Depression affects many of us at various stages of our lives. If it hasn’t affected us personally, we know someone who has been affected by it. We can feel sad and depressed for a variety of reasons such as relationship difficulties or being rejected by a lover, losing a job, divorce, workplace conflict, financial difficulties, or the death of a loved one.

However, depression is more than just feeling sad. It is usually longer lasting and can have life-altering consequences that can destroy your self-esteem, health, and well-being. It can also affect your job and personal relationships. It is commonly characterized by melancholic moods that typically last longer than two weeks. Many people describe it like a dark cloud of desperation descending on their lives.

Symptoms of depression may include some or all of the following:

* lack of concentration, impaired decision making ability
* constant feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, emptiness, or melancholy
* feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* feelings of hopelessness and negativity
* fatigue or lack of energy
* reduced libido, sex drive
* insomnia, oversleeping, or waking early in the morning
* overeating, loss of appetite
* recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
* physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle or nerve tension/spasm, digestive issues, and generalized pain
* unable to feel good and enjoy things like you used to, withdrawal from friends.

These symptoms can be experienced in varied combinations and for different durations of time, depending on the individual circumstances.

Sometimes there may be no obvious or clear cause for depression. However, in many cases, there are triggers or causes for depression, and some of these include genetic factors, personality types, major life stressors such as job loss or relationship breakdown, family conflict, abuse, rape, and death.

Another common cause are biochemical changes in the brain. In people with depression, specific neurotransmitters (brain cell chemical messengers) do not function as normal. These are the mood-regulating neurotransmitters that are responsible for our emotional states. Depression occurs when these neurotransmitters do not deliver the chemical messages effectively between brain cells, thus disrupting brain cell communication.

For this type of depression, it is best to see a medical professional for treatment. They will usually recommend some form of psychotherapy and most commonly prescribe an antidepressant or a treatment program that consists of a combination of both.

For some of the other causes of depression, cognitive behavioral therapy may be recommended to address dysfunctional personality traits, stress, anxiety, and negative thinking patterns. This is a form of psychological treatment carried out over several sessions aimed at changing behavior or managing mental and emotional responses to depression triggers.

Apart from the professional treatments available through various medical professionals such as counselors, psychologists, doctors, and psychiatrists, there are various self-help methods you can try to help alleviate your depressive moods and minimize the impact of depression on your life.

Following are some simple strategies that can make a big difference to how quickly you can overcome depression and get the most joy out of your daily activities.

1. Eat Right and Exercise Regularly

Never underestimate the power of diet and exercise on your ability to function at your best and its effects on your brain’s ability to function healthily. Avoid foods that contain artificial preservatives, additives, colors, and flavors (when possible), and also avoid or minimize consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. Caffeine and sugar are popular pick-me-ups and short-term energy boosters; however, they deplete your body of hydration, and after the quick fix wears off, they contribute to anxiety, to tension, and to digestive and nervous system problems.

So many people drink alcohol to forget about their problems and stressors without realizing that alcohol can exacerbate depressive moods and thus have the reverse effect.

Instead of consuming alcohol or other substances to facilitate relaxation and stress release, exercising regularly causes your body to produce more feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which can have a similar feel-good and relaxing effect to the consumption of alcohol. These endorphins are known to help alleviate stress and induce states of happiness. You also produce endorphins when you fall in love and make love.

2. Go Outdoors and Get an Hour of Sunshine or Daylight

Lack of sunlight exposure can cause your body to be depleted of vitamin D, which is known for its mood-enhancing properties. It also encourages the secretion of the hormone melatonin, which plays an important role in your sleep-wake cycles or circadian rhythms. Excessive melatonin production can trigger melancholy and encourage fatigue.

Melatonin is produced in darkness and lowers your body temperature and creates lethargy. So, although you may feel like staying in bed keeping the covers drawn over your head and the curtains shut, this is actually counterproductive, and you would be better off getting up and walking outside in the morning light.

This is one of the primary reasons why so many more people suffer from depression during winter than in any other season. It is due to the reduced daylight hours and longer nights.

Make the effort to get enough sunlight during the day as often as you can by having lunch in the park, going for a walk during your lunch break, or riding your bike to work if it’s safe and your trip to work entails minimal traffic and smog.

3. Find Inspiration or a Purposeful Activity, and Get Busy

Find something that is meaningful to you and that you are passionate about. Actively pursue this activity, whether it be spiritual, career related, a hobby, or a project you are working on. Find inspiration in what you do. If you are really busy pursuing a worthwhile goal or activity, you won’t even have the time to notice the depression and will be more likely to conquer any feelings of depression or mood conditions.

Alternatively, find a simple activity that you love. It doesn’t need to be an expensive pastime or hobby. It could be as simple as reading your favorite books, watching comedy movies, playing sports, or spending time in nature. Nature can be very soothing and can also provide the perfect environment for reflection and introspection.

4. Take Time Out to Rest and Relax

This is very important. Take time out for yourself. Go for a walk in the park. Have a massage, or jump into a hot bubble bath with your favorite book and some soothing music. Take a day off where you do not check your diary or e-mail and just have fun, completely removed from your work. Meditation and light physical activities, such as yoga or Tai Chi, are extremely beneficial and are also effective at alleviating mild depression.

5. Create a Healthy Social Life

Spend time developing friendships. Your friends are there for moral support, love, and fun. Participate in quality activities with them such as dancing, sports, book clubs, or a discussion group. There is nothing like the feeling of knowing that your friends are there supporting you.

6. Develop Intimate Relationships

Form close bonds with your friends and family. All humans have an innate need for touch. The love and warmth we feel when we give and receive hugs, kisses, massages, and embraces from people we care about nourishes the body, mind, heart, and soul. It feels so good to be openly loved and cared for and to express the same in return. Perhaps this is one reason why feeling loved has been shown to reduce heart disease and recovery time in heart disease patients, with scientists documenting the benefits of loving relationships on heart health and general well-being.

7. Remain Positive and Keep an Open Mind

Finally, stay as positive as you can, and keep a firm belief that you can achieve what you set out to do. Do an analysis of your achievements, strengths, and weaknesses, then set some realistic short-term goals and get to work on them. If you do this, despite any difficulties or challenges that may arise, you will see it through with a joyous attitude and happy disposition, and you should effectively come out to conquer your depression.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit http://selfgrowth.com/healthbook3.html

Author's Bio: 

Connie Maranca is a qualified massage therapist, currently pursuing studies in psychology and counseling. To find out more about her books and articles and information relating to health, well-being, and her personal experiences with depression, please visit http://www.beatingyourdepression.com and sign up for a free e-mini-course Beating Depression and Loving the Life You Live. To contact Connie directly, please e-mail her at beatdepression@gmail.com.