Mental and emotional health is just as important as our physical health, but many of us keep our mental and emotional health problems to ourselves. We don’t mind telling people how we need to lose a few pounds or take up jogging or hit the gym more often. We’ll even admit that we have bad eating habits that we need to break. But we don’t like to talk about what’s going on in our minds, our mental health. Maybe we think it isn’t that important, or that no one wants to hear about it, or that it will go away on its own. Maybe we’re just ashamed of it.
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, and there are always different triggers. For years my depression trigger was loneliness. I hated not having friends, and then I wondered if I’d ever get married. The Lord brought me my husband almost two years ago, and while I still have some loneliness, because I still don’t have friends outside of him and my parents, that doesn’t really trigger depression in me anymore. Now my trigger is our finances. I feel like things are only getting worse, not better.
That’s why I wanted to write this post. I know that a lot of people struggle with depression. For Christians, we have the added guilt that we think we shouldn’t be depressed, or even struggle with depression if we’re born again. But I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t think it makes us less of a Christian to struggle with major depression. I just don’t think we need to stay in a depressed state.
That’s easy to say, I know, but a lot harder to do. I’ll repeat, I’ve struggled with depression my whole life. I know what it’s like. It is debilitating. You just don’t want to do anything. You have no motivation. Here are some depression symptoms copied from the Mayo Clinic:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
- In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
- In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.
For older adults signs of depression can be:
- Memory difficulties or personality changes
- Physical aches or pain
- Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or medication
- Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
- Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men
If you see yourself in most or all of these symptoms, then you definitely struggle with depression. But there are natural remedies for depression and I’m going to talk about them here. Keep in mind that many of these are for Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. However, some will apply to people of various faiths as well if you tweak it a bit. Because please trust me on this, I don’t want anyone to stay depressed, regardless of your faith or culture. No one should have to live that way.
1. Loved Ones
One thing that depression does is that it makes us want to isolate ourselves from our friends and family. We pull away from our spouse, our kids, and everyone else in our lives. Maybe we don’t want to infect them with our depression. Maybe we just don’t want them to try to cheer us up. But this is the worst thing we could do! When we isolate ourselves from those who love us, we are only guaranteeing that we will remain depressed or that our depression is going to get worse.
I say this from personal experience. When I feel depression setting in, the first thing I do is stay away from my husband, Justin. I try not to look at him, talk to him, or really have anything to do with him. Part of this stems from me wanting to protect him from my depression. The other part is because I know he can help me feel better and when I start feeling depressed, I don’t always want to feel better.
Of course, this hurts not only me, but it hurts my husband too. When I pull away from him, he thinks he’s done something wrong. He thinks my pain is his fault. Not only is it not fair of me to put that on him, it isn’t true, and it doesn’t help me at all. Because if I stay depressed, I will never meet my goals or accomplish my dreams or even enjoy my life. I don’t want to live like that. Do you?
I’ve realized that when I force myself to stay close to Justin, he really does cheer me out of my depression. He makes me laugh, he lets (actually encourages) me talk out how I feel and uses logic and sense, and he reminds me that I’m not alone. Now, that won’t keep it away permanently, but it can stop it from taking a deeper hold on you. You can relieve the onset of depression by staying close to your loved ones, rather than sinking into a major depression by pulling away.
2. Praise Music
When we are depressed, we tend to want to stay that way, so we surround ourselves with depressing things. In many cases, that means we start listening to sad or angry music. Listening to sad or angry music will not bring you out of depression – it will only make it worse.
I remember when I was a teenager and suffered from depressive episodes, I loved listening to Evanescence. Now, I’m not knocking that band. They are great at what they do and I love the main singer’s voice. But listening to angry or sad music never helped me to feel better. It only made me feel worse. It told my depression that it was okay to stick around because other people felt the same way.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when I feel depression coming on, I need to head it off before it gets worse, like when you feel a cold coming on and you start filling your body up with vitamins and antioxidants to help fight off the illness faster. A great way to head off depression is to listen to and sing praise music. Now, hear me on this please, just listening to praise music won’t make you feel better. I can listen to praise music or Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer, even to comedians, and still not smile and not feel any better if I really don’t want to. But when I start actually singing praise music, I literally can’t stay depressed. It lifts my spirits. I’ll admit, it usually doesn’t happen immediately. I have to sing 3 or 5 songs before I feel my spirit lift. But it does happen every single time if I give it a real chance.
So, if you feel depression setting in, turn on some praise music and sing along as loud as you can. Don’t worry if you sound good or not. God doesn’t care and your depression won’t either. All that matters is that we get our minds focused on God and not on ourselves or our circumstances.
3. Helping Others
Most of the time when we start going into a depression it’s because we are focused on ourselves or our problems/circumstances. We need to get our minds off of ourselves. Yes, it’s good to solve problems in our own lives, but most of our problems won’t be solved in a day. Continually focusing on them usually does more harm than good. And when we get depressed, we aren’t motivated to solve our problems anyway.
I told the Lord that whether we’re in Tennessee for one month or six, I want to find someplace to volunteer until we move. And when we reach our next destination, I want to volunteer there as well. I’m tired of thinking about myself and our circumstances. I want to help other people. Because we aren’t alone in this world. There are more unhappy, depressed, lonely people in the world than there are happy and successful ones. And while we can’t solve all their problems either, we can still be a blessing to them. When we focus on other people, it really does help to stop depression from developing because we aren’t thinking of ourselves anymore.
4. Healthy Diet and Exercise
This is my least favorite of the tools that drive away depression, but I do know that it works. When we exercise, we release endorphins in our bodies that help us to cheer up and feel happier, which will help stave off depression. Whether it’s going to the gym, working out at home, doing yoga, going for a walk or run, whatever that means for you, we all need to do something physical every single day. Not only is this healthy physically, it really is healthy for us mentally.
But it isn’t just exercise. Diet has a lot to do with how we feel mentally. If we are eating a lot of the wrong foods, we can actually bring on more depression than if we eat healthy foods. In an article from Psychology Today, Felice Jacka Ph.D. did research into people with moderate to severe depression and found that a certain diet can actually improve the symptoms of depression. This is called the SMILE diet and includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat/ unsweetened dairy, raw unsalted nuts, lean red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and olive oil. However, it tells you to stay away from sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast food, and processed meat.
Of course, as a vegetarian, this diet is not dissimilar from how I already eat, but I will admit that my husband and I can eat fast food (french fries) and occasionally sweets (usually from stress).
If you look at it, it isn’t that hard of a diet to follow as long as you plan on eating at home a lot or make a lot of homecooked meals, which are healthier for us anyway whether you struggle with depression or not. Next Friday I’ll add to this by making a post specifically with recipes using only the items from the SMILE diet in case you guys (and myself) need ideas!
5. A Quiet Time with God
I saved this one for last because I believe it is the most important. I know how hard it is to have any motivation to spend time with God when my depression starts to come on. But I also know how important it is to spend time with God anyway, especially when I don’t feel like it. The longer I go without having a quiet time, the worse I get mentally and emotionally. Depression comes on more quickly and more strongly than if I spend time with the Lord every day.
Your quiet time can be whatever you need it to be, whatever works for you. Read a verse a day and then ponder the verse and how it applies to you, or read an entire chapter in one of the books of the Bible and write out whatever stands out to you. Spend time in prayer, whether that means praying out loud, in your mind, or writing it down (which is what I do). Sing praise music (maybe even dance around). Do a Bible study (Kay Arthur and Beth Moore are awesome for that) or just study God’s Word for yourself. Add a daily devotional to your quiet time, or read some of the ones online or from apps. There is really an unlimited number of ways you can have your quiet time and none of them are wrong. You just need to find what works for you.
For me, personally, I do best reading the Word on my own and journalling. I write down my prayers and what I learned while reading the Bible. I’ll spend some time in praise and worship and I read a Joyce Meyer devotional every day. I like to listen to Joel Osteen while in the shower so I get encouragement instead of hearing the depressing thoughts that try to fill my mind when I’m alone. They even have journals and devotionals you can color if that’s something you enjoy.
However you do it, a quiet time with God every day does need to become a daily habit for all of us, especially if we want a depression cure. God is the only true cure, but there are definitely plenty of things we can do to help ourselves.
I really hope that these five tips help you conquer or at least learn to control and stop your depression at the onset. I also need to make sure that I listen to my own advice! I love you guys and I’d love to hear from you in the comment section, or you can email me!