Depression is a chronic disease, meaning that it is persistent, and repeated episodes can occur over time. But it’s also a manageable disease. As is the case with other chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma, treatment focuses on taking daily steps to lessen the severity of symptoms and prevent the recurrence of troublesome episodes.
RELYING ON THE EXPERTS
Managing depression requires a treatment plan, and a team of experts to put that plan to work. Who are the experts on your treatment team? To begin with, you’ll be relying on your physician or health care provider to assess your situation, prescribe medication and/or other treatment options, and to monitor your progress along the way.
Family members and friends may offer unique “expertise” as well. You’ll want to identify those in your circle who you know will be able to provide the “sounding board” you’ll need, offering support and encouragement, listening objectively without judging, and, when necessary, challenging your negative thinking. Whom you choose to include in your support system is your decision. While the process of building and relying upon an active support system is not always easy, it is an important component of your treatment plan.
But there’s one more expert to consider, without whose participation your treatment plan cannot succeed. That expert is you. Only you know how your depression feels, and only you will know whether or not your symptoms are in check. You are also the expert when it comes to self-care, the process of forming healthy habits and making positive changes to your daily routine in order to improve your emotional and physical health.
WHY ISN’T MEDICATION ENOUGH?
Self-care is critical to living successfully with depression or any chronic illness. Unlike some ailments that can be resolved simply by “taking your medicine,” illnesses like depression require making lifestyle changes as well. That’s because the mind, the body and the environment impact each other constantly, in countless ways. Focusing solely on “treating your brain”, without concern for your overall physical condition or your surroundings, will yield only limited results.
YOUR SELF CARE PORTFOLIO
The steps you take and the decisions you make in every aspect of your daily life – nutrition, sleep, exercise, relaxation, even a hobby or a friendship – will help determine how well your depression responds to treatment. Key components of self-care include:
- Educate yourself– learn the facts about your diagnosis and your treatment plan.
- Sleep – take steps to develop healthier sleep habits.
- Exercise – physical activity is a critical component to emotional wellness. Learn how to develop an exercise program that’s right for you.
- Nutrition – learn more about good nutrition and develop your own healthy eating plan.
- Sticking to your plan – do what it takes to follow your treatment plan.
- Managing stress – learn to identify the signs of stress and find out about the many different techniques you can try to manage it.
- Positive self-talk – learn how to recognize negative or unproductive thought patterns and turn them around.
- Journaling – learn the benefits of writing down your thoughts and feelings, and how to get started keeping a journal.
- Spirituality – find out what’s involved in developing your own spiritual practice, and why many people find it helpful.
- Support systems– think about the role other people play in your recovery, and what you can do to build a strong support system.
- Coping at work – develop strategies for staying healthy and productive on the job.
- Setting goals – understand the importance of setting goals and learn how to make goal-setting work for you.