There is no easy way of tackling depression. Nearly one fifth of adults in the UK experience it, or its shady brother anxiety, but despite this staggering figure there remains no definitive remedy, no specific cure. But there are plenty of counters to arm yourself with in the battle against feeling blue. RISING asked Dr Elena Touroni of the Chelsea Psychology Clinic for practical hacks to heal the mind.
1. Spend Time With Your Bros
It’s no secret that friendship can play a pivotal role in treating depression. What isn’t as well known, according to Touroni, is the power that strictly male interactions can have.
Man hugs all round, then? ‘Absolutely – something I find with male clients is that their socialising with other men can have big rewards in treating depression. For men, friendships with women tend to be more complex psychologically because of the underlying mechanisms between them, so they don’t have the same properties of bonding, or belonging, of being different and feeling alone to really connect. There isn’t the same level of directness that exists between them as there is between males, and when feeling low, you need people you feel relaxed around, to feel as if you are understood by them. It makes a massive difference.’
2. Ahem, Spank The Monkey
Masturbation. There, we said it (cue flashbacks to creaking floorboards or the moment Jim’s Dad stoically imparted the benefits of solo sex in American Pie). It’s an awkward topic but it can occasionally prove an important outlet; not least where depression is concerned.
‘Men can have a very complex issue with masturbation,’ says Touroni, ‘when in fact, we can view it as a detached, self-soothing type of strategy. If you’re going through a lot of stress at work or any other area of your life it’s an activity that is focused on you, meeting your needs; it has an escapist quality to it.’
Depressive symptoms can include loss of sex drive which not only affect one person’s sex life, of course – they can affect the sufferer’s partner too, creating a vicious cycle whereby stress is increased because of the knock-on effects to a relationship. A vanished libido can also be particularly hard to take for the male psyche, as Touroni explains: ‘Loss of sexual interest tends to involve the loss of one’s masculine sense of identity. On top of that, taking antidepressants dampens it down further, which can prove very problematic. So having an experience of feeling like a sexual being through masturbation can be very beneficial.’
‘Behavioural activation is just as effective as antidepressants’
3. Be The Omega Man
Along with sharing its name with a Marvel villain (and surely there can be no higher compliment than that for a fatty acid), Omega 3 is also worth your time because of its health benefits. These include – and this is important – an anti-inflammatory effect on the brain, which according to studies lowers the risk of depression. Present in oily fish including trout, tuna, mackerel, salmon, herring and swordfish, as well as rapeseed oil and seeds, you should give it a go. Touroni doesn’t see any harm: ‘It works for some people, it won’t work for others. Also, attending to your diet when you are depressed tends to have a positive psychological effect on how one feels about oneself. Behavioural activation is just as effective as antidepressants.’
4. Level Up Your Life With A New Creative Skill
Depression and anxiety are four to ten times more prevalent among people who have been unemployed for more than 12 weeks – purpose is important to your brain. So, if you happen to feel stuck in rut, pick up a hobby. Build a library that smells of rich mahogany. Take art lessons. Just do something creative, as harnessing a sense of mastery can give you purpose and ‘stop you from feeling worthless,’ offers Touroni.
Not sure what to take up? The Doc advocates photography: ‘It’s not very high-demand, it’s externally focused, a good ice-breaker in social occasions and more often than not will take you outdoors and recharge your mind.’ (Plus it will give you the excuse to totally geek out on tech, such as the new mirrorless DSLR tech from Sony – watch this space for our upcoming review…)
‘Remain focused on the outside world rather than your own thoughts’
5. Put Your Shoes On And Go For A Walk – Mindfully, Mind You
Exercise and the brain have a straightforward relationship: the more you do, the better the brain will feel, releasing dopamine, serotonin and enough other giddy chemicals to give you the Burning Man of runner’s highs. One other underrated and underused way of combating depression with exercise is walking, a simple but hugely rewarding activity, says Touroni.
‘By walking more you’re getting extra exercise without even thinking about it. You need to ensure it’s “mindful walking”. If you’re taking a stroll and ruminating on everything that is terrible with life, it’s not helpful, so we encourage people to focus on what’s around, to take in their surroundings and think about those. Remain focused on the outside world rather than your own thoughts.’
6. Up All Night To Get Muddy
According to a study by scientists at The University of Bristol, exposure to dirt has been found to boost happiness. Serotonins are released from ‘friendly’ bacteria found in soil, achieving the same effect as antidepressants. With that in mind, what better excuse to go play rugby on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, or further your Franco Baresi-like credentials by willingly sliding into the boggy Sunday League pitch 50/50s? Or if you’d prefer an individual effort, sign up for the latest challenge in filthy dirty obstacle racing – the overnight Toughest Mudder. Touroni believes the psychological factor of rolling about in mud alone might improve your mood: 'If you’re actively embracing a muddy environment through sport, you’ve let your inhibitions down, you’re feeling free, not really caring about what people are thinking. Those are all things people can ruminate about when exhibiting signs of depressive behaviour. It also induces what we would call a “happy child mode”, which alleviates day to day stresses.’
WHAT NEXT? We could all do with a bit more activity in our daily lives, so start first thing. ‘Mix your commute up,’ suggests Touroni. ‘Choose to walk up the escalator rather than stand on the right, or get off the train one stop earlier. Little changes in a commute can give you a real psychological boost at the start and end of a day.’
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.