Depression and Anxiety are exhausting. When you are overcome with major depressive disorder (MDD), life has a way of feeling much harder. Spill something on the floor? Great, now you have to clean it up. You don’t feel energetic enough to do it, and it feels like a complete drag. Compound that with the inevitable self-judging that’s going on in your head about how this should be such a simple task and you used to be able to do this kind of stuff with a smile on your face and amplify this situation to every other chore in your life, and you realize that every day has become a drag.
So what do you do? Eventually, you get the courage to talk to your doctor and express what’s going on. This is an extremely important step and kickstarts your road to recovery, but you probably aren’t going to feel better until the treatment option provided to you starts to work. That can take weeks, and your patience is no doubt running thin. The stupid chores aren’t going away either. The social obligations that you’ve been avoiding are still there. There must be more that you can do to get out of this rut, right?
Yes! There are a few key changes you can make to your life to kickstart your recovery and actively fight back against depression and anxiety. But before we get into that, I want to state the importance of therapy. Therapy is something that can sometimes hold a social stigma of only being for people who have “problems”. First of all, everyone has problems. Secondly, therapy is an excellent catalyst for repairing your mental health and understanding that what you’re going through hasn’t made you worse in any way. It’s really quite the opposite. Those who suffer from depression and anxiety and recover come out the other side as a stronger person, more in touch with who they are and more confident in their actions. Sure, some people might get that without going through depression. But it’s the battles that make us strong, not what is handed to us.
Undoubtedly, you’re feeling extremely motivated after that semi-inspirational half paragraph, so let’s ride that wave of motivation into the first and most important weapon you need to wield into battle: Exercise.
Exercise can feel completely impossible when you’re depressed. I mean, if you don’t have the energy to sweep the floor, how are you supposed to go jog? This is a tricky one and is the biggest mental hurdle that you’re faced with in your recovery. I’m the kind of person who is comforted by facts, and it just so happens that the facts are on your side here. There have been several scientific studies performed on the relationship between motor activity and mood1. What these have shown is that there is a unilateral relationship between motor activity and mood. To summarize that annoying sentence with some context: Exercise will affect your mood in a positive way but being depressed doesn’t physically give you less energy (although it does make you feel like you have less energy.) So moral of the story is: exercise will actively help you fight your depression. It has been scientifically proven. The type of exercise is also important.
I’m borrowing this table from a study titled “Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits.”2
This table shows how different types of exercise can effect your mood over a period of time. The two types of aerobic exercises can be summarized into two categories: Acute and Chronic. Acute aerobic exercises are high intensity exercises performed irregularly. There are inherent benefits to acute aerobic exercise, however they are not the type you want to focus on long term. Chronic aerobic exercises have been proven to decrease anxiety and depression. Some examples of Chronic aerobic exercises are jogging, running, cycling, and swimming. The key difference here is that you perform the exercises regularly for a period of months. What that requires is some dedication, which can be extremely difficult when you’re depressed. The key part of this to remember is that it’s proven to help. Regular exercise is good for you, and no matter how depressed or tired you may feel that remains true.
Okay, we got the biggest and hardest one out of the way. So what else can you do? This one may not be much of a surprise. An analysis of data from almost 46,000 people has found that weight loss, nutrient boosting and fat reduction diets can all reduce symptoms of depression.3
Breaking this one down into the context of practical use, you’re going to want to ease up on fast food and refined sugars and focus on veggies and fiber-rich foods. Beans (my personal favorite), Apples, Bananas, Raspberries, Nuts and Seeds, and most dark colored vegetables are all great options for fiber-rich foods. If you’re like me and you have a problem with comforting yourself with food when you feel down, there’s also a great alternative to that. Air popped popcorn has fiber in it, about 4 grams per 3 cups. If you don’t add a ton of butter and salt, this can be a good snack alternative to chips or candy if that’s your go to.
Changing your diet isn’t something that is easy and happens fast, so you should set your expectations accordingly. Make small changes week by week and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you’re making your healthy diet a priority overall and understand that it’s helping to ease your depression, you’ll start feeling the effects and it becomes a lot easier.
The last one is easy, but often overlooked. Stay hydrated! The benefits of drinking enough water every day are staggering, and not so surprisingly can also affect your mood4 and decrease your risk of experiencing depression5. The long and short of it is that if you wait to drink water until you feel thirsty, you have waited too long. Losing even 1.5% of your water weight will start to make you feel anxious and even impair your cognitive function. Furthermore, people who drink 2 glasses of water a day are twice as likely to experience depression than those who drink 5 or more a day.
If you want to really get into how much water you should personally drink, that’s a tough question to answer. The amount you should drink varies based on your weight and activity levels. You want to drink half an ounce to one ounce of water per pound that you weigh, but that changes depending on activity level and climate. So if you weigh 200 pounds, you’ll want to drink between 100 and 200 ounces of water a day. You’ll be closer to 200 ounces if you live in a hot climate and stay active, and on the lower end if you’re relatively sedentary and live in a cold climate.
These are all great ways for you to actively fight back against depression, backed up by studies. No matter how much your depression is dragging you down and telling you it isn’t worth it, you can come back and read this to remind yourself that it’s legitimately going to help you feel better, and it’s absolutely worth it!