Depression: What You Can Do By Yourself

Movement, daylight, a structured everyday life and understanding friends can help out of the low mood. Advice from a psychotherapist

"What else can help me besides medication and psychotherapy?" Professor Günter Niklewski is happy when patients with depression ask him something like this. Because there are actually some useful everyday measures that can make it easier for depressed people to get out of the low mood. "Nevertheless, there is no avoiding medication for severe and moderate depression," says Niklewski, who is the director of the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Nuremberg Clinic. "Modern antidepressants, which accelerate the re-uptake of messenger substances in the brain, are the basis of therapy." Only in the case of mild illnesses can one try to achieve success solely with advice for everyday life.

Movement and light lift the mood

The expert notes that the scientific data on the individual recommendations is inconsistent. "It looks best for sports." The psychiatrist advises endurance sports such as hiking, Nordic walking, cycling, swimming or running: "Many studies show that sport improves depressive illnesses." Moderate loads are ideal - not too much, but regularly. The release of various messenger substances in the brain ensures the antidepressant effect. There is one catch, however: You have to motivate yourself to exercise - and that is particularly difficult for people with depression. Niklewski knows about this hurdle and gives the tip to meet up with friends: "If you know that you are expected to go hiking, walking or cycling, it is easier to get up."

Exercise in the fresh air has another plus point for people with depression. "The antidepressant effect of sporting activity is also joined by that of light," says Niklewski. It has also been scientifically proven and is probably based on the fact that light inhibits the release of the messenger substance melatonin. "It is enough to be outdoors," says the psychiatrist. The sun doesn't even have to shine, because normal daylight, even when the sky is overcast, provides enough UV light. "You just have to stay outside long enough."

Accept help from loved ones and friends

If depressed people lack the motivation boost, other people can do a lot. "Relatives and friends can be of great help here," says Niklewski. It is not about storming the sick with good advice. "That doesn't do anything and just puts the patient under pressure." Rather, it is helpful for the patient and supportive for the treatment to accept the depression and continue to involve the person in usual activities. "If someone with a petrified face goes the usual round in the park, you shouldn't be bothered by it, but rather positively state that he is going with you at all."

Structure everyday life

Niklewski never tires of underlining the importance of relatives and friends for a successful therapy. For example, when it comes to the structure of the day. "Mostly depressed people give up their usual daily rhythm." The disease often mixes up everything - eating and drinking, being awake and sleeping. In order to find support in this situation, regular activities can serve as fixed points. A certain daily structure can be maintained or rebuilt around them.

Relatives and friends play an important role in the organization - regardless of whether it is a daily walk, contact with grandchildren or participation in the weekly bowling round. Niklewski: "In Franconia, for example, people like to go to the countryside to eat on Sundays. If a family has enjoyed doing this up to now, they should continue to do it." Anyone who enjoyed going to the cinema with their partner shouldn't give up this habit. Basically, everything that was previously fun should be retained as far as possible.

In addition, fixed meal times also help to give everyday life a structure. "People with depression lose their appetite and often eat irregularly," says Niklewski and advises relatives to insist on fixed meal times - even if the person concerned is hardly or no hunger.

Promote night sleep

"Almost every depression is accompanied by a sleep disorder. Getting to grips with it is an essential part of therapy," says the expert. In order to promote night sleep and fight against daytime sleepiness, he advises against taking an afternoon nap: "If you can't do it without it, it shouldn't last longer than 30 minutes."

Not helpful: alcohol and chocolate

Excesses of any kind are detrimental to a regular day-night rhythm - especially those that involve alcohol. Again and again Niklewski experiences how, in particular, depressed men start a kind of self-healing attempt with alcohol: "Initially, alcohol actually brightens the mood, but in the longer term it increases tiredness and lack of drive." According to the expert, chocolate is also useless for therapy. The rumor stubbornly persists that she is helping against depression, says Niklewski with astonishment: "Unfortunately, there is nothing to it." Therefore: You should eat chocolate when you like it, but not to lighten your mood. Dietary supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids or vitamin D would just as little help, the psychiatrist clarifies: "There is no scientific evidence for any of this."