Depression is probably the most common co-occurring disorder addicts present with. Unsurprisingly, addicts frequently feel demoralized and hopeless about their lives and health. Altered brain chemistry exacerbates these feelings and often leads to depression. The following suggestions, however, go a long way towards relieving the symptoms of depression.
• Exercise – It feels overwhelming just to get out of bed, so how are you supposed to exercise? I’m not suggesting that you run a marathon or spend an hour lifting weights at the gym. Simply going up and down the stairs in your house two or three times can help lift your spirit. Taking the dog for a walk, even if it’s only two blocks, will help you much more than just opening the door to the back yard to let the dog out. Anything you can do to get your body moving will help release serotonin, one of the brain’s “feel good” chemicals. Remember, it’s hard for a body in motion to be depressed.
• Be Realistic about Your Goals and Make Lists – When you review your day and see that you have crossed things off your list you will feel much better about yourself. Small goals are best for the short term. You are looking for “little wins.” Many people who are depressed will think about long lists of chores and tasks they are not accomplishing and become overwhelmed. That kind of thinking is a setup for failure. Instead, tell yourself, “I will feed the cat.” A small goal like that is do-able. If you want to get back on the couch after you’ve fed the cat, that’s fine – but you did it, and that small success will lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed.
• Light and Grounding – Those suffering from depression often want to lie down and sleep in a darkened room. Both darkness and lying down can make your depression symptoms worse. Darkness breeds gloom. There are studies about seasonal depression that show that even artificial light can cheer a person. Open the curtains and turn on the lights, even if you don’t want to. Make sure you spend some time outside every day. Fifteen minutes outside in the sun every day can do wonders for you.
Additionally, sitting upright or standing with your feet firmly on the ground helps to “ground” you in the here and now. The thoughts that are weighing you down likely have little or nothing to do with your situation in this exact moment. Lying down allows your fantasies and sadness to run wild. Grounding yourself physically will help remind you that in this instant, you are okay, allowing some of the sadness to pass.
• Seek Help – If you are feeling so depressed that you have withdrawn from your daily activities, it’s time to get professional help. If your depression is coupled with drug or alcohol use or abuse, you may need the support of a treatment center. Whether you choose inpatient or outpatient support, be certain that you have found a professional or center that specializes in depression treatment and/or co-occurring disorders. Make sure that you will be working with a therapist who has experience with both depression and addiction. The work you do now can set the foundation for a successful recovery.