For many years, I struggled with depression.   At times it was excruciatingly painful.  Though I never actively considered suicide, there were times when I wished it was an option.  Beyond that, there long periods of time when I just could not see how things would get any better.  I was just hanging on, trying to muddle through and take care of the basics.  A dark cloud hovered over me.

Thankfully, I had parents who taught me to believe in a loving Heavenly Father.   With the aid of that faith, I have learned that there is sunshine beyond that dark cloud.  Beautiful, glorious sunshine!  Below are a few everyday things we can all do to rise above the clouds.

1.     Look up!  I believe prayer is way under-utilized even by Christians.  Although we may turn to God for many things, I have found that many believe their “mental health” concerns are beyond God’s reach — as if He was a mere general practitioner and they needed a specialist!  Consider for a moment, the loving Father of all, actually not being willing or able to help his children!  Didn’t Jesus himself come to “bind up the broken-hearted [and to] proclaim liberty to the captives!” (Isaiah 61: 1).  Talking to our Father in Heaven as we would talk to a good friend, as we would talk to the loving Father that he is, can lighten our burdens considerably. When we do so consistently, we begin to feel His love and our very spirits are reminded that we are indeed his children.  This gives us a safe place, a sure foundation for healing.  This is true even if you feel unworthy, even if you are distrustful of or angry with Him — we can tell him about all about it.  During hard times, if you are out of the praying habit, try setting your cell phone or watch alarm to go off at intervals throughout the day, then pause to check in with your Father in Heaven about whatever is on your mind and heart.

2.       Listen.  Often when we pray, we do not stop to listen.   It’s a lot like calling up a good friend, telling them all about your troubles, then hanging up.   If we expect to receive help, listening for the help offered is essential.   We can do this by searching the scriptures, listening to inspired leaders, and especially listening to our own thoughts and impressions as we seek answers.   An especially helpful follow-up to all these, is to write down our thoughts and impressions daily as we seek guidance, then do our very best to implement those principles in our lives each day.

3.       Reach out!  We can find great healing as we seek to bring healing to others.  This is the principle that first brought me to the Lord — realizing for myself that truly, “it is better to give than to receive.”  When we are depressed, we naturally tend to focus even more on ourselves.   Doing so will inevitably increase our suffering.   Try finding someone else who may need a lift, and really serve them from your heart!

4.       Soak Up the Sun!  Most of us know how a sunny day can affect our mood.   There is something reassuring about a sunrise or a warm, sunny day.   There is a physiological side to this as well:  The body uses ultraviolet light to produce Vitamin D.   Vitamin D, in turn, helps our bodies produce the “happy chemicals” we need to feel better!  This is probably part of the reason that “light boxes” have been shown to be effective with Seasonal Affective Disorder (commonly known as the “winter blues”).  No need to get skin cancer — taking a short (10 or 15 minute) walk in the sun every day can make a big difference!

5.       Get moving!  The last thing you want to do when you are depressed is to exercise.    And the last thing you want to do when feeling down is usually one of the most helpful!  Physical activity can help your mood for many reasons.  Vigorous cardiovascular exercise, in particular, has been shown to help many folks at least as much or more than antidepressant medication.   It is also free, has no negative side effects, improves your overall health, and enhances your body image!  Wow!

6.       Fuel up.   There is growing evidence that nutrition can play a major role in how we feel emotionally.  This has led to the growing field of mental health nutrition, and even to some practitioners who rely on nutrition as their primary mode of treatment.   This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise:  if we feel better physically, there is usually a carry-over to our mental health.   In fact, it is more accurate to say that the two cannot be separated.  For Latter-day Saints, a careful reading of Section 89 of the Doctrine & Covenants offers some wise counsel.   Section 89 emphasizes eating whole foods ”in the season thereof,” with an emphasis on plant foods, including grains, and eating meat “sparingly.”  It also emphasizes the avoidance of addictive substances, including caffeine, which may enslave the spirit as well as the body.  “You are what you eat” is true in more ways than one!

7.       Unsweeten.   In the field of nutrition, processed sugar (sucrose) deserves its own section.  Ever had that “post-sugar-draggy feeling?”(clinical term).  That is because sucrose is converted very quickly into glucose for energy, followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar.  This “sedates” the body and brain, thus allowing depression (or other negative emotions) to more easily overtake us.  Though each body reacts somewhat differently, sugar is a widely known contributor to mood swings (and hyperactivity in children – no, this is not a myth).  A similar effect can occur after consuming large amounts of simple carbohydrates – including white breads – which are then converted quickly into glucose.  Keeping sugar to a minimum allows us to “stay in the game” emotionally.

Much more to come!   — Dave

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