Staying Well after Depression: Finding a Balance
Following an episode of depression there are those who behave as if nothing has happened. They have a view that it’s important to get back in the saddle as quickly as possible, maybe even working harder than before in order to catch up or to prove something to themselves or others. It's not a good choice.
Others heed the message that something in their life has to change and they set about to do just that. You'd think this is the easy part. If you've been doing too much you do less and if your life has been too stressful you take measures to reduce it. In principle this is exactly what you should do but in practice some very odd things can occur.
Here's an example. When my father-in-law suffered a stroke he took measures to correct his lifestyle. Almost overnight he stopped smoking cigars, stopped drinking alcohol (wine) and he cut out sugar and fat from his diet. Almost as quickly he became anxious about his mortality and miserable as to the hand the fates had dealt him. Over time he gradually began to relax. He rightly steered clear of smoking, but he began to reintroduce a diet that was familiar and accepted that treats would not harm him. In short he found a balance and his mood responded accordingly.
Health fears, as in the case of stopping smoking, can be useful in some respects. But finding the right balance isn't always easy. Depression can be an all consuming and emotionally crushing experience, which is hard to come back from. Such is the fear of it returning that some people take the staying well message to heart and turn their lives around completely. But is it such a bright idea for say an intelligent, articulate, highly skilled professional to drop everything, sell the house and spend their days strolling the coastline looking out to sea? I’m not exaggerating. For some people their depression may be just the incentive they needed to fulfil such a dream but for others they have simply swapped one stressful life for another.
Adopting an extreme opposite lifestyle in order to protect against depression could potentially have the opposite effect. We actually need a bit of stress in our lives in order to thrive. So our highly skilled professional would benefit more from a few adjustments. Why? Well he or she has been used to operating at a certain pace but a likely scenario is they have been exceeding their optimum level of performance. Put another way, they’ve been running hot for too long and they need to take their foot off the throttle. Finding the point where you can operate at an optimum level may take a little time. At first you may find yourself underperforming but if you’re recovering from depression that’s not such a bad thing. Over time you might want to test yourself. This is where it might take some careful monitoring and regular, honest self-assessment in order to get it right.