt! Research has shown many times over that pets can increase positive mood for people. There are several reasons for this: pets provide you with some physical touch, they give you someone to think of outside of yourself, they cause you to exercise more (you’ve got to take them out to potty and for walks), and they decrease feelings of loneliness. And for those who suffer with deep depression on a pretty consistent basis, a service dog can be absolutely life-changing. Learn more about service dogs here.
9. Get Rid of Negativity
One of the key components to overcoming depression is to surround yourself with positive influences. While this certainly means positive people, it also means being positive yourself. Learn to feed yourself positive messages and to highlight your areas of strength. If you have a hard time finding those strength areas in yourself, enlist the help of friends or a trained professional.
Many, many people find hope and symptom relief by meditating on Scripture and praying. I know that there are many church leaders that have preached that you just need prayer to be cured of depression, but for most, prayer is one of the ways to alleviate these symptoms. Prayer and spiritual beliefs can often diminish when the symptoms of depression increase, so if it’s been a while, take some time to listen to some relaxing music (I’d recommend some worship music) and spend some time in prayer.
So there you have it. Ten strategies to use to help with symptoms of depression. Above all, keep in mind that depression really does pass with the right intervention and help. The strategy that worked yesterday may not work today. Use the strategy that works now and don’t be afraid to change it up from time to time. And, do your best to work together as a couple. Even if it is your spouse and not you who suffers with depression, the symptoms that one spouse feels affects both of you.
If your depression is so significant that it leads to suicidal thoughts, there is help! If you are in the U.S., call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re in Canada, call 1-833-456-4566.
Wishing you happiness and total health — today, tomorrow and always.