9 Things I Do Every Day to Beat Depression

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In a famous Cherokee legend, an elderly brave tells his grandson about the battle of two wolves. One is evil and the other good. He explains that the same fight is going on in everyone. The boy then asks, “Which wolf will win?” The elder responds, “The one you feed.” Such is the daily struggle with depression. There is the wolf of panic and sadness and the wolf of healing and recovery. Here are nine things I do every day to feed the good wolf and beat depression.


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Sweat it out

Back in 400 B.C., Hippocrates claimed that exercise is one of the keys to good health. What he didn’t expound on is its power to improve mood. I try to do some kind of physical activity every day, whether it be swimming, walking, or just running up and down the stairs to let the dogs out. The good news is that studies now say even one minute of high intensity interval training can reap health benefits.


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Listen to inspiring music

In my grade school years, Bach and Beethoven were my primary therapists. Today I’ve expanded my musical repertoire to include the Beatles, Ray LaMontagne, and Josh Groban. In fact, I just created a playlist on Spotify called “Inspiration” to listen to in the car and whenever I need a boost of feel-good hormones. Today, music therapy is used as an evidenced-based practice to treat depression and anxiety.


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Breathe deeply

With just a small tweak in the way we breathe, we can change our stress response from one of panic to (relative) clam. When we speed up our breath and breathe from our chest, we activate the sympathetic nervous system associated with a flight-or-fight response. Our brain thinks we are in danger. However, if we slow down our breath and breathe from our diaphragm, we stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and send a calming message to our brain that “all is OK.”


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Repeat my mantras

Mantras — or focused repetition of a soothing word or phrase — have been used for more than 3,000 years to calm the nervous system and improve the mood. A study published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine demonstrated that mantra meditation can improve mental health. Some of mine include, “This, too, shall pass,” “Just for today,” “Be not afraid,” and “You are enough.”


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Be around people

The late psychologist John Cacioppo once said that “Loneliness is like an iceberg; it goes deeper than we see.” Social isolation puts people at higher risk for all kinds of diseases and emotional disorders, including suicide. As a writer working from home, I have to make a concerted effort to be around people or talk to people. I make lunch dates, call fellow writers, and make conversation with strangers in Starbucks.


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Trim my to-do list

I don’t need fancy science to demonstrate that chronic stress provokes depression. I see the direct correlation between the size of my to-do list and my depression symptoms. Therefore, after I record my daily tasks, I go back and star only the items that absolutely have to get done. I move the other items to a second column or to another page. The result is usually a sigh and an improved mood.


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Walk in the woods

According to psychologist author Elaine Aron, highly sensitive types need nature almost as much as they do food and water. It is a way to decompress from the overstimulation of this world with its florescent lights and constant commotion. A few times a week I venture to the woods near my home. Among the tall oak trees and gentle creek, I can quiet the emotional chatter and begin to discern the whisper of wisdom within me.


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Cry

Tears are my emotional sign language, messengers of my deeper truth. They tell me what’s in my heart long before I’m able to articulate it in words. I used to measure the severity of my depression with the frequency of my crying bouts. However, now I consider crying to be a cathartic exercise, a kind of spring cleaning of the brain where I eliminate some of the weighty, toxic emotions.


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Help someone

Dr. Karl Menninger, a famous psychiatrist, was once asked: "What would you advise a person to do if that person felt a nervous breakdown coming on?" He replied: "Leave your house, find someone in need, and do something to help that person.” Numerous studies have illustrated the mood benefits of volunteering and helping other. You need not join an official charity to start giving. For example, I spend a few minutes every day sending emails of hope to despondent readers.


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Feed the good wolf

Your list of ways to beat depression may include a set of entirely different activities. Maybe you like to scrapbook or paint or belly dance. Every path to healing is unique. However, I suspect you, too, feel the pull of the two wolves inside of you. Each day is an opportunity to starve the wolf of panic and depression and to feed the wolf of healing and recovery. Go feed the good wolf.