Monday, September 19, 2011

For Writers: 8 Tips to Control Depression

Have you ever suffered through depression?

It is widely known that many famous writers (and for that matter, many creative types) have suffered from depression. Here is a small sampling: Hans Christian Anderson, Mark Twain, Robert Frost, Charles Dickens, Ralph Walso Emerson, James Barrie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Mary Shelley, Tennessee Williams,and Virginia Woolfe.

I myself have struggled with depression on and off throughout my life, and I think that it has a lot to do with having a very strong inner life. I think about things...almost too much. I worry, I analyze. Also, even though I am not shy and can appear very extroverted, at my very core I'm an introvert. That means that being alone gives me energy, while being around people too much can deplete me. Discovering this small fact about myself has been a watershed moment, and knowing I need time alone from time to time to recharge has helped me accept who I am, and thrive, as a writer, mom, wife, social worker, person.

Here are some tips I have picked up over the years to help you combat occasional depression:

1. Exercise every day Exercising for 20 minutes or more every day produces natural endorphins and immediately perks up your mood.

2. Pray or meditate Praying, meditating, practicing slow breathing--just 20 minutes a day can bring stress relief and boost your mood.

3. Get some sleep! Most Americans are chronically overtired, and when we are tired, we can feel overwhelmed or depressed. If you have to, power nap for twenty minutes or catch up on sleep during the weekends.

4. Get daily sunlight. Some people get seasonal depression, also known as S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) due to lack of sunlight in the winter months. This is expecially my problem, when, living in an area that gets tons of fog in the winter, I can feel moody from lack of sunlight. Exercise can help combat this, and if you are really sensitive to the lack of sunlight, getting a sun lamp can help.

5. Make sure you are getting enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids and B complex. Apparently, most Americans don't get enough of our Omega 3s. Omega 3-Fatty Acids are found in such foods such as salmon and flax seed. There have been blind studies in which depressed people were fed so many ounces of salmon each day, and it helped their depression as much as people taking anti-depressants! I take flax-seed oil capsules every day (it's great for your skin, too), and try to feed my family salmon at least once a week. You can also buy ground flax seed at Costco, and use it in baking, in place of eggs or oil.

6. Talk to someone. Writers can spend an entire day sitting in front of their computer, and this can lead to periods of isolation and lonliness. Sometimes Twitter can help, oftentimes picking up the phone and calling someone can help, and other times, we just need to step away from the computer and have lunch with a friend. Everyone has their balance of how much time alone (and with our characters!) we really need.

7. Get help. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, or you are not able to take care of your basic needs, you might need to go to the next level and see your doctor. Maybe counseling might help. I know that when I had a really bad case of postpartum depression after my third child, it was a few months of counseling with a caring psychologist which really helped me get back on track. Now, if I'm having a bad day, I run through this checklist, and make sure I am doing everything I need to do. Chances are, if I'm feeling bad, it's because I am neglecting one of the checkpoints.

8. Celebrate who you are. If you do get depression from time to time, revel in the fact that we are in really good company! Being creative means that we feel more, see the world more vibrantly, and are more sensitive. It's a gift, but one that needs to be nurtured and cared for.


Lora R. Rivera said...

Kara, these are great tips. I struggle with depression too from time to time, and have used many of these techniques, especially exercise, daily sunlight, and meditation.

Can you really use ground flax as an egg substitute?? That's awesome. Will definitely try it. I know I don't get enough Omega-3. Imagine: salmon doesn't grow naturally in the desert ;)

Important post!

Kara said...

Lora--yes! You can really use grounf flax as an egg substitute! My friend made me the muffins to prove it, and they were really good. Take flax oil supplements every day, though--it works as well as salmon. ;) They are like happy pills!