5 Things Everyone Can Do To Prevent Or Diminish Depression
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
In this article, I will give you five easy-to-do, inexpensive, and natural suggestions that have been shown to prevent or diminish depression.
Estimates show that about 25% of Europeans suffer from depression and anxiety, that up to 50% of chronic sick leaves are due to depression and anxiety, and that about 50% of major depressions go untreated. The cost of mood orders (to which depression counts) costs the EU 179 billion Euros every year (1).
You do not have to classify as suffering from major depression to benefit from the suggestion below, though. I see mental health as a continuum from not functioning at all to functioning very well. The recommendations are supposed to move you towards "functioning very well", no matter where at the continuum you are at right now.
Not functioning at all --------------------------------------> functioning very well
1. Being in the present moment/mindfulness/meditation
Depression (as well as anxiety and other conditions) is associated with negative thoughts. Trying to stop or ban these negative thoughts from occurring does not help and, in many cases, even makes the situation worse. What does help though, is to bring the thoughts to the present moment - and stop thinking about the past and possible futures (2).
Being in the present moment is what mindfulness and meditation are all about. And practising meditation and/or mindfulness gives a relieve from negative thoughts not just during the practice but also in general, especially when practised regularly.
There are many ways to start: search for a meditation online, join a group or a course, or simply put a timer for perhaps 5 minutes (you can increase that as you get more used to it) and allow any thoughts that come to mind to just pass by (if you would like to know how I meditate, check out my article The Simplest Way to Meditate).
2 Physical Activity/Exercising
Physical activity is good for our physical and mental health. Estimates show that physical inactivity is the primary cause of 23% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes, and 30% of ischaemic heart disease. This makes it the leading risk factor of 10% of all deaths worldwide (3).
The preventive effect of physical activity against mental disorders has been shown by various studies (4-7).
What matters when it comes to physical activity is not the type but the intensity and frequency. Moderate to vigorous physical activity (meaning increased breathing, at least light sweating) has been shown to be most protective.
So, pick a physical activity that you could make a habit and that corresponds to your abilities. That could be cycling, going for a walk in nature, dancing, or yoga. By the way, doing this with friends and/or in nature can be extra beneficial (I write about that in another article).
3 Gratitude Journal
Gratitude has been shown to have significant effects on depression by positively influencing self-esteem and well-being (8). There are certainly many ways to express gratitude, I want to focus on one in particular: Writing a gratitude journal.
A gratitude journal is a sort of diary in which you write what you are grateful for. Most of the time, it is recommended to write daily, for example, every evening. Expressing gratitude through (hand) writing has been shown to increase happiness and life satisfaction as well as decrease depressive symptoms (9).
My partner and I do this on a daily basis but with a little twist: We write down what we are grateful for in the other person. By this, we get the benefits of expressing gratefulness as well as reading what the other appreciates us for (this has also been backed by science (10)).
I wrote above that self-esteem is related to depressive symptoms. Actually, low self-esteem has been shown to be a risk factor for depression (11). Practising self-love, which is closely associated with self-esteem, can take many forms: Positive self-talk, affirmations, taking yourself on a date, complimenting yourself for what you have achieved… basically everything you would do for a loved one 😊
If you do not know where to start, affirmations can be a good start. You could take some time every morning to stand in front of the mirror to compliment yourself with things like “I love myself”, “I am proud of myself”, “I am loveable”, etc. If that feels too strong or weird, say “it’s okay for me to…” instead (for example, “It’s okay for me to love myself”).
Another example is to make a list of all the small (or even big) things you do or would do for a loved one. Then, ask yourself whether you do these things for/with yourself as well? And if not or not all of them, start introducing some into your daily life. Treat yourself like a loved one.
Many of the suggestions above rely on repetitive or habitual practice and that is what I want to address again. To see a true difference, it is not enough taking the recommended actions once or twice, they have to start forming part of daily life and to achieve that it is easiest to build them into routines (instead of relying on willpower). Perhaps you already have a morning routine. If not, it could be a great idea to combine several or all of the above to your healthy morning routine. If you already have a morning routine, perhaps you can add another piece to it or think of an evening routine (which can also lead to much better sleep – which also has an effect on mood).
I myself just started a new morning routine consisting of the following:
Exercises (posture exercises, 5-min plank, Ido Portal’s Squat Clinic 2.0)
Affirmations (a practice of affirming self-love)
Journaling (to free my mind)
Reading (only non-work-related books allowed)