Breaking a Depressive Cycle

Lulu newI will give credit where credit is due. This is another post very much inspired by ColonialPunk from her post The Sleep Variable.

Honestly, I’m not typically a person that gives advice unless specifically asked for it. It is true that I am opinionated and often overbearing, but I have learned from my past about freely giving my two cents. It usually ends up costing me a dollar or more.

However, I am compelled to share with you some things I’ve known to break the cycle down.

Depression and Depressive Episodes
As a person with Bipolar II, I am well acquainted with depression. I can honestly say that I’ve likely spent most of my life in a multitude of depressive episodes. I am guilty of handling it poorly in the past, but not totally so. I’d like to take the opportunity to report my positive and productive efforts on that front.
Being Aware of the Earliest Symptoms
It is critical to identify the first emerging symptoms of a depressive episode. If you’re like myself, you know that sometimes a life event can trigger an episode. But, more often than not, there is no external stimulus that will give a warning to a potential mood shift.

In my case, the initial symptoms of a depressive episode are as follows:

  • Increased sleeping
  • Increased eating
  • Extreme difficulty transitioning from waking to sleeping and vice versa
  • Sudden disinterest in pleasurable activities
  • Extreme irritability*
  • Anxiety of unknown origin**

*Extreme irritability can be found in both a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode. This is a marker of a shift, rather than being specific to depression.
**Anxiety of unknown origin refers to an underlying anxiety exacerbated by certain situations deemed to be especially stressful at the time. It does not include panic.

Once those are recognized, it’s time to start isolating them and treating them.

  • Keep to a set schedule
  • Put a stop to emotional eating
  • Make extra time for relaxing and engaging activities
  • Keep moving

Keep to a Set Schedule
Keeping a routine allows for little stability in life when it feels like things are falling apart. In addition, it will help stop a number of other symptoms dead in their tracks.

A moderately flexible schedule will attempt to stabilize sleep cycles. Researchers have determined that sleep cycles are vital to physical and mental health. Sleep aids in physical healing. In addition, it is vital to brain functions, such as learning and emotional processing.

Also, the schedule may have the ability to make isolation more difficult. One of the worst cycles within the depressive episode is isolation. I isolate for various reasons that include general anxiety, fear of outsiders recognizing the episode, and to eliminate the chance of taking loved ones down with me. Any episode requires a support system, especially depression. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative to reduce it as much as possible.

A moderation of flexibility is required. First, it would be advised that a person slow their pace. It is easy to become overwhelmed by regular stressors. Thus, larger, more uncommon stressors may have the ability to send a person reeling. Depression has been shown to literally depress the brain. That may depress motor function, as well as cognitive function, emotional processing and regulation.

The extra flexibility is designed to accommodate extra time to utilize coping mechanisms. However, be advised that too much time is not a good thing. Did you ever hear the expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings”? Too much time may increase the urge to indulge impulses brought on by the emotional shift. Personally, I obsess over negative events and emotions. Then, it leads me to self-destructive behavior. If I have responsibilities that require at least a minimal level of functioning, or I’m too busy to over-analyze everything, then the impulses are less urgent.

Put a Stop To Emotional Eating
If you’re like me, at the very start of a depressive episode I begin to eat comfort food. I consider myself to be in a state of dysthymia when this occurs.

Comfort food is different for everyone. Typically, comfort foods are high in sugar and carbohydrates. I am partial to pizza, soda, and macaroni and cheese. Most people subconsciously choose these foods because the brain is sending our signals of fatigue. Daytime fatigue, outside of depression, is either caused by disrupted or insufficient sleep or a drop in blood sugar resulting from insufficient food intake.

Sugar and carbs are a quick fix to the situation. The problem comes in when the body doesn’t need these things. It causes a sugar crash that causes more fatigue and an increase in weight. Both things only make the situation worse.

I attempt to only eat when my body is telling me that I’m hungry. That may be hard to determine, so think of what your own personal eating habits are, and stay with those.

Enforce portion control. It is important to remember these two things: it takes your body 20 minutes to register the first bite of food, and you can always eat more if the portion wasn’t enough.

Lastly, eliminate eating after a certain hour of the evening. Contrary to popular belief, research indicates that people don’t sleep better on a full stomach. Actually, it disrupts sleep and disturbs digestion.

Make Extra Time For Relaxing and Engaging Activities
As previously mentioned, regular daily stressors may become unusually overwhelming. With a schedule that is more flexible than usual, extra leisure time may be accommodated. This time is specifically devoted to practicing relaxation techniques (mantras, yoga, meditation, hot bath / shower, etc), engaging in coping mechanisms (writing, talking with a friend, etc), and engaging in creative, intellectual, or recreational pursuits.

The goal is reduce stress and increase fun. By doing something fun and engaging, a person is purposely stimulating the brain to produce much-needed hormones like serotonin and dopamine. It increases the activity in a depressed brain and may actually be able to keep the conscious mind occupied. That is important to prevent unnecessary anxiety as a result of brooding, obsessing, or over-analysing. However, it is not supposed to function as a permanent distraction from current life problems.

Keep Moving
Exercise produces endorphins in the brain that assist in stabilizing hormones responsible for regulating emotion. In addition, it regulates weight and sleep, two physical complications of depression. Now, I’m not talking about running off to the gym, unless that’s something a person enjoys doing. However, the rest of the general public does not, and mostly can’t afford it. Depression can cause motor functions to be depressed as well. That is why many people feel the need to become sedentary. That is counter-productive in depression treatment. It is imperative to keep moving.

It does not have to be strenuous aerobic exercise. Any mobile activity will do. I prefer to get off of the bus a stop ahead a walk the rest of the way. I keep my mind-set on keeping up with domestic activities, instead of letting laundry and dishes pile up. I attempt to take every opportunity to stand, when appropriate. Instead of using the phone to contact people within the building, I will take a walk to their room. Sometimes, that involves climbing several flights of stairs. Occasionally, I’ll wear some challenging foot wear. Even slight adjustments make an incredible difference.

“So what do I do if I fail to recognize early symptoms and now I’m in the throes of a serious depressive state?”

A little more tricky, but the same principles apply. Isolate your symptoms. In a serious depressive episode, I am especially prone to the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating / indecisiveness
  • Insomnia
  • Physical ailments
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Self-harm / suicidal tendencies

Difficulty concentrating can be combated by getting involved in an engaging activity. Something that comes natural. Insomnia is covered by keeping a moderately flexible schedule. Occasionally, that needs to be treated with supplements, OTC medication (which I don’t really recommend), or in the worst case, pharmaceuticals. However, we didn’t cover the others.

Treating Physical Ailments
While exercise is key and advised in this situation as well, it may complicate the whole process. I mean, who really wants to move around when they are in physical pain? In this case, a person would treat the symptoms as they come, typically with OTC medications. Then, take some extra time to practice relaxation.

Loss of Self Worth
There are a number of strategies to assist coping with this. It may be difficult at first, but begin making a “Good Things About Me” list. Continue to add to the list as ideas manifest. In addition, consider random acts of kindness. There is tangible evidence in that activity. In addition, it can add to the “Good Things About Me” list.

Dress to impress. This one may be especially important to women. I know when I’m depressed, I go for the big, floppy clothes. Seeing myself in that state doesn’t do anything for the way I perceive myself. Therefore, I make it a point to dress up a little. Yes, it may feel awkward at first. Start small, with a nice blouse and a pair of jeans and work up to the accessories and skirt. Wear a nice, soothing scent of perfume – something that triggers memories of good times in the past. And believe me, people will notice the difference and may even compliment.

Self-harm / Suicidal tendencies
I’ve said this dozens of times. There is a difference between a passing thought, such as, “I wish I would die.” and having suicidal ideation and a plan. If you have to question whether or not you’d actually do it, Shut down your computer and call your doctor immediately! Don’t risk it. Get help.

Otherwise, keep reading.

I’m especially prone to having those passing thoughts that move onto impulses. Stop it at the thoughts. Stop whatever is in progress and move on to this exercise. Sit down and write down everyone that would be left behind. Don’t write, “Nobody.”, because it’s not true in any case. Write out their feelings toward the propose action if it were to happen. Write out every potential occasion that would be missed. Visualize the looks on loved ones faces at receiving the news. Then write out everything there is to live for. Even down to the smallest thing like seeing the sun rise over the ocean.

If that doesn’t work, contact a very close friend. If that is inappropriate or impossible, contact an online friend. And lastly, there are a plethora of suicide hotlines. They are there to listen.

My final words: Always be honest with yourself. Always be honest with your mental health professionals. Try to be as honest and open with friends and family as possible. Even in times when it feels out of control, you have the power. Even in baby steps, it can turn around. And never, never be afraid to ask for help.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is not designed for diagnostic or treatment purposes. The author is not a licensed health care professional, nor does she claim to be. Any and all of the information in this post are subjective to the point of view of the author. Please be advised that these are suggestions, interpret it as you will, and utilize at your own risk.

© Tallulah “Lulu” Stark and A Canvas Of The Minds 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tallulah “Lulu” Stark and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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3 thoughts on “Breaking a Depressive Cycle

  1. One thing to be aware of with regard to not eating near bedtime is that if an individual is diabetic or has a blood sugar imbalance, then it is recommended that they have a snack before bed. This evens out the blood sugar and prevents high fasting glucose levels. Diabetics should always consult their doctor when it comes to diet, nutritional supplements, and medications (OTC and prescription) as all of these can potentially affect blood sugar levels.

  2. I don’t know how fit I am to be commenting right now, but I have to try, because this is a wonderful post, Lulu. It’s so helpful and informative and very much tackles the reality of depression from pretty much every angle. I hope others find it as well-written and wonderfully fleshed out as I do. I know I’ll refer to it when I begin to lose myself in a depressive state. Reading it in the books is one thing, reading the words of a friend is something else entirely.

  3. Oh, Lulu, as wonderful as this is, are you kidding me? (I’m still getting to the wonderful bit, don’t worry.) I couldn’t begin to do any of the things you outline when I’m depressed. Even if I had someone to help me out and nudge me along – well ask Ruby, I drop off the face of the planet, and woe be unto him who finds me and tries to get me to engage, lol.

    Now, that being said, this is a wonderful post. Hopefully now that I’m older and oh-so-much-wiser (ha, ha) I can use some of the techniques you discuss when I start to feel like the little black cloud is trailing me, before it grows and engulfs me.

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