6 Steps to Beating Depression

6 Steps to Beating Depression

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Many people struggling with depression feel stuck, unsure of what to do or how to move forward. Counseling, medication, and mental health programs are not always available or affordable, and taking big steps can feel even more difficult for someone with depression. Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan, made up of a group of licensed therapists who specialize in treating people with depression. While counseling has helped many people dealing with depression to cope with and find relief from their symptoms, there are some key steps that you can take on your own to start feeling better. 

In his book, “The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs,” clinical psychologist, Dr. Stephen Ilardi, introduces and explains his 6-step Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) program for treating depression. We see great value in his approach, and have outlined Dr. Ilardi’s 6 keys to battling depression below. We also provide real life ways that you can implement these 6 steps into your life to help you take action against your depression and start feeling like yourself again. Although these steps can be taken on your own, Dr. Ilardi recommends checking with your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes. If you are battling depression and want to move forward, try these tips to start taking action and recovering from your depression. 

1. Create Healthy Sleeping Habits

One step that you can take to start feeling better if you’re going through depression is to create better sleeping habits. Sleep and mood are highly interconnected, and sleep disruption is a known trigger for depression. Even for those who don’t have a mental health disorder, a few nights of poor sleep can have negative consequences, like feeling cranky, pessimistic or worn out. Consistent sleep deprivation or disruption can be even worse, causing confusion, brain fog and other serious physical and mental health problems. Despite how important it is, most people don’t usually get a good night’s sleep, sleeping only 6 hours per night instead of the suggested 8 or 9 hours. Poor sleeping habits often lead to increased caffeine use, which only harms the sleep cycle even more, as caffeine makes it harder to fall asleep. 

Once depression takes hold, it can be difficult to move forward and make progress in getting better, especially because poor sleep can not only cause depression, but depression can also hurt our ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and partake in the deep, quality sleep that we need to function at a high level every day. If you are experiencing depression and it’s been affecting your sleep, we encourage you to try some of the following habits that promote healthy sleep:

  • Only use your bed for sleeping
  • Create a consistent sleep schedule 
  • Avoid napping during the day
  • Keep a cool, dark bedroom
  • Avoid caffeine after the morning
  • Avoid alcohol at night
  • Try not to think about stressful or upsetting things before bed

2. Engage in Physical Exercise

There are over a hundred studies documenting the significant antidepressant effects of physical exercise. For many Americans, modern life is far too sedentary. Between commuting there, sitting all day through work or school, and commuting home, it’s hard to find time for substantial physical activity. Even if you don’t have depression, the benefits of exercise are worthwhile.  And if you do have depression, physical exercise is even more important to add to your routine. A lot of the chemical changes in the brain brought about by popular antidepressant medications to correct depression-related chemical imbalances can also be brought about by physical exercise.

Exercise changes the brain’s chemistry by increasing activity levels for important neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin. It also increases the brain’s production of an important growth hormone, called BDNF, which is known to decline during depression. After regular physical exercise, people typically experience positive results like increased energy that are also helpful in overcoming depression.

Effective physical activity can include:

  • Running
  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Jogging
  • Weight lifting
  • Boxing
  • Swimming

3. Keep Your Mind Occupied

Depression is closely linked to a toxic thought cycle called rumination. Rumination is the habit of dwelling on negative thoughts or memories and going over them again and again in your mind. While we all can undoubtedly benefit from self-reflection and learning from our mistakes, excessive or chronic rumination can become incredibly painful and plays a large role in depression. Some depressed people spend hours per day ruminating, going over the same unbearable thoughts, causing their depression to spiral even more out of control. 

You can only ruminate when your mind isn’t otherwise occupied, and any stimulating or engaging activity can work to interrupt unhealthy rumination. Spending time alone is the biggest risk factor for rumination, and everyday situations like getting stuck in traffic, feeling bored at work or school, watching mindless television, or eating a meal alone can lead to unchecked and dangerous rumination.

Most people aren’t aware of their rumination and don’t realize that they do it, how often they do it, or that others do it too.The best ways to avoid harmful rumination are to recognize when you’re ruminating and try to shift your attention, and to set yourself up for success by limiting your triggers or situations that put you at risk. For example, if you know that your mind often wanders during your drive to work, make a playlist of your favorite music to listen to during the ride. 

Engaging activities that can interrupt rumination might include:

  • Listening to music
  • Listening to a podcast
  • Playing an interactive game
  • Conversing with a loved one
  • Watching videos or reading books about your passions and interests
  • Social interaction, especially in a group setting

4. Maintain Social Connections

People who lack supportive social connections are at an increased risk for depression and tend to have a harder time coming out of depression. In today’s fast-paced world, it can be hard to block out time for meaningful social bonds, and we often end up spending far too much of our leisure time alone. This can be due to increasingly demanding work schedules and competitive office environments, and it can also have to do with technology, which without a doubt promotes social isolation, getting worse with each new invention and upgrade. Now we can have our groceries delivered instead of going to the grocery store, and can access thousands of movies and TV shows through streaming services instead of going to the movie theater. Technology is multiplying our opportunities to be alone everyday, and this can be especially harmful for someone with depression. 

Depression causes people to withdraw even further than they already may have from those around them, leading to feelings of loneliness and diminishing their support systems for recovery. It’s human nature to self-isolate and take time for rest when feeling unwell. Most of the time, for example if you have the flu or a virus, taking some time away would be helpful and lead to recovery. However, when it comes to depression, being alone makes things worse, and is only an obstacle in getting better. 

Here are some helpful steps you can take to build yourself a social support system and start making meaningful connections:

  • Give to those in need
  • Become a pet owner
  • Get involved involved in your religious community
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Join a sports team
  • Get to know your coworkers outside of the office 

5. Increase Your Sunlight Exposure

Millions of Americans and Europeans, especially those living in northern latitudes, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a condition that causes people to become depressed during the winter, and it’s triggered by reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter, cloudier days of winter.

The reason that less sunlight exposure can cause depression is because your brain keeps track of the amount of light you get each day and uses that information to set your body clock. When you don’t get enough exposure to bright light, your body clock gets out of sync, throwing off circadian rhythms that regulate important biological functions like energy, sleep, hormonal levels, body temperature and appetite. The disruption of these rhythms is harmful and can trigger depression.

Bright light stimulates the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which affects mood, stress response, and behavior. People who work from sunrise to sunset don’t get enough natural sunlight, which is significantly (over a hundred times) brighter than indoor lighting. As little as 30 minutes of natural sunlight can be beneficial in resetting your body’s clock and getting back in sync. However, this isn’t always realistic. We’ve listed some tips below for getting the important benefits of bright light that our bodies need in general, and especially in order to recover from depression.

  • Try spending at least 30 minutes outside each day 
  • Start using a light box
  • Take a Vitamin D supplement 

6. Consume More Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are certain fat molecules that the brain needs to function at its best. Our bodies make some of these fats on their own, but others can only be acquired through what we eat. Among the most important of these dietary fats are omega-3 fatty acids, which are mainly found in nuts, leafy greens, fish, and wild game. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids have been on the decline over the years, and with the popularity of grain-fed fish and cattle, there are less and less easy ways to get enough of this important fat. This trend has been harmful, as those who don’t get a sufficient amount omega-3s are at an increased risk for depression and other mental illnesses.

Clinical research has shown that using omega-3 supplements to help treat depression can be extremely beneficial. The human brain needs a steady supply of omega-3 fatty acids to function properly anyway, but if you have depression, increasing your intake of omega-3s can be key to recovery and prevention. You can do this by:

  • Making conscious diet choices
  • Taking a fish oil supplement
  • Taking a plant-based DHA/EPA supplement

Clinician Interview – Meet Ariana Thelen!

Clinician Interview – Meet Ariana Thelen!

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Ariana Thelen, LMSW

Interview with Ariana Thelen

Check out our interview with therapist, Ariana Thelen. Ariana practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is currently taking new clients.

What do you specialize in?

I specialize in older adults and their associated issues. This ranges from adults struggling with caregiving for an aging spouse or parent, cognitive changes, physical changes, dementia issues, to figuring out how to live well in times of grief and transition.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I always wanted to help people in some way, and when I went to college I majored in psychology and knew I wanted to focus on the wellbeing of people – how can I assist in people living well? The more I learned, the more I realized I wanted to reach people on a deeper level; more so than in a clinic, or in groups of people, or in classes. I wanted to talk one on one or in small groups and reach people on a deep level.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

For my first session, I like to focus on background and who have you been up to this point of coming to therapy. Basically – what makes you who you are, what brings you into therapy, your primary concerns. I like to go all the way back and start off in childhood, and discuss relationships with siblings and parents, and how those relationships evolved through school, marriage, having your own kids, etc. I may ask what stressors you’ve experienced as you’ve gone through life so far and what strengths you’ve found about yourself. Your personal history, relationships, etc. are very informative on what you can work on in therapy. A good base from the first session can cause subsequent sessions to focus on the ‘now’ and can pull from that base.

How have you seen therapy benefit our clients?

I really like to see when my clients have lightbulb moments or ‘aha’ moments themselves. The therapist is really there to help in self discovery or self understanding. It’s not the therapist’s job to say, “This is what you need to do.” It’s best when a client comes to me and says, “Between sessions I was able to see this point and it helped me to understand that maybe I need to change my attitude for this particular thing,” or “I was able to notice this thing from our last session and I wasn’t able to do anything about it,” at least they’ve realized something and applied what they’ve been learning.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

It ultimately has to be the right fit and feel. It can be hard to know if a therapist is a good fit for you or not if you are just judging it by what you see on paper. You need to find a therapist that reports working with the specialties you are seeking assistance with or interest in the topics you plan on discussing, and give it a minimum of two chances, or better yet, three if you can. After three sessions you should know if your therapist is a good fit for you or not.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope my clients walk away with the feeling of being less burdened. So many people I see, whether it be depression, anxiety, transition, or grief, have so much on their shoulders and you can really see that they feel that weight. My goal, as a therapist, is to work with the client to find ways to make that weight less heavy. If they have tools to help manage their stress and handle things better, the weight can get a little lighter.

Visit Ariana’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

Clinician Interview – Meet Lauren Proux!

Clinician Interview – Meet Lauren Proux!

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Lauren Proux, LMSW

Interview with Lauren Proux

Check out our interview with therapist, Lauren Proux. Lauren practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is currently taking new clients.

What do you specialize in?

I focused my graduate studies and subsequent clinical training on bereavement. Talking about grief often opens doors to other areas of concern, so I have additional expertise working with issues connected to a client’s family-of-origin and relationships (romantic and peer). I further specialize in a range of anxiety and depression disorders.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I initially attended college and studied psychology in order to become a therapist. My life took a left turn and I followed another love of mine: writing. After completing my graduate degree in creative writing, I taught college writing courses. Students often shared with me their personal issues. I had to maintain boundaries in my role as their instructor, but I wished we could talk more and work toward resolving their concerns. After taking time for my own introspection, I decided to return to my roots and pursue that path.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

In our initial session, I will ask a lot of questions about their background and what prompted them to start treatment. It is important that clients are honest and forthcoming from the beginning, but I understand how it might be difficult for them to share these details. I do my best to gauge the client’s comfort level and go from there.

In subsequent sessions, I ask more open-ended questions and expect that the client will do most of the talking. My therapeutic approach encourages and prompts deep exploration. By the time I am sitting across from someone, they have had decades of lived experiences that I want to learn about and extract understanding. From there, we will work together in challenging destructive patterns, learning skills to tolerate distress, and reaching a place of acceptance.

How have you seen therapy benefit your clients?

Early in my career I was surprised when clients said how much better they felt after the initial session when I’ve done little more than ask questions and encourage them to share. It made me realize how much comfort exists in simply being heard. Therapy provides a safe space for clients to talk without fear of judgment and practice new ways of thinking about themselves and others. As a result, I’ve seen my clients develop a deeper understanding of themselves, inner calm, and confidence.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

First, research has shown that the relationship a client creates with their therapist plays a large role in the client achieving their desired outcomes. This relationship is developed over time by establishing trust and working toward agreed-upon goals. I would encourage clients new to therapy to have at least a few sessions before deciding to try someone else.  

Secondly, it is important to work with a therapist skilled in the client’s specific area of concern. All therapists receive similar training, but some have expertise based on additional training and experience. For example, I specialize in grief and have worked extensively with college students. Therapists with additional knowledge about a client’s concern will provide more targeted tasks and goals.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

The first goal in therapy is to reduce distress, so I hope my clients learn skills that will increase their resiliency. Depending on the length of time I work with a client, we will either start the initial steps or walk far down the path of self-discovery. Regardless of the time we spend together, I hope that my clients develop a deeper understanding of themselves and continue to value self-reflection. Finally, I hope my clients walk away with motivation to continue nurturing their own emotional well-being. It can be difficult to prioritize our mental health, but I want my clients to know they are worth the time and energy it takes to live happy, fulfilled lives.

Visit Lauren’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

Clinician Interview – Meet Nicole Frasier!

Clinician Interview – Meet Nicole Frasier!

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Nicole Frasier, LLP

Interview with Nicole Frasier

Check out our interview with therapist, Nicole Frasier, LLP. Nicole practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and specializes in therapy for women and women-specific issues, such as infertility, relationships, life transitions, and endometriosis. She is experienced in treating a variety of mental health concerns, providing counseling for anxiety and depression.

What do you specialize in?

I specialize in the treatment of anxiety and depression, improving relationships, women’s issues, and greater self-fulfillment for adolescents and adults.

What made you want to become a therapist?

From very early on, I have been drawn to all things psychology. I always knew I wanted to be in a profession of helping people. In college, I had two incredible professors that opened my eyes to the world of psychology as a career. From then, I was set on making this my path. I absolutely love what I do!

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical session like with you?

This is a great question and one I imagine many people have when thinking of starting therapy… When clients come to therapy with me, I strive to provide a comfortable and safe space to explore all thoughts and feelings. I aim to be as authentic and down-to-earth as possible. A typical session with me is filled with empathic listening, attentiveness to detail, and some humor when appropriate.

How have you seen therapy benefit your clients?

I’ve seen therapy be helpful in a multitude of ways. Feeling heard and understood are two important things we need in life. This is what I strive to provide in therapy. Having this unique relationship allows clients to get in touch with their true needs and wants in all relationships, including the relationship with themselves, while gaining the self-esteem, confidence, and understanding of innate worth to pursue those needs, leading to a healthier, more fulfilled life.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

I’m a believer that we all give off “vibes” and energy. With this being said, I think it’s really important that the client feel at ease with the therapist. If you don’t have a solid connection with your therapist, the disconnect would inhibit you from exploring all your thoughts and feelings, leading to less forward movements in treatment.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope my clients walk away with a better understanding about themselves, greater life satisfaction, and a sense that they are important and valuable. I also hope that they feel confident in their learned coping skills and are able to put them to use in their daily lives as struggles appear (and possibly reappear.)

Visit Nicole’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

5 Methods to Battle Depression

5 Methods to Battle Depression

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Depression is a mood disorder characterized by chronic unhappiness, low energy, and loss of interest in activities, which leads to problems with many aspects of daily functioning. Depression often makes it difficult to generate and maintain relationships as well as engage in common life activities.

Below are some common methods for coping with depression that I often utilize with my clients in Therapy (at my counseling practice in Ann Arbor, MI).

1. Be honest about Depression and how you’re feeling

It can be difficult to open up about the things that make life difficult. This is even more difficult when we begin comparing ourselves to others. When we compare, shame often results. It can be difficult to open up about depression if your friends and family just don’t understand what is happening in your body and mind. Owning what we go through is often a good first step in making the choice to get help. Most importantly, be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling.

2. Learn more about Depression and about what actually may be going on

There are several reasons why symptoms associated with depression show up. One common reason that is often overlooked is a somatic issue – something may have gone awry with the body itself. If you want to connect with a great doctor, feel free to contact us (Identity Counseling Psychology) for a referral in the Ann Arbor community.

Other common factors causing depression may be situational, familial, social, nutritional, or the dreaded electrochemical (something has gone awry in the brain).

Meeting with a trusted therapist (licensed counselor or psychologist) may help you determine whether it is actually depression or if it may be something else holding you back from thriving. If you’re interested in exploring your options in Ann Arbor, contact us here.

If it is depression, it’s important to determine which type of depression. In general, depression can take on two primary forms:

  • Major Depression (more extreme and acute form)
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (more of a longstanding depressive life undertone)

Feel free to contact us to learn more about the various forms that depression can take on.

3. Stop trying to fix “the problem.” Shift from “doing” to “being”

In life we are socialized and evolutionarily predisposed towards seeking solutions to problems. This makes sense because when we are presented with a conventional problem, it is very helpful to employ “root cause analysis.”

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It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but the reality is that trying to get to the bottom of what is causing depression may only make things worse. At my counseling practice (IdentityAnnArbor.com), I utilize Mindfulness to attempt to facilitate movement in my clients from the “doing mode” of operating to the “being mode” of operating. This shift from “doing” to “being” is a shift in consciousness and awareness which allows us to change how we think about our depression, instead of trying to change some “fundamental problem.” Through this change in awareness, clients often find greater self-acceptance and improvements in self-esteem, which help to free us to make healthier day-to-day decisions.

This movement from self-persecution toward self-acceptance requires practice and time. It will feel unnatural at first, but sticking with it over time may yield a healthier outlook on ourselves and on life (for more on specific Mindfulness techniques, check out my previous blogpost here).

4. Establish a healthy routine

Establishing a routine may be the single most effective way to begin to climb out of depression. The problem here is that many find themselves in such a dark place that it may be hard to take the first step. In therapy, we begin by returning to breath. Through cultivating deeper awareness around our breath, we can learn to be more present in other areas of life. For more on specific Mindfulness techniques (such as Mindful Breathing and The Body Scan), refer to my earlier blogpost on Mindfulness.

Establishing a healthy routine can be a daunting task in the midst of depression. For this reason, if you find yourself in this place, I recommend consulting a trained therapist/counselor to help guide you toward a healthier way of being in the world.

5. Identify what it means to you to live intentionally

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It can be easy to just let life happen, especially when dealing with depression. In therapy, I work with my clients to identify what living intentionally means to them. I’ve found in working with my clients and in my own life that living with intention allows us to engage life directly, and as a result, we feel better.

Often “living more intentionally” involves things like a reconnection with nature, cultivating an awareness of what is going into the body, exploring healthy outlets for emotions and feelings, and intentionally spending time with other people in a social setting. Each person is different; however, there is often a common thread that many humans are trying to tap into in order to live a more intentional life.

contact IDENTITY to schedule and intake