Well here we are in February. A year ago I wrote about January depression but I seem to have escaped that this year, possibly because I am practising Mindfulness, which I will write about in another post, but also because I am applying strategies that I write about in this post. While this post is about Early Warning Signs, I have learnt that by working on the strategies listed further down, the EWS are no longer a problem.
There was a time when, following a move and a new GP, I struggled with depression and would pay visits to the surgery in the hope that some help would be forthcoming. When I related my symptoms I was told that I was being super sensitive to my feelings and these had arisen because I was frightened of descending into previous illness that had resulted in hospitalisation. I often wondered if she had read my notes.
After attending a self-management course, I learnt that these thoughts, feelings and behaviour are important for they are our EWS (early warning signs). While these may differ between us, many are commonly experienced by sufferers.
If you are reading this because you suspect you are depressed I hope you will be heartened by the knowledge that all these feelings will pass but there are some things you can do to make yourself feel better in the meantime.
My trigger is usually a period of stress even if I think, at the time, that I am coping. Sometimes, I may have a fall, a sign my balance is off centre or that I am not concentrating. I may have been exceptionally busy with normal activities. Holidays and Christmas can cause this.
So what are my early warning signs of depression? First I begin to wake up tired rather than refreshed and find it difficult to get up. I am aware that something in my life is missing and that is the sense of joie de vivre, being able to enjoy simple activities and generally looking forward to what life has to offer. Over a few days I notice I am feeling overwhelmed with a range of daily activities that I would normally take in my stride. I begin to forget things and find it difficult to plan ahead. Time becomes short and I cannot fit in what needs to be done. Time drags but also seems to fly and leave little time to complete tasks. This causes some anxiety and I become aware of a few worries. These increase over a few days. I begin to worry about my worries. I worry about getting more worried. It is a vicious cycle.
My sleep is disturbed. Whereas my medication usually knocks me out, suddenly I either cannot get off to sleep or I wake with a start in the night and cannot get back to sleep. Early waking might happen a common symptom in depression. While I have previously been enjoying my food, I feel sick in the mornings and am uninterested in food. I may have difficulty swallowing, particularly where tablets are concerned.
As a writer, one sign my mood is dropping is that I stop writing or find it difficult to engage with a manuscript that previously had excited me. I begin to spend more time sitting on the sofa but achieving little. I get things out and do nothing with them, start to read an article but fail to finish. A number of half read papers start to pile up. By now the kitchen is untidy and my normal attention to cleanliness is notably absent. Dishes in the sink and cold cups of tea sit forgotten on the table, made before I wandered off to do something else, distracted. I am now feeling unsociable – after all I cannot ask anyone round to my messy house and I am reluctant to answer the phone or make arrangements to meet with friends. If one of my friends cannot meet up I may experience a feeling of relief.
Now none of the above is a serious warning sign on its own. As the peer specialist told us, ‘it is when several EWS are observed and they hang around.’ The key is being aware.
Luckily I now recognise these signs and rather than ignore them which my GP thought I should, I recognise that I need to take some action.
There are a few strategies which can bring you back on to a previous mood level before depression takes a more serious hold. Some cost money and others are there for free. For example, you may not have a computer but you can use them for free at the local library. The librarian will also help you and there are Adult Education courses for beginners which are free. You do not have to buy books to enjoy reading, you can use the library.
The following ideas are a mix but most cost nothing. You may not find them all helpful but some should suit where you find yourself at the moment. It might help to tick the ones you feel you could carry out at the moment and mark others for later attention. Perhaps colour code the strategies ie Green for go ie something to do NOW, orange for might do this soon, red for something you would find too difficult. Try to work out your own coding system. Here are strategies which have worked for me:
- Getting out for a walk, however short, in the fresh air and, hopefully, sunshine, will boost endorphins.
- Writing a mood diary and recording daily activities will get you writing. This also gives you something to read back on when you think you have not achieved much.
- Reading poetry takes less concentration and might help. Try humorous poetry.
- Setting achievable goals especially when tidying up neglected areas. Choose a few shelves or one file at a time. To plan to tidy the whole house is unattainable and will result in failure and increase your despondency.
- If you can find a reasonably priced therapist and can afford it, book a reflexology session for deep relaxation.
- Experiment with ‘tapping’ techniques. Tapping therapy or EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is explained on various websites along with videos. If you are unsure it would be worth paying for half an hour of therapy for a demonstration and help with setting intentions.
- Write a To Do list every day with achievable tasks. Keep it short and cross off those completed. This aids memory too.
- Phone or visit a member of your family.
- Try to speak to someone each day, perhaps a shop assistant.
- Smile at people you pass on the street. This has been proved to have the effect of receiving a smile in return which can make you feel good about yourself.
- Watch ‘happy’ television programmes and avoid the news which can increase anxiety.
- If reading is a problem, watch an interesting documentary dealing with a topical debate. Read a blog or website on a subject of interest. There are many blogs on improving mental health and reading these is easier than reading a book and you will engage with the writer and be able to comment. Try to post a small comment. A few words will do.
- Write down three positives for each day. These could include cooking a meal, phoning a friend or watching tv. A walk in the sun, sending an email to a friend or writing your diary also qualify.
- Take the pressure off yourself. Instead of berating yourself for not getting out of bed in the morning, give yourself permission to stay in bed for a short time. After all, your depression probably came about from being stressed and over busy so allow yourself to be lazy for a certain period of time. If it is a choice you will feel better. You will soon be getting up more smartly when you feel better.
- Accept you have an illness and that this phase is part of your illness. I was told this a year ago and found it liberating.
- Tell yourself that your brain worked hard and was overstimulated before this phase. Depression is often the brain’s way of ‘having a rest’. Let it rest and don’t fight it or force yourself to do things you find difficult at this time. Make a choice to rest your brain and keep occupied with physical activities that are possible at the moment. Sorting some photographs, or browsing magazines can keep you occupied. This is NOT giving in or being lazy. It is allowing your brain to recover.
- Listen to music or play an instrument.
- Do some stretching exercises each day. Practise yoga and feel the difference.
- Remember depression does pass. You will not always feel like this.
Some of the points above I have already written about on my blog eg the idea of writing down 3 positives each day.
Other points here will be expanded on in future posts.
NB this blog first appeared in January 2015 but has since been updated.