Be proactive in your fight against the blues

You’ve had a rough day, you heard some sad news or you’re just in a funk. It’s normal to get the blues every once in a while. Having an occasional depressed day isn’t the same as the medical condition known as depression.

Depression is a serious psychological illness that affects millions of people. Characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, suicide, worthlessness, fatigue and a loss of interest in what was once enjoyable, depression can interfere with your work, family life, sleep and eating habits.

Sadly, many depressed people never seek help. They try to hide it, pretend it’s not there or try to fix it themselves. Some people turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope. Don’t be one of these people. If you’ve been experiencing blue days more than sunny, seek professional help. There’s effective treatment available. Here’s how to beat depression.

Antidepressant medication is prescribed commonly for those suffering with depression. These drugs work to regulate serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine – the brain chemicals responsible for your mood. Depending on your age, the severity of your symptoms and what type of symptoms you’re experiencing, your physician will determine which type of medication is right for you.

It may take a few weeks before you notice results from the medication, so don’t quit taking it if you don’t have immediate results. Also, many people make the mistake of stopping antidepressant medication when they start to feel better. This sets you up for a relapse. Only stop your medication under the direction of your doctor and be sure to follow instructions on how to stop, as you usually have to wean yourself slowly off the medication for best results.

Report negative side effects to your doctor. Your dosage may need to be adjusted or you may need to switch to another medication.

“Human bodies are designed for regular physical activity. The sedentary nature of much of modern life probably plays a significant role in the epidemic incidence of depression today. Many studies show that depressed patients who stick to a regimen of aerobic exercise improve as much as those treated with medication.” – Andrew Weil

The second most common treatment for depression is psychotherapy or therapy for your mind. By working with a professional counselor, you’ll learn new ways to train your mind to think positively (cognitive therapy), new patterns of behaviour (behavioural therapy), and what triggers your depression (interpersonal therapy). Sometimes these three types of psychotherapy are all that a depressed individual needs to relieve depression. Others benefit from combining medication and psychotherapy.

Before you spend money on medication or counseling, you may want to try plain old exercise. If you can find the energy, put on your athletic shoes and go jogging. Exercise does wonders for your body as well as your mind. As you exercise, blood is pumped to your brain, mood-boosting endorphins are release, and stress is relieved.

Studies have shown regular exercise (30 minutes, three times a week) may be just as beneficial for relieving depression as psychotherapy. Find an exercise you enjoy. An exercise partner may help keep you accountable and cheer you up as well.

Be wary of the claims of herbal remedies. St. John’s Wort is a popular herbal supplement for treating depression. However, studies have shown it’s no more effective at relieving depression than a placebo pill. Ginkgo Biloba is another supplement that claims to relieve depression. Studies have shown it to be more effective than St. John’s Wort, but more research is needed.

Since many herbs interact with prescription drugs, always check with your doctor before taking a new supplement.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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