At the time my depression returned during graduate school, I was also extremely stressed while maintaining a schedule of 2 part-time on-campus library jobs, 2 freelance symphony jobs which rehearsed and performed on the weekends at a location over two hours away from campus, and the normal required doctoral coursework. My life was more than booked solid. So, I decided to take advantage of the counseling services available at the Student Health Center.
One of the suggestions which the counsellor had (she happened to be a student herself working towards a Master’s in Social Work) included doing something nice for myself, such as pampering with a warm bath and body lotion. Another suggestion was to find more time for myself in the schedule…a schedule which I had planned precisely down to 15-minute time blocks. Neither of these ideas seemed to be practical nor appropriate for me at the time. However now as I look back, they seem to be good ideas in general.
Below is a list of Positive Steps (as presented by the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America) which can be taken immediately to help lift one’s mood:
1. Exercise. Exercise is proven to produce an increase in chemicals such as endorphins, which can make us feel less depressed - and can help to lessen fatigue as well. Exercises are available for individuals of all ability levels, and patients should discuss an appropriate exercise program with their doctor. (Specific exercise should only be done with a physician’s approval.)
2. Create a stress management program. Many strategies, such as meditation, yoga, guided-imagery, progressive relaxation, bio-feedback, and even regular napping, are available to manage stress, which in turn, can help to make you less susceptible to life’s ups and downs. Which technique you choose doesn’t matter, it is only important that you stay committed and practice the exercises you find to be helpful.
3. Talk about your feelings. Confiding in a trusted friend or family member about difficult feelings or thoughts can often improve your mood.
4. Commit to one activity each week. Being accountable to a group can be a motivator to change your environment and get social support - which can ultimately be uplifting.
5. Journal your feelings. Take time to write down your emotions, the act of which is a very safe outlet to release negative thoughts that may be building up inside.
6. Develop a spiritual interest. Spending time in nature, prayer, meditation, or a religious setting, are all forms of spiritual practice. How you define spirituality does not really matter; the important thing is that you feel connected with something greater than yourself. When firmly grounded in a spiritual belief, one can come back to this centered place - especially during times of stress or sadness - and find great comfort.
7. Find your bliss. What is the one thing in your life that makes you want to get up in the morning and keep going even when your body wants to rollover and go back to sleep? What images can you think of that make you smile? This can be a loved one, a job, a hobby, or even a higher purpose. Your bliss can be a great motivator when you need an incentive to care for yourself.
8. Help others. Volunteering is a great way to improve self-esteem and combat feelings of worthlessness. Frequently volunteers report feeling physically, emotionally, and intellectually recharged after doing something for others.
9. Reward yourself. Do something that makes you feel good (and causes no harm). Ideas include getting a massage, renting your favorite DVD, spending time at the park, enjoying a delicious meal, and reading a great book, just to name a few.
10. Adopt a pet. Although a pet can be hard work initially, owning a pet can help to take one’s attention away from his or her despair. Pets provide unconditional love that is so desperately needed during depressive episodes.
11. Create a gratitude list. By consciously taking the time to shift the focus from all that is going wrong, to all that is going right in your life, you can create moments of pleasure.
12. Maintain a sense of humor. Laughing provides therapeutic value - even consciously smiling can help you to feel better.
What do you do to maintain a positive outlook and to diminish the feelings of depression when they begin to arise? Please help add to this list.
Source: Understanding and Treating Depression in Multiple Sclerosis: Recognizing the Symptoms and Learning the Solutions written by Allison Shadday, LCSW © Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, 2007
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