Before we begin, I would like to make the distinction between feeling down and clinical depression. On the one hand feeling down is unpleasant but an ordinary reaction to an event, but on the other clinical depression is a mental illness. Should you suffer from depression, you should seek clinical help from a qualified professional such as a GP.
We all get negative thoughts and feelings from time to time. Problems with relationships, pressures at home or at work, worries about money or physical health can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety, or even, in some people, to a sense of desperation and hopelessness.
But this doesn't mean we're powerless. We can do things ourselves to improve our mental well-being. First, how people respond to events makes a huge difference to how much impact they have on us. And we now have some pretty well-tested therapies (like the well-known cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT) which work by helping us find ways to change our responses to negative or challenging events.
And we know that some relatively simple activities can help can protect mental health and help us to lead more fulfilled and productive lives.
Expressing our feelings openly promotes a sense of wellbeing and freedom from tension. It helps us to recover from hurtful experiences, and also helps other people to understand what's going on inside us.
Of course, there are times when displays of emotion aren't helpful, but hiding or holding back our feelings can cause tensions that affect our physical and mental health.
Arguments are healthy, too, as long as they don't become unpleasant. In fact, some psychologists say that a happy relationship needs a 20 per cent quota of conflict. Learning to disagree - without making each other unhappy - is an important part of any relationship. However, rage and destructive anger aren't healthy or helpful.
When we are down it is easy to get stuck in a rut to do anything.
Many people feel too exhausted to start any exercise. However, in the long run, regular exercise will make you feel less tired and more energetic. So what can you do about this?
Try starting with a small amount of exercise: it doesn't matter how little as long as it's easy and you can do it regularly - every day, if possible. You then slowly increase the amount you do over a period of weeks and months, adjusting it so you don't get more tired. It can be as little as walking from one room to another. Over time, you can increase the amount of time you exercise (or distance you walk), aiming to eventually do half an hour a day (you may need to divide this half hour into several short periods of time).
Walking is the easiest exercise to try, but anything that you enjoy will do. Many people like to swim or cycle regularly. What you are trying to do is to gradually improve your fitness and strength. You may be able to get advice from someone who knows how to help unfit or ill people to get fit.
If you find that you are doing too much, and feeling worse, don't give up! Carry on with some less demanding regular exercise, perhaps for a shorter time each day. Don't do anything more energetic until you have got used to the amount of exercise you are doing at the moment.
Once you are managing half an hour a day, you should gradually increase the intensity of your exercise so that you start to get a bit out of breath. Exercise is also great for reducing you stress levels and helping you to manage your response to stressful situations.
Stress is a well-known trigger for depression and it can also affect your physical health. So it's important to identify the causes of stress in your life and try to minimise them.
Any sort of loss, from bereavement, divorce and separation to a child leaving home, causes stress, as do long-term illness and disability. But things such as marriage, moving house, a new job and holidays have quite high stress ratings too.
In work, worrying about deadlines or about not being up to the challenges of a particular task can cause stress.
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