There is no need to suffer alone or in silence. A few basic strategies can help spouses stay sane and connected when working through the difficulties of and depression:
1. Communicate! Let your loved one know that you see how he or she is struggling. Whether you feel helpless or frustrated, gently and openly talk about the issues that arise. It can be tempting to avoid these issues and sweep them under the carpet, but doing this will only reduce communication and increase the underlying stress. Make a special, private time to talk-away from kids and work issues-to address possible causes of the depression. Communicating does not mean that you need to try to “fix” the issues; it’s most important that you simply open up, listen, and allow space for honest discussion.
2. Reach Out! It’s easy to feel ashamed or embarrassed by feelings of depression or stress, yet these issues are extremely common. It’s often a great idea to reach out to a local support group, private psychotherapist, or minister for gentle guidance and support. There are many underlying causes of depression that include such issues as a “need for perfection” or a “desire to be in control of life.” A mental health specialist can help sort through these root causes that are often hidden and deeply unconscious. As well, a trusted professional can often help you and your spouse become aware of patterns that trigger depression. By becoming aware of such patterns, you can learn how to become proactive in creating positive, healthy behaviors. In general, asking for help from others can take immense pressure off the marriage. It is important to relieve the emotional pressure within the marriage and allow for supportive, objective input from skilled professionals. Some people feel ashamed or fear that they are weak if they ask for support, yet it actually takes great courage to reach out to others!
3. Socialize! Depression can often leave a person wanting to stay in bed or at home on the couch. The most simple life tasks can feel daunting and exhausting when a person feels overwhelmed. When this occurs, it is common for individuals to feel that they are alone in their struggles. It becomes easy to believe that everyone else in the world is happy and smiling. This can create a cycle of isolation and immobilization that serves to worsen the struggle. Brief, uplifting outings-such as a trip to the store, an afternoon picnic in the park, or a walk through a local farmer’s market-can increase a sense of wellness and connection to others. Volunteering has been shown to have a positive effect on overall mental and physical health! Engaging in caring involvement with others has many tremendously positive benefits!
4. Exercise! When depression begin to rise, many people feel too tired to exercise. Stress-relieving neurochemicals surge throughout the body when we exercise, so it is important to encourage a regular fitness regimen. Whether you take a walk with your spouse after work or encourage a run in the local park, exercise naturally helps relieve anxiety and depression. Although your sweetie may want to become a couch potato, exercise in general-and especially in the great outdoors-is incredibly curative.
5. Increase Self Care! Don’t forget that your partner’s mental health issues also affect you on a deep level. It is important to care for your spouse, yet it’s also vital that you engage in self-care activities of your own, such as outing with friends, exercise, and simple treats like quiet bubble baths. If you allow yourself to become worn-out and exhausted you will not have the necessary reserves to properly take care of anyone else. It is not selfish to put your own needs at the top of the list; in fact, it is essential that fundamental, positive self-care be a solid priority in your life. It does not do any good to be a rundown martyr. Strive to lead by example and become a model of healthy, vibrant self-care!
6. Take Calming Time-Outs! Invite your spouse to engage in regular, peaceful time-outs with you. Practice yoga, listen to calming music, meditate, or enjoy a massage. Learning relaxation techniques is easy to do with readily available CDs and books that offer step-by-step instructions. A practice of learning to become still and quiet can become a life-long ally in the struggle against anxiety and depression. Inner calmness encourages a more tranquil acceptance of life’s ongoing challenges. Learning to step back from worries and fears can be empowering and freeing!
7. Eat Healthfully! We often overlook the importance of a healthy diet, yet research consistently shows that diet affects psychological well-being. When struggling with anxiety and depression, it is all the more important to eat regular, well-balanced meals. Avoid the temptation to allow yourself or your sweetie to skip meals. Maintain a ready supply of healthy, energy-boosting snacks such as raw nuts, fresh fruits, and raw vegetables. Limit alcohol and caffeine, both of which are known to aggravate anxiety issues.
8. Laugh! As simple as it might sound, laughter is truly one of the best medicines known to mankind. Studies have shown that humor goes a long way to contributing to psychological and physical wellness. With this in mind, seek as many opportunities as you can to fill your life with laughter! Whether you watch a romantic comedy with your spouse or have friends over for a night of charades, the healing power of laughter is incredible. We often take ourselves-and life-far too seriously. Let a sense of humor and laughter bring balance and lightness into your life!
9. Sleep! The power of a good night’s sleep is too often ignored or marginalized. Depression often affects sleep patterns, and the lack of solid, uninterrupted sleep can make matters worse. A lack of sleep can increase irritability and lead to poor emotional control, bad judgment, and a host of other difficulties. Too much sleep can also lead to problems that include weight gain and diabetes. To improve sleep, it’s important to have a regular bedtime, avoid late evening meals or snacks, reduce alcohol and caffeine, eliminate electronic (television and computer) stimulation late in the evening, and maintain a softly lit bedroom that is free of distractions. It is easier to have a positive attitude when you are rested and refreshed!
10. Breathe! Never underestimate the power of slow, deep breaths! Especially when dealing with anxiety issues, it’s important to learn to breathe deeply, slowly, and mindfully. When anxiety or stress begin to build, learn to inhale and exhale slowly. Breathe in to a count of 10, and breathe out to a count of 10. When focusing on counting the breath, the mind stops racing and anxiety can be reduced. Breathing exercises have been proven to reduce stress and increase wellness. The body’s production of harmful stress hormones is reduced when relaxing breathing techniques are utilized. If yoga appeals to you, it’s good to know that certain yoga practices also focus on mindful breathing. It’s good news to know that something as simple as changing the way you breathe can support a sense of overall peace and wellness in life.
Depression is a big issue that need not be faced alone. Life is complicated and often far too stressful. Remember to reach out for support. You, your marriage, and your family will be healthier and happier when you take small, significant steps to creating a more balanced lifestyle. With increased awareness and support, you and your husband or wife can thrive!
(Source: Dr. Carla Marie Greco)