It may not always be possible to prevent depression; however, there are several things we can do to stop an approaching episode becoming severe or long-lasting. Here are some things that I have learnt that can either prevent us from succumbing to depression, or at least, stop it becoming severe or long lasting. Had I known these things back in 1989, I would not have become so severely depressed.
Trust in God – it is imperative that we completely, totally, utterly trust in God, recognising that He is in control of all things, even when it seems like our lives are a complete mess and out of control. Life is like riding in a bus, and the bus drive is Jesus. We can be comforted by the fact that the bus driver always knows the destination and how to get there.
Central to trusting in God is that we know Him intimately. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3. If we view God as being distant and aloof, we cannot trust in Him completely and this will cause problems when we encounter life’s storms. Selwyn Hughes writes; “But the plain fact is this – when we are close to God and have a deep and intimate relationship with Him, we may feel downcast but not destroyed.” (1)
Maintain a Realistic Outlook Upon Life – life is not one big happy joy ride, everyone goes through trials and experiences times of discouragement and disappointment. We must expect such times as well as better times of joy, satisfaction, and achievement. However, there is no need to fear such trials, because when they come, Jesus will be there, ready to help us deal with them. (In 1989 I subscribed to the erroneous belief that God would always keep me safe from disasters and severe trials.)
Exercise Regularly – being physically fit helps all areas of our lives. It can boost our immune system, reduce the effects of illness, strengthen our bodies and help prevent injuries, make our minds more flexible and alert, boost our confidence, lift our emotions, and even improve our spiritual condition. (I was not engaging in any form of exercise in 1989.)
Eat Well – it is crucial that we maintain a healthy diet. We should not skip meals, especially breakfast, the most important meal of the day. We need to have a balanced diet included plenty of water, fruit, meat and vegetables. However, in rare cases where a healthy diet makes us worse, we should see a doctor and get a blood test to check if we have any food intolerances such as being gluten or fructose intolerant. (In 1989, I ate poorly and skipped many meals.)
Sleep Well – Sleep is a crucial part of staying healthy. Typically, someone needs seven to eight hours sleep a night. The occasional bout of insomnia is not a problem, but if afflicted by chronic insomnia, we need to see a doctor and see what can be done about it. (I suffered from chronic insomnia in 1989.)
Rest and Recreation – we must take care that our live does not become all work and no play. At least one whole day a week must be set aside for rest and recreation, and we also need to set aside some time for ourselves each day. Rest and recreation can include social activities with friends, hobbies, sports, going for a walk, reading a book or watching TV, going to church, and so on. (In 1989, I was so busy working full time as well as working part time as an assistant pastor, that I left almost no time to pursue my hobbies or rest.)
Deal with Fears/Traumas – this is one of the most important issues in preventing depression. We need to receive counselling from a pastor/counsellor or professional therapist, if we have deep-seated irrational fears or past traumas that are constantly tripping us up or causing anxiety attacks. These problems need to be faced, addressed, and dealt with, so that we can be free from them for the rest of our lives. (During 1989 I struggled constantly with panic attacks and fearful thoughts, which were largely linked to past traumas and associated faulty theology. I also suffered a major shock, but rather than seek help, I tried to sweep it under the carpet and go on as though it had never happened.)
Learn Strategies to Cope with Anxiety – if we struggle with anxiety, it is crucial that we learn coping strategies to deal with it. For example, we need to understand how anxiety works, how to react to difficult situations and fear, so that we do not fall prey to the deceptive fear-adrenalin-fear cycle. I learnt many practical coping strategies from the book, “Self Help for Your Nerves” by Dr Claire Weekes, and have shared many on this blog. (In 1989, I knew nothing about anxiety attacks and had not learnt any coping techniques.)
Let go of the past – dwelling on injustices inflicted upon us by others, or even upon our own past mistakes, can afflicts us with anger, bitterness and/or guilt, which are very powerful and destructive emotions. Although not easy to do, we need to forgive others and ourselves.
Be Active in a Local Church – we need to be in a supportive Christian environment such as a local church or cell group, so that we can both receive support, encouragement and prayer, and have the opportunity to serve the Lord by helping others.
(1) Every Day with Jesus, Jan/Feb 1995 Issue, 26th January. CWR.