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Overcoming depression and anxiety

06 Jan 2015 | Lucy Roberts

Lucy Roberts discovered practical ways to help overcome her depression and anxiety problems. Now she's working with Action for Happiness to help others do the same...

Depressed Girl

I've had a long personal struggle with depression and anxiety. I started working at Action for Happiness because it was the only organisation I could find promoting the strategies I had used to overcome my own problems.

So, I thought it might be helpful to write a short article explaining some of the ways that our Ten Keys to Happier Living have helped me, in the hope that this might help others too. This is just a personal account. We are each individuals, and what helps one person might not help the next.

Above all I suggest trying a range of creative approaches and tailoring ideas to fit you personally, until you find a combination that works. And don't give up. Depression is an illness with a gradual recovery that can often strike more than once in our lives. I often think it's just about perseverance and acknowledging every little triumph, no matter how small, as big progress.

I also want to really underline that there is no shame in depression and anxiety. It's just an illness like any other - and people aren't ashamed of having cancer or diabetes. Rather, be proud of your continued battle to overcome it.

I still have to put a lot of time in to maintaining feeling ok. I go to therapy groups and have built a large support network which I use regularly. And I try to still do all the things I've listed below. I'm proud of my achievements.

Ten Keys for overcoming depression and anxiety

I personally found focusing on depression could be depressing in itself, which is why I much prefer to focus on happiness. I love Positive Psychology as it looks at what makes things go right, as opposed to what makes things go wrong.

Most of the strategies I've used are covered in our Ten Keys to Happier Living, which you can read more about in this free guidebook. I'll now explain a bit about what I've done around each key:

  • GIVING (Do things for others). I've found it really helpful to focus on other people and the world outside me as much as possible.  My 'self' is where my depression lives, so I try to spend my 'mental time' elsewhere. Doing good for others also activates the 'reward centres' in our brains which makes the giver feel good too. I find giving presents feels better than receiving them, don't you?
  • RELATING (Connect with people). Having good positive people around me, and connecting to new, good people has probably had the single biggest impact on my depression. I've met some great people through support groups and volunteering my free time. Depression is a disease of isolation.  I try to push myself to avoid this.
  • EXERCISING (Take care of your body). This can be really hard when all you want to do is stay in bed, but it's definitely worth it for the endorphins. Even a short walk to the shop can help, especially if you chat to the shopkeeper when you get there.
  • APPRECIATING (Notice the world around). This is about noticing what's going on around me and all the good things about the world. A practice like Mindfulness really helps here. I would recommend trying Headspace (which has a free 10-day introductory program) or Mark Williams' 3-minute breathing space? Both are great places to start.
  • TRYING OUT (Keep learning new things). Again this helps us enjoy the world around us, and boost our confidence in all the different things we are capable of doing and enjoying.  It helped me get out of the ruts I get stuck in, particularly when I realised that learning is all about making mistakes, and these don't matter so long as you try.

  Resilience 400     Emotion 400

  • DIRECTION (Have goals to look forward to). Goals really help, but so does breaking them up in to small steps so they are small and manageable.  When I was really depressed my one goal for the day would be to get out of the house at one point and go to the shop to buy some milk or whatever.  If I accomplished this goal I felt I had accomplished something that day.
  • RESILIENCE (Find ways to bounce back). Did you know that some people actually grow from traumatic experiences?  It's called "post traumatic growth" and depends on how the person is wired to process stress.  I worked on rewiring myself here with some good CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), which you should be able to access through your GP if you haven't already. Also, not all therapies work for all people, and nor do all therapists. If you don't find CBT helpful, try another type of therapy (there are lots) and if you don't like your therapist, it might be just a personality thing, so look in to finding a new one. A prescription for anti-depressants can also be helpful, especially in the short term, while you wait for the benefits of the other strategies to kick in.
  • EMOTION (Take a positive approach). Again CBT works well here, as it helps us focus more on the positive, and realise that many of the things we think are very negative really aren't that important in the grand scheme. Another great way to train your brain is to write a gratitude list of 3 good things that happened each day before you go to bed, then read it again when you wake up in the morning.
  • ACCEPTANCE (Be comfortable with who you are). I've found it really important to accept myself as I am, and stop comparing myself to other people's "outsides"  We all have our own strengths, and I find it's important that I appreciate what I do have to offer.  If you wanted to discover what your strengths are, you could find them by completing this VIA Strengths Survey, which I found really helpful.
  • MEANING (Be part of something bigger). I think it's so important to find some meaning and purpose in life.  I asked myself the questions: "What do I believe in" (my answers were things like kindness, honesty, love) "What do I have to offer the world" (The strengths quiz helped with this, I found I am playful, creative, and know a bit about overcoming depression) so then I decided to be part of something bigger by using these skills in my work.  Of course it doesn't have to be your work, it can be a hobby, or some quiet time taken alone to connect with the world at large.... but I've found something in this area really helps me get a sense of purpose and enjoyment out of being alive.

Also, here are a few books that I've found to be great for helping overcome depression:

Exploring What Matters

A final thing you could do is join one of our local Action for Happiness Groups or Courses. This is the strand of our work that I look after and I really believe in them. If you want to join one of these, please email me at: lucy.roberts@actionforhappiness.org, and I can tell you the group or course nearest to you.

Although our groups and courses are not targeted specifically at people with depression and anxiety, they are a great way to meet positive, likeminded people locally and put in some action towards creating a happier world, which can only make you feel good after all.

I really hope that helps. I know how difficult it is to do anything when you're depressed. So maybe try one or two of the ideas that look easier to start with. I really think the trick is to keep trying as the benefits are cumulative and build up over time.

Good luck in your journey,

Lucy

Things Will Get Better

 

Lucy Roberts has been working with Action for Happiness since December 2011. She looks after our local groups and supports people who want to run the  Action for Happiness course

Lucy Roberts 2

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Useful Books

Here are two great books that can help if you're feeling unhappy or depressed:

Mindfulness Book   Pp For Overcoming Depression Book

Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world - by Mark Williams

Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression - by Miriam Akhtar

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