Staying engaged can be particularly difficult if you are depressed.
A degree of “social phobia” can be a symptom of depression, and this can make social interaction difficult. Indeed, in more severe depression, you may even struggle to open letters or answer the phone.
The loss of enjoyment that accompanies depression can leave you without the motivation to stay engaged, even with things that you used to enjoy a lot. Depression often involves a loss of energy that can make routine interaction very difficult. Also, over-doing things can result in an even greater feeling of exhaustion and even lower mood.
Although it is tempting to wait until you get more energetic, more motivated and less socially phobic, the lack of activity that this involves often serves to make these problems worse. As such, the only way to break out of this problem is to push yourself to be more active and more engaged. Unfortunately, of course, if you overdo it, you may end up making things worse anyway. Finding a balance is key.
There is a growing body of evidence to show that physical activity is an effective “treatment” for mild-moderate depression. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) say: “Taken together these studies suggest a benefit for physical activity in the treatment of subthreshold depressive symptoms and mild to moderate depression; and more specifically, a benefit for group-based physical activity. Physical activity also has the advantage of bringing other health gains beyond just improvement in depressive symptoms.”
In Wales (and in some areas of the UK) there is a national “Exercise on Prescription” scheme in which GPs can refer you to a fitness coach based at your local leisure centre, who will work with you to develop a personalised exercise programme.
However, getting physically active need not involve going to a gym or even a formal class. Just getting out for a walk, a jog or a bicycle ride can help. Indeed, many ordinary daily activities such as cleaning the house or cutting the grass count as physical activity. And for those who want to re-engage socially as well as being active, organisations such as Mentro Allan offer a range of healthy group activities.
There are two key elements to staying active:
- Only do things because you want to do them (not because you ‘think you ought to’ or because others are pressuring you). But be prepared to try out new things.
- Work at your own pace. When you are depressed you are less able to do what you could when you were well. And if you overdo it, your depression will get wo