Feeling blue? You’re not alone. The latest 2022 statistics show that 24% of adults reported having symptoms of depression in September, and 15% of youths (age 12-17) reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year. That’s roughly 80 million adults and 50 million youths. How sad is that?
Chances are pretty good that you or someone you know is struggling with depression right now.
And since the last thing a depressed person needs is an overwhelming list of tasks to do, here’s a list of things not to do, based on research.
11 Depression Don’ts
1. DON’T stay in bed.
While there may be an occasional time and place to stay in bed and rest as an act of self-care, it can also take depression from gray to black. Staying in bed provides the perfect opportunity to ruminate on negative thoughts, which is associated with greater depression, according to research. If you can get out of bed and get active, it distracts your brain and helps you to feel better. Engaging in healthy distractions can decrease depression and anxiety. Sit up, call a friend, make a cup of tea, or take your dog for a walk. Find actions that will help you get out of bed and out of your head!
2. DON’T self-medicate with alcohol or marijuana.
If you are feeling the pain of depression or anxiety, you may be tempted to reach for alcohol or marijuana to make yourself feel better. Don’t. These substances may provide temporary relief, but ultimately alcohol and marijuana use depress brain function and make you feel worse.
Brain SPECT imaging at Amen Clinics shows reduced cerebral blood flow in both marijuana and alcohol users. It’s not surprising that a 2019 review found that cannabis use during adolescence increases the likelihood of depression and suicidal ideation or attempts in young adulthood. It has also been associated with increased anxiety. Heavy alcohol use is associated with the development or worsening of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, according to the CDC. Take healthy mood-boosting actions instead.
3. DON’T just take any antidepressants.
Depression is nuanced to each individual; it’s not simple like a cold. Using brain SPECT imaging Amen Clinics has identified 7 types of depression. Each type requires a different treatment plan. SSRIs (such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro) work well for certain types of depression, yet they do not work for all 7 types of depression and can even exacerbate symptoms for several subtypes of the condition. And with mild cases of depression, antidepressants are typically not that effective, according to research.
Depression can also be a symptom of biological issues (such as head injuries, heart disease, and low blood flow, inflammation, obesity, chronic insomnia, etc.). In these cases, antidepressants would not solve the issue. As a general rule, medication should never be the first or only thing you do to treat depression.
4. DON’T believe every negative thought you have.
Our thoughts lie to us, a lot—especially when we are experiencing low mood. A 2020 study in BMC Psychiatry indicates that in countries around the world, automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are a hallmark feature of depression. Instead of believing your troubling thoughts, learn to question their accuracy, and correct or reframe them. Write down persistent ANTs and ask yourself these questions:
- Is it true?
- Can you be 100% certain it is true?
- How do you feel when you believe that thought?
- How would you feel without the thought?
Kill the ANTs, don’t believe them!
5. DON’T isolate or spend too much time alone.
While some alone time or solitude is good and necessary for well-being, too much loneliness, and isolation are highly associated with depression, according to findings in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. That’s because humans are social beings. Satisfying social relationships are the antidote to low mood.
This truth became abundantly clear at the height of social distancing during the COVID pandemic. A Norwegian study with more than 10,000 participants found a very high correlation with loneliness or isolation and depressed mood, low energy, and feelings of worthlessness.
6. DON’T compare yourself to others on social media.
Social media use has a detrimental effect on mood, and a 2019 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders shows that the highest increases in depression occur as a result of upward social comparisons, aka “compare and despair.” That’s when you compare yourself to someone you perceive as superior or having a better life. We all know that images don’t tell the truth, especially heavily curated ones that only depict life’s happy or glamorous moments and doctored images that alter the way people look! Don’t make your depression worse, limit your social media time.
7. DON’T let stresses stack up.
While some stress is good and even necessary to avoid danger and motivate us to meet life’s challenges and achieve goals, letting it pile up is particularly hazardous for those with depression.
When the stress response is activated by a threat or circumstance, real or perceived, your body releases a number of stress hormones. Normally, when the perceived threat has passed, stress hormone levels return to normal. However, if stressors continue and you constantly feel under attack (which is common if you are prone to ANTs), the stress response remains activated and stress hormones remain elevated. This can disrupt a number of processes in the body (such as sleep) and cause or exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Indeed, a 2018 study points to a strong association between chronic stress and depression. It’s critical to engage in calming activities and find relaxation if you struggle with low mood.
8. DON’T smoke.
Smokers are more likely to be depressed, research has found – especially women. Smoking restricts cerebral blood flow, which is never good for brain function or mood. For a depressed or anxious person, smoking provides relief from the pain of the disorder, temporarily. The nicotine in tobacco activates your brain’s pleasure centers, giving you a hit of feel-good dopamine. Over time this encourages your brain to make less dopamine because you are getting it from the nicotine. Having lower levels of dopamine in the body can ultimately result in feeling even more depressed since there is less of it to promote positive effects.
9. DON’T stay in the dark.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight. This simple change can affect your biology and moods. Less sunlight can cause an overproduction of melatonin, which can contribute to depression. Less sunlight can also reduce the production of serotonin and vitamin D. When these take a dip, so can your mood.
Fortunately, bright light therapy (BLT) can help. Simply sitting in front of a bright light therapy lightbox for a certain amount of time each day can be helpful in the treatment of mood disorders, according to a review in Neuropsychobiology.
10. DON’T eat a poor diet.
What you eat can affect your mood profoundly. If you eat a poor diet, you are adding insult to injury. An analysis in Psychiatric Research found a diet characterized by high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined carbohydrates and sweets, saturated fats, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression. The best thing you can do is eat a brain healthy diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, fish and lean meats, healthy fats, and whole grains—all associated with lower rates of depression!
11. DON’T ever give up hope.
It’s hard to be hopeful when you are feeling dark and down, but the truth is depression is highly treatable. People who seek treatment do get better. All you need is the very slightest flicker of hope…enough to make a call to ask for help. You can feel better.
Depression and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.