Posted by Michael Finkelstein | December 11th, 2015
3 Practical Steps to Healing from Depression
Right now, you can take three steps to start healing from depression: Find people who can help, eat more wholesome food, and move your body outdoors in the sunlight. In this 5 minute video, Dr. Michael guides you through all these steps and provides you with helpful resources
I am a nutritionist (based in Boulder, CO, specializing in the Mediterranean diet and mindful cooking/eating) and have been following your work with great interest for some time. (Also just bought your book and look forward to reading it.)
Many of my clients struggle to some degree with depression. I just watched your video I agree wholeheartedly with your recommendations. However, when someone is stuck in deep depression, they often can’t bring themselves to (a) reach out to others, (b) prepare wholesome food and (c) move outdoors. It seems to require a minimum of mental health to recognize that these are important self-caring behaviors and to engage in them. (Btw, I’d throw “sleep” into the mix as another important healing behavior — but again, something that eludes many people suffering form depression.)
How can a depressed person find the hope, energy and self-love needed to engage in those behaviors? Is there a way I, as a supportive, caring health practitioner, can help them do this?
Thank you for your wonderful work!
First I want to honor the care you have for your clients. It’s through the care and guidance of people like you, that those struggling with depression can get some of the critical support they need.
You are right, when people are in a deep state of depression, they may struggle with doing the basic steps one needs to extract oneself from such a state. Pharmaceuticals are often a good tool for becoming functional enough that one can begin to employ the self-care strategies that can, in and of themselves over time, begin to heal the depressive state. While I do not recommend the ongoing use of pharmaceuticals, except in the more extreme cases, they may be very helpful in the short run.
In addition, I would break down various self-care steps into the most basic and easily-accomplished sub-steps.
For example, someone may feel too depressed to go for a 20 minute walk outdoors. So she can start off with a 5 minute walk, or even a walk down the block and back. Or, at the very least, step outside and stand there, or sit there, for a few minutes, just to get some light and fresh air. Or, in a more extreme case, simply open the blinds and window in the bedroom, to let in some sunshine and fresh air while lying in bed.
I know of a case where someone living with fibromyalgia hoisted herself out of bed by making a daily goal of standing up for 30 seconds. It seems inconsequential, right? Well, over time, as she successfully stood near her bed for 30 seconds, that goal became one minute. Then 90 seconds. And so on, over the course of months, until she regained the ability to move her body again. Every step in the right direction is an important one.
Similarly, as you noted, someone may be too depressed to prepare nourishing meals or even to go to the supermarket, to pick up ready-made meals. In this case, he can order online – which has become increasingly common at supermarkets. Or he can pick up the phone and order from a restaurant that serves healthy meal options. Again, the food may not be the freshest or purest, but it can be a step in the right direction: Instead of not eating at all, or eating comfort foods like ice cream and potato chips, for example, he can order Thai coconut mushroom soup, Italian grilled fish, Indian vegetable curry, and other hearty meal options, at restaurants in his area. You could even vet out some of the healthier restaurants in the vicinity, and have at your office some take-out menus, to help make the selecting and ordering process easier for clients.
Wherever possible, it is essential for those suffering from depression to get the support of caring individuals – whether friends, family, or community members. If there are local support groups or spiritual groups you know of – especially with members who volunteer to help those in need – you can help out by providing your clients with the names and contact information of these resources. You also can help your clients set very basic goals, like calling one person a week, and you can help your clients determine who would be the most loving, supportive, and responsive person to call each week.
Above and beyond the practicalities of these strategies, keep in mind that by showing you care, by sharing helpful information, and by otherwise just holding a loving and compassionate space, you are contributing to someone’s ability to heal. You are helping tone down the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is a start. Be gentle with yourself. Depression can be an engulfing force. Sometimes, as individuals, we can’t always “save” someone else on our own. We need the suffering person’s willingness, and we need reinforcement from the community around us.
Again, I honor your care, and I bless you on your path. Please let me know if I may provide you with additional guidance.