Coping with Depression in Your Twenties

Depression will potentially affect most of us at some point in our life. For twenty-somethings the susceptibility for developing depression is remarkably high.

La Jolla beach, San Diego by Rhymes&Oils | Artist

Twenty-somethings go through many psychosocial and biological experiences that make them especially vulnerable to depression. Depression is commonly triggered by loss and your twenties can be filled with potential loss: losing a job, not getting into the university or apprenticeship you hoped for, breaking up with a significant other, realising your dream career may not work out immediately, and shifting (potentially losing) friends. Your twenties are an abstract time that can commonly leave people feeling powerless to the changes going on in life.

Starting university as well as graduating from university are both extremely stressful — they are overwhelming transitional changes. You go from being taken care of and relying on adults to becoming your own advocates and caretakers. Thus, self-care unequivocally becomes of utmost importance.

What’s important to understand, is that depression is ultimately caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and for many of us, depression will simply not disappear one day; you must develop coping mechanisms to adjust to stressful or melancholy times, to alleviate your pain and suffering.

The use of effective coping skills can often help improve mental and emotional well-being. People who are able to adjust to stressful or traumatic situations (and the lasting impact these incidents may have) through productive coping mechanisms may be less likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns as a result of painful or challenging events. As with anything in life, you need to discover what works best for you, as depression varies from person to person. Among some helpful strategies and coping mechanisms are:

Controlling irrational thought

Learning to recognise irrational thoughts is critical in fighting depression and trying to return to a healthy state of mind. Recognising irrational thoughts that are caused by depression is a good way to dismiss them instead of accepting them as fact. Some good warning signs of irrational thoughts are when you find yourself using absolute terms like: never, no one, always, only, every, etc. For example, “No one likes me,” and “I’m never going to get it right.” Also, one should be wary of any self-degrading thoughts such as, “I’m a bad person.” Those kind of thoughts are almost always irrational.

Fighting irrational thoughts caused by depression may be a matter of countering them with positive thoughts, avoiding thinking entirely, or trying to pinpoint and resolve the source of those thoughts.

Talking therapy

The term ‘talking therapy’ covers all the psychological therapies that involve a person talking to a therapist about their problems. For some problems and conditions, one type of talking therapy may be better than another. Different talking therapies also suit different people, helping them to overcome a range of problems, from depression to stress.

Some types of therapy teach practical techniques to reframe negative thinking and change behaviours. The most effective therapies are those that are ‘solution-focussed’; that is they seek to alleviate suffering and teach skills which can prevent future relapse. The best combination for the treatment of depression is a combination of cognitive therapy, behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy.

Awaken your five senses

We ingest the world around us through our five senses. During depression, your senses can become dull, perhaps to the point of taking in very little around you. Research has noted that our moods are affected most by what we take in through our senses. What we smell, hear, see, feel, and taste are processed neurobiologically, but emotionally as well. You can instantly change your neurochemistry by just feeding your five senses.

Simple changes to your environment such: as opening the blinds and window, lighting candles or incense, keeping a vase of fresh flowers in your room, or listening to meaningful sounds or audiobooks; learning to feel the softness of a warm blanket, the warmth of a cup of tea as it rolls down your throat, the delicate crush of the rain as it falls on your face.

Vitamin deficiency

Vitamin deficiencies can often affect our mental health. Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B12 and other B vitamins may be linked to depression. Taking a daily supplement that includes vitamin B12 may help your body get the nutrients it needs, especially if you’re vegetarian. Recent research has presented us with findings of vitamin D deficiency amongst British Asian families. Lack of vitamin D is often linked to depression.

Meditation

Meditation is perhaps the most powerful hack most of us don’t use. Meditation brings you out of fight or flight by activating the body’s natural relaxation response. The length of your practice isn’t as important as the frequency; you’re far more likely to experience the many benefits if you meditate for five to ten minutes a day. You could download a meditation app such as Headspace or Calm, or choose to sit on the floor in silence for ten minutes with your eyes closed and a timer to awaken you. Meditating before bed yields a better quality of sleep.

Exercise

Exercise is a powerful weapon against the blues. In the short term, it can elevate mood when you’re feeling down. Long term, it can knock out milder forms of clinical depression. This is one is ultimately a catch 22, being sedentary and depressed often go hand in hand and it’s difficult to break the physically crippling cycle you find yourself trapped in.

Exercise engages neurones in the brain, just as it engages muscles in the body. This raises the brain’s stress threshold. People who exercise regularly don’t respond as dramatically to stress as non-exercisers do. Their heart rate doesn’t shoot up as high, and their mood doesn’t sink as low. Even a 15-minute walk can clear your mind and relax.

Drink more water and eat healthily

Your brain, like other organs, responds to what you eat and drink. It needs several vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to stay healthy. If you deprive your brain of these essential nutrients, it can’t function properly. This can raise your risk of mental health problems. One important nutrient for your brain is water. It makes up the majority of your brain mass. Even mild dehydration can lead to mental health symptoms, such as irritability and loss of concentration. Avoid processed foods, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, foods high in sodium or oil, alcohol and caffeine.

Healthy gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an essential role in the production of serotonin and low serotonin levels are associated with an increased depression risk. Researchers are not entirely sure how gut bacteria influence our moods, but they’re pretty sure that the vagus nerve (a nerve-line which sends information from the gut to the brain) serves as one key pathway of influence.

Gut bacteria imbalances can damage your mental health. Eating probiotic yoghurt twice daily for a month changes your brain’s response to threatening stimuli and induces structural changes in the cortex — dampening reactivity within areas of the brain that cause emotional spikes in response to bodily sensations.

Keep a pet

Keeping a pet lends you a strong sense of routine, something many of us experiencing mental health difficulties often let slip as we get depressed and lethargic or anxious and distracted. The simple act of stroking a pet is well known to lower blood pressure, reducing physical as well as emotional stress. Watching fish is known to reduce stress (think of all the tanks in waiting rooms).

Medical science investigating the effects of pets on people show that we live longer and healthier lives when living with pets. We have lower cholesterol as well as reduced anxiety and apparently, we make fewer trips to our GP and respond better to medical treatment too.

My mental health has improved substantially since having a pet and find it very comforting having some company around which isn’t human, which is what I need at times. Like when I feel lonely and think no-one understands me I know deep down that my cat loves me unconditionally, which is all I need. Also, having the responsibility of looking after someone else takes my mind off my own troubles. In all honesty, ditching my anti-depressants for a cat, two years ago, was the best decision I ever made.

Do something creative every day

Engaging in creative activity on a daily basis creates an upward spiral of positivity in various aspects of your life. You don’t need to devote long hours to reap the benefits of creativity — simply spending at least 30 minutes a day is all it takes. You could spend that time to: escape into an adult colouring book, cook a meal and dance in your kitchen, learn to play an instrument, doodle, or take photographs.

Disconnect from social media

And finally, take a break from social media.

Steve Bartlett, Co-Founder of Social Chain

Just remember that…

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