Take steps to live better, ward off depression

The Examiner

Before the pandemic, more than 40 million people suffered with depression, and now you can likely double that number, maybe triple it. Fortunately, this problem is mostly situational, directly related to this plague-induced half-life in which we have been living for over a year now.

Barton Goldsmith is a columnist for Tribune News Service. (Handout/TNS)

Here are five simple (for the most part) little things you can do to give your life a bit of a lift. They probably won’t change your life forever, but they may make it easier in the moment, and right now, that’s worth a lot. These hacks are not going to change your entire world, they are meant to induce just a little bit more comfort during these very difficult times.

1. Get a pet. If you can’t get a dog or a cat, for whatever reason, consider a guinea pig. These little animals are very popular in Europe. In fact, in Switzerland, you have to buy two because they get very lonely and depressed when they are in a cage by themselves. Any creature that sensitive is going to add a little something to your day. Guinea pigs like being petted, and petting an animal is comforting for you too. Kitties like sitting in laps, and dogs love going on walks. Doing these things with your pet increases your bond, which will help to lessen your depression.

2. Realize that being in a comfortable environment is a gift. Every day, acknowledge to yourself that you are fortunate for a good home, if you have one. Those little daily acknowledgements add up to gratitude, which has the power to help you feel better about your life. And if you feel the need to increase the comfort in your life, put the effort into finding it. Discomfort leads to discontent and unhappiness.

3. Keep up your reading. Some people like books, newspapers, and magazines; others need their device. Whatever your medium, reading every single day is generally necessary. Just add at least 10 minutes of something fun to read – not your work, research, or mindless scrolling, which is not the same as reading. Neither is looking at guitars (note to self). Get engaged in a story, romp through a new world, and let your mind build a house there. Those minutes add up to hours of brain-building relaxation. Nonfiction is OK too.

4. Move. It is so easy not to do exercise – anyone can loaf about – and now that you’ve proven the point, it’s time to make getting exercise your number one priority. Seriously. There is no more accessible, affordable, and effective antidepressant available anywhere on the planet than physically moving. The jury is in folks: mild exercise, like walking 20 minutes a day, will make you feel better, allow you to do more, and you might even start to enjoy it.

5. Give back to your fellow humans. No matter how bad off you feel you are, someone is worse off. Anything you can do to help another person will make you feel better about yourself; it usually works that way. Sometimes you end up giving too much to an ungrateful wretch, but then you learn to make better choices. It’s rewarding to know that even though you have been struggling in your own life, you were able to reach out. That stuff stays with you.

You don’t have to do all of this at once, but if you did, it probably wouldn’t take that much time out of your day. On the other hand, it could add years to your life and help make the time that you do have more worthwhile. These are little things, baby steps, but if you take them one day at a time, they can add up to helping you just feel a little bit better.

Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time." Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at Barton@bartongoldsmith.com.