5 Small Ways to Help You Out of Depression (and backed by science!)

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In my Complicated Grieving post, I shared about my own depression. I believe the loss of a child is such a painful event that depression is almost impossible to avoid.

When we deal with depression and anxiety, the tips we receive are often the same; exercise, eat well, socialize, find activities, seek therapy. However, these suggestions are often easier said than done, and might not be realistic to all stages of depression.

At rock bottom of a depression, we can have all the good intentions in the world, but our body and our environment will not necessarily be ready or able to follow these recommendations. For example, how can I socialize while I am in so much pain, with such limited energy that it is impossible for me to be standing more than 5 minutes without being out of breath? That was my reality. How am I supposed to “eat well” when I am not hungry? You can cook me a delicious dinner, but if I feel nauseous, there is no point in trying to eat full meals.

A healthier approach is to give ourselves time and start with simple actions before moving on to the typical recommendations. In fact, “typical” measures might drain any energy we have left and make things worse.

A very depressed person can get completely discouraged or annoyed by this kind of advice. For example, I remember that so many people, including therapists, advising me to join some “grieving parents” groups. Sounds like a great recommendation when we say it like that, but the reality is that these grief groups can be energy-draining, especially at first. And if we are around someone who is depressed, we must be patient. If the person puts in some effort and makes small progress, that is what matters.

Let us start with the small actions, which can slowly bring back some energy to our body and soul. Once we begin to feel better, we can then move on to the typical recommendations. So, without delay, here are 5 simple gestures I performed daily that helped me cope with the worst of my depression. Since they are simple and can mostly be done at home, these tips can also improve a COVID-19 pandemic depression or any stress related to the pandemic.


5 Small Gestures that Helped me Overcome Depression

1) Open the curtains as soon as we wake up

When Adélie was still hospitalized and I was in the depths of my depression, the first part of my morning routine was to fully open the curtains. As I was opening the curtains, I could feel my eyes absorbing the daylight, which brought me hope that someday things would be better. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it was reality. While gazing outside, it was as if a certain source of energy came to accompany me in my grief. “The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes in through the eye. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin.”1https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#mental-health

2) Get out of the house

This advice is about getting out of the house, as opposed to doing planned activities. Committing to plans, such as dinner plans with friends, can use a lot of energy. As such, it is important to say “no” to proposed activities if our energy level is limited. We must avoid the pressure and anxiety that can come from having too many plans scheduled. To this end, healthy boundaries and knowing how to say no, are important parts of building a stress-reducing foundation for our mental health.

“Remember, when you say no to others and to things you don’t want, you are saying yes to something better – yourself.”

https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/saying-no.htm

A healthier approach is to start with small daily outings such as walks, gardening, light shopping. These simple activities can be done on our own schedule, when we feel up to them. We have the control to end the activity early if our energy is reduced.

Being busy, doing more cool things and showing off all our accomplishments on Instagram, do not make us any more of a person, or any more worthy. Actions that support ourselves and others help us to be better persons.

As for me, my daily outing was going to the hospital and spend time with Adélie. I had a few organized outings before the pandemic hit, but I kept them to a minimum.

3) Watch television

This may come as a surprise since we often hear about the harmful effects of screen time. However, in my experience, watching television was helpful. Television is an ideal way to distract ourselves, to think about something other than our immediate situation.

Other alternatives, such as reading, can require a lot of energy, energy that I just did not have. Social media is not necessarily better because it reminds us that other people are having fun while we are not; in my case, being in the hospital with a sick child while grieving my deceased child.

TV is not always bad

In contrast, television is an impersonal and passive activity that requires little energy. It gave my brain and my thoughts a bit of a break. Watching television allowed me to forget my cruel reality for 5 minutes at a time. It wasn’t much, but 5 minutes was better than nothing. Without a doubt, it was the easiest and best form of escape. An article, published during the pandemic, explains it well:

“Many mental health organizations have proposed strategies to protect mental health, such as exercising, sleeping well and enjoying nature. This may make us assume that watching TV is ultimately bad for our mental wellbeing. But there is evidence to suggest that watching TV can also be good for us – if we go about it the right way:

4) Keep those curtains open

I have always been a big believer in the benefits of natural light. A bright house with lots of windows was my number one requirement when looking for a home for our family. And I strongly believe that our sunlit house helped me during my depression, especially once Adélie was back home during the pandemic. Thanks to the sunny built-in window banquette in our kitchen, I could enjoy the sun hitting my back. Sometimes, I would even take naps on the banquette, soaking up the sun. Carl teased me by calling me the “cat” with my naps. The sunny nook also brings in nature and a sense of freedom.

At the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), we were fortunate to have a large window in Adélie’s room. During the 103 days we spent there, I remember receiving the advice that I should go for walks. But it was winter, and I didn’t have the energy to go out. Instead, I took advantage of the natural light by the window. When it was sunny I took the opportunity to open the blinds, look outside and absorb the sunlight. I am sure it was beneficial for Adélie’s recovery as well; she loved watching the birds.  

Adélie and I at CHEO, at sunrise

I sincerely believe that natural light helped me tremendously (and continues to do so). Several studies provide proof that natural light increases our energy levels and boosts our morale.

5) Take a hot shower every day

I remember feeling like a big zero, which I’ve never felt before in my life. Not only was my heart totally shattered, but I felt so bad in my own skin, even though I knew the accident was no one’s fault. During this time, one of the only thing that did me any good was taking a hot shower. I took one every day. With the hot water hitting my tense body, I remember feeling slightly better; perhaps a 1 or a 2, which is an improvement over feeling a 0. I recommend this article to read about all the benefits of a daily shower.


That’s it for now! Any thoughts on any of these 5 tips? I would love to hear about your own strategies for battling depression or anxiety in the comments, and what worked for you. I’m also adding here the link to my post about Behavioral Activation if you did not have the chance to read it.

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References

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#mental-health
https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/saying-no.htm

23 thoughts on “5 Small Ways to Help You Out of Depression (and backed by science!)

  1. Thank you for sharing Brigitte. I’m certain your perspective will help others who are struggling. Sunshine always helps me feel better, too. Sending lots of love.

    1. Thanks Sarah! Sunshine is crucial! On that matter, we just installed a new window yesterday to bring more of the outside in (and more light)! Would love to visit your house as some point (I know it has big windows)!

  2. Very helpful to hear about what helped and didn’t during the lowest times. I think you writing about this has the potential to help so many others.

    1. merci énormément Marie pour votre commentaire, ça me touche. Je crois que l’entraide aide beaucoup. Merci d’avoir pris le temps de commenter, puisque recevoir des commentaires m’aident aussi!

  3. Merci Brigitte tu as tellement raison . Moi quand ma fille est décédé je n’avais pas envie de manger au resto avec mes amies je me tenais loin des gens trop heureux car j’avais trop mal à l’intérieur de moi .Je préférerais marcher seul tous les matins dans des sentiers boisés et je pleurais seul en priant . Je demandais à Dieu toujours la même question pourquoi ? Ai-je mérité cette grande épreuve ? Les jours passent les mois et la douleur diminue lentement . Tes conseils sont vrai et tellement précieux pour ceux qui sont dans ces moments difficiles. Merci Brigitte

    1. Je te remercie Micheline de partager avec moi et sur ce blogue tes moments difficiles. Je crois que nos partages (y compris le tien en commentaire), peuvent aider aux autres à mieux comprendre notre peine et peut-être aussi les raisons pour lesquelles il est/était difficile pour nous de sortir ou socialiser. Je continue à me demander pourquoi, pourquoi mon petit Zackaël, petit garçon qui avait un coeur en or. Si seulement, nous les bonnes personnes, seraient épargner de tels malheurs, ça nous apporterait au moins un certain un réconfort pour l’avenir.

      Merci de tout coeur pour ton appui et les partages que tu fais de mes publications. J’adore lire tes commentaires.

  4. Although I would not have included television in mine prior to reading this post, I concur with your top five and would have had a very similar list. I now see the benefit in television and will be sure to include it in my tool belt. Sunshine and getting outdoors are definite top two for me. Another interesting blog, 💞💞

    1. thanks Kristy for your thoughts! I agree that television would not be typically be recommended, but I think these days, we tend to only think of the bad side of it (because that’s where the focus is). As I was doing my list, I just couldn’t ignore its benefits and how it helped me. I was happy to find an article about the benefits.

  5. Thank you for sharing a more realistic and doable list than what is typically suggested. I 100% agree that everything on the list is helpful.

    1. thanks so much Katherine! Yes, I think sometimes we get overwhelmed (I know for myself) and feel pressure to try to do what we should do. However, that’s not always the best approach. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it’s appreciated!

  6. Belle publication. C’est merveilleux que tu as su identifier ces 5 moyens qui font toute la différence. Dans mes moments d’anxiété, ca m’aide aussi de ne pas trop faire de plans, et de décider plus dernière minute ce que j’ai le goût de faire.
    Je sais qu’on dit que c’est une mauvaise habitude de regarder la télé avant de se coucher mais je trouve que ca m’aide à oublier tout le stress de la journée, les choses que j’ai à faire… ça me distrait et m’aide à rêver à autres choses. Et je suis souvent trop fatiguée pour lire.
    Xox

    1. Merci beaucoup Andréanne pour ton commentaire. J’apprécie que tu partages sur un de tes moyens de détente et de distraction. Je crois que la “télé” est souvent référée comme mauvaise dans plusieurs des cas, mais je ne la vois pas ainsi. J’ai eu des années d’insomnie et je me rappelle de lire et me faire dire par les professionnels de ne pas “écouter la télé ou regarder les écrans” avant le dodo. Mais pour moi, tout comme toi, c’est la meilleure façon! Ça me détend beaucoup et comme toi, je n’aime pas lire tard le soir. xox

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