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12 Ways to Fight Depression in Recovery

They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad

T-Bone Walker

Life is so much better. Why do I feel so bad?

So, you did it. You made the decision, took some action, and got sober. You feel better: more clear, healthier, and best of all, darned proud of yourself for staying clean. Things are going downright swimmingly. Then, out of nowhere it shows back up: that old familiar dark and depressed mood.

Even in recovery, we can experience the blues.* Why? Because we are still human and can have bad days. Life will always have its challenges, even when we are in recovery. Habitual patterns of thought do not disappear just because we are sober. It takes time for our minds and bodies to heal after years of abuse. Once more, if we are in recovery from addiction, we can’t turn to drugs and alcohol to (seemingly) ease the pain. It can seem like there is nowhere to turn for relief. But take heart. There are things you can do to feel better.

1. Exercise

If you are feeling down and out you probably don’t feel like doing anything, especially exercise. You don’t have to lift weights or swim a mile to fight the blues. If you just walk up and down the steps a few times in the day you will feel better. Exercise releases endorphins, which make us feel good and lower pain. So get on out there and move that body. Walk the dog. Walk the cat. Wash the car. Hop up and down. Any amount of exercise will elevate your mood.

2. Eat Right

Yeah. Yeah. We all know we are supposed to eat healthy foods. It can seem especially hard when we are feeling down. When some people are depressed they can’t stop eating and others can’t eat at all. If you have the blues try to never skip meals. Fluctuations in blood sugar can mean fluctuations in mood. Also, try to avoid certain things like sugar, processed food, fried food, salty food and caffeine. All of these foods play havoc with insulin levels and neurological systems. Unfortunately, these are usually comfort foods that we reach for first. Why do we crave chocolate when it is probably one of the worst foods we can eat when we are blue? It is one of life’s many mysteries.

3. Get Enough Sleep (But Not Too Much)

Sleeplessness can make depression worse. Try to keep to a schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time every day. Get up at the same time every day. Make new rules. No Instagram, Facebook or Netflix in the bedroom so you are not tempted to stay up too late looking at pictures of people who are happier (not necessarily true) and more successful (also probably not true).

On the other hand, staying in bed too much just feeds the depression. Your mind can get stuck in the negative thought patterns when you lie in bed. The guilt of not doing what you are supposed to be doing right now probably won’t help either. Force yourself to do what you don’t want to do. Get up. Get dressed. Go outside if you can. It is harder to stay in your head if you are moving around.

4. Lighten Up

We want to close all the curtains and hibernate when we feel downhearted. Unfortunately, staying in darkness makes us feel worse, not better. People who live where there is little sun can get seasonal depression. So can you, if you keep the curtains drawn all the time. Even having an artificial light will elevate your mood. Sunlight is even better. It triggers parts of the retina, which tell the brain to release more serotonin. Serotonin makes us feel happy, more contented and energetic. So, open those drapes, turn on the lights or, even better, get in the sunlight. You’ll “lighten up.”

5. Nature Nurture

Recent research states that spending time in outdoor green spaces can reduce the symptoms of depression. Spending time among trees lowers stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate. So get outside, take a deep breath and hug a tree…or just sit under one. You’ll feel better and so will the tree.

6. Establish a Routine

Depression can put us in a rut. The days just flow into one another and have no meaning. If we have a daily routine it compartmentalizes our day and makes us feel more useful. Even if you are depressed you can get up at a specific time, get dressed, go for a walk, go to the market. Got to a twelve-step meeting once or even more times per day. Many people find that a daily meeting keeps them feeling strong and happy. Having a set schedule makes us feel like we are in the flow of life.

7. Make Realistic Lists

Depression can make us feel overwhelmed. The list of things that need to be done can be so scary that we don’t do any of them. Organizing tasks on a written list helps us stay focused. Start with a list of very small goals for the day. Maybe you can include “wash a load of clothes” or “walk the dog.” Get a big red marker and put a red check mark next to each task you complete. Each red checkmark can make you feel useful and grounded.

8. Make a Commitment

Volunteer to take responsibility for one task. Maybe you can make coffee at a meeting you attend. Or you could give someone a ride to school or work every day. Having a responsibility to someone else helps us get out and take action even if we don’t want to. Achieving the task makes us feel better about ourselves.

9. Try Something New

Depression can mean drudgery. Same old same old. Infuse some life into your life by trying something new. Maybe lunch at a new place. Maybe try painting a watercolor. Try anything to break up the monotony.

10. Meditate

It has been proven that meditation is good for…well…pretty much everything. It improves health, cognitive function, and emotional balance. Thirty minutes of meditation a day can completely turn your outlook on life around fairly quickly. With all of these benefits, why is it so darned hard to meditate? Life today is loud, both outside and within. How can we quiet our minds for even a minute when there is so much going on? Well, like many things that are new, start small. There are meditation apps that guide you through a 1-3 minute meditation. YouTube has many guided meditation videos you can listen to for free. If you don’t have access to technology and you want to meditate, close your eyes and say in your mind “Ah….” slowly and repeatedly for a few minutes. As with most things in life, with practice, meditation gets easier. Try it a few times. You may be pleasantly surprised.

11. You Do You

When our actions and words do not line up we can beat ourselves up. When we wear masks to be someone others will approve of, our true inner selves are minimized. When we protect ourselves by keeping our feelings hidden, we tell ourselves that our feelings don’t matter. Try to just be you for an hour or half a day. Say what is on your mind. Do something that you enjoy. Wear that kooky outfit you always liked. Spend some time being who you are instead of who you think you are supposed to be. Embrace your imperfection. Here is an amazing article about getting in touch with your authentic self:

12. Ask For Help

This is the one thing many of us hate to do. We feel that if we ask for help it means that we are weak. We don’t want to be vulnerable and open up to someone else. In truth, asking for help is a brave thing to do. Just taking the action to try to feel better will make you feel better. Talking about your feelings to a counselor, therapist, or closed-mouthed friend can release those pent-up emotions. However, just talking about the problem over and over may not help. Getting constructive, honest advice is what we need when we are depressed. A therapist or sponsor can help you see the situation from a different angle so you can gain a fresh perspective.

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To Sum It Up…

To sum it all up, depression or “the blues” can happen to anyone, even those of us who are in recovery. If you think you may have Major Depressive Disorder, please contact your doctor today. If you are in a sad mood, some constructive action can make a huge difference. When our mood goes dark we have a hard time seeing past it. The most important thing to remember is: You don’t have to drink or use illicit drugs to feel better.  If you can make it through the day sober, that is a victory. Do what you can to get out of your head and the relentless cycle of harmful thoughts. Remember, this too shall pass.

*Clinical depression is different than just feeling sad or down. If you experience a depressed mood and 5 or more of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, please call your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

  1. No pleasure
  2. Change in weight without dieting
  3. Sleeping too much or too little
  4. Moving your body more quickly or more slowly than usual
  5. Tiredness or fatigue nearly every day
  6. Excessive guilt or a feeling of uselessness
  7. Having a hard time concentrating or making decisions
  8. Thoughts of death or suicide

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12 Ways to Fight Depression in Recovery
Article Name
12 Ways to Fight Depression in Recovery
Learn how to cope with sadness and depression and still stay sober.
Publisher Name
Ventura Recovery Center
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