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Depression and recovery in Australia

Self-care and coping strategies

In addition to using conventional and complementary therapies to deal with their depression, most people talked about taking part in enjoyable activities or pursuing their interests as another method of keeping their symptoms at bay. Strategies people used to maintain periods of ‘wellness’ included hobbies or artistic pursuits, physical activity or social activity. Many people discussed the benefits of a healthy diet, Jane noting that getting better required taking care of both body and mind' ‘you actually have a whole body that needs to be looked after. And, so I do and it rewards me’. Most people were trying to find ways of ‘distracting themselves from depression’. As Amelia put it, ‘That's another big strategy of mine - get so busy with important things that I don’t have time to think about it; don’t have time to be depressed…’. Another strategy a few people mentioned was setting up regular appointments to ensure they left home and went out (see ‘Talking treatments’‘Experiences with antidepressant medication’ and ‘Complementary and holistic approaches’).
 

Jules structured her medical appointments in such a way that most days she had a reason to leave...

Jules structured her medical appointments in such a way that most days she had a reason to leave...

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 55
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I have an appointment, so for example, maybe I've gone Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday without needing to see anyone, so I, then I haven't left the apartment, I haven't taken the rubbish down, I haven't done the dishes. Sometimes it almost becomes like a competition to see how bad the kitchen can look before I'll actually do something about it. How many times I can walk around something then I become almost fascinated that I can do that when, I don't think it helped that up until recently, in the last few years, I've always had a cleaner, so cleaning feels strange anyway but the only thing that breaks it is that I have to go somewhere. 
 
So I see my GP every Monday about 11'30 and I see the chiropractor on the Tuesday. So Monday and Tuesday are fairly safe, I'll at least have a shower and get dressed. Wednesday's variable. I usually see my outreach worker. Thursday's, for every fortnight I see my psychiatrist so I have to go out then. And it is, I have to go out. 
 
Other activities people mentioned as being relaxing included ‘practising positive thinking’, ‘going and sitting on the beach’, or simply ‘avoiding thinking about their suffering’. Setting goals to look forward to and self-help courses were mentioned by a few. Chloe mentioned the importance of developing mental strength through physical and psychological activities. Others worked on cultivating and using their talents. Chloe relaxed by being able to ‘cook a really nice dinner, have a glass of wine, watch a good movie and go to bed’. Comodor found keeping busy and structuring his day helpful. Others mentioned keeping diaries, travelling, learning new skills, or enrolling at university. A few people found watching TV relaxing – as Millaa put it' ‘I find reading really works, and television. Reruns of Will and Grace, oh, they work wonders. Nothing like Will and Grace to calm you at three o'clock in the morning’.
 

Dani found art therapy particularly helpful in expressing herself and sorting out her thoughts...

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Dani found art therapy particularly helpful in expressing herself and sorting out her thoughts...

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I have done some art therapy before. That’s mainly because I am interested in it and that’s a career I want to pursue. but I found that really helpful especially if I find it really hard to talk. And sometimes being able to create art is, is a way for me to communicate if I don’t have the words. So I found art therapy really helpful, especially because when my mood’s really low I really struggle to talk about it. So it gives me a way to talk about it without having to say the words. 
 
Well the forms I’ve participated in, generally we get an exercise that - whatever it may be, like for example we had to one time draw a tree and how the tree represented ourselves and I think at first I was pretty sceptical about it, but if I actually started participating and it, I found that it actually uncovered a lot of thoughts about myself that I didn’t really recognise. And I also learned that some of the views I have about myself actually really impact my mood. And that’s been really important because I have to work on those as well. 
 
I think it also –it helped me explain things in a way that I didn’t find confronting, because I find talking about how I’m feeling really confronting and difficult. And I think I still need to talk and it’s really important that I do, but having art as kind of a medium to express that is often less confronting for me. So I found that really helpful.
 
Hobbies and artistic pursuits
 
Reading books was a form of relaxation or distraction for a few people. Comodor who felt lonely and abandoned by his wife derived great comfort from listening to particular talkback radio programs and organised his day around them. Amelia and Ivan enjoyed gardening. As Ameila said: ‘But just for the therapy of it, sometimes I weed. It's so lovely, you know, because you just focus your mind totally on this little patch’.
 

Ivan found maintaining his small vegetable garden and sharing his produce with neighbours...

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Ivan found maintaining his small vegetable garden and sharing his produce with neighbours...

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 52
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I live in [place name], beautiful suburb, beautiful trees, green parks, beautiful birds wake me up every morning and my dog, we go for a walk, we have a tiny community garden which is a role model to all the others. We are surrounded by older people and they are always surprised how such a tiny garden produces everything. Their gardens - they are mainly from Asia - grow only bok choy and cabbage, the entire garden is just that, bok choy. We are growing everything, onion, silver beet…it is our recreation. It brings so much pleasure working in a garden, looking for new fertilisers, and tools, in my 58th year I found peace and tranquillity. One more thing…I am a believer, declared and definitely, I would say, a justified believer since 1996 when something significant happened and confirmed me as a believer. Faith partly influenced my rehabilitation and contributed to my recovery. I mean, we can discuss this but there is no need. I have found myself there. Not everyone would find himself there but it helped me.

A few women found comfort and relaxation in cooking or baking, as expressed by Susan: ‘I really like cooking as well.  It's – to be absorbed in something means that there isn't any room for feeling blank and cut off and dark in the soul’.

Amelia mentioned reading cookbooks; another was writing a cookbook. Baking cakes for Safra reminded her of happy childhood times surrounded by extended family. She said baking had become part of her ‘therapy’.

A few found computer games a positive distraction, while others enjoyed motorcycle riding. As Kimberly put it: ‘I can't be depressed when I ride my motorcycle, I'm too busy mentally to be depressed.’ Carpentry was mentioned by one person, lapidary by another, and few mentioned painting and photography. Susan sang in a choir and had learned to read music.
 

Fly-fishing and the meditative space this activity provided for John became important for him,...

Fly-fishing and the meditative space this activity provided for John became important for him,...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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So I started fly-fishing and I kind of attribute that to saving my life a bit, because it was that third space where there was no pressure, where I could just think and I could just be and it's kind of meditative as well because you're really focused on what you're doing. It's not like drowning a worm where you can just off with the fairies, you're actually targeting a fish, or watching a fly really closely to see if a fish will take it. 
 
So, that became really important to me and I - and so I actually structure my time so that at least once a week I go fly-fishing, and generally not on the weekend because that's kind of family time, so I don't ever envisage myself going back to work full time.
 
…and I bought a couple of books from eBay about the Slow Movement and this was really fascinating. This revolution which is pushing back against Western sort of, utilitarianism, you know, life is about achieving stuff and results and material stuff and, you know, advancement and all this sort of stuff. And it's pushing back against that, you know, there's slow food, there's, you know, slow neighbourhoods and all that sort of - and really, and that, that kind of helped me just to slow down and smell the roses.
 
So I'd, for example, allocate heaps of time to a certain task. So I'd go and do the grocery shopping but I'd have heaps of time to get it done in. So I'd just be wandering about, you know, which is, which is lovely really. I mean, you go shopping if you've got 20 minutes and you've got three kids hanging off your trolley - it's just a nightmare. 
 
 

Kymberly said on difficult days she would remind herself that her ‘depressed state’ was usually...

Kymberly said on difficult days she would remind herself that her ‘depressed state’ was usually...

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 45
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And I know - the only thing I do know when I get in that depressed state - the only thing that I can remember and think logically about is the fact that I know it's a time thing. That it's not going to go on forever. It might last a day, it might last an hour or it might last a week. It might last five days. It's never gone for more than seven days with me and I know I'm on the upswing. And I have my down days, my very down days now still. But they only ever last for a day and even in that day, when I'm having a down day now, I had a down day yesterday. I drew up a new painting. I got on the internet and found a picture that I wanted to do. I swept my house. You know, I didn't do a lot but I was still able to function. You know, I made myself food. I did - you know what I mean?

 

Shaz’s participation in a millinery course made her feel accepted.

Shaz’s participation in a millinery course made her feel accepted.

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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But I started going back to school and I’m studying millinery which is very interesting. And the girls - it’s an all girl group and they are fantastic. There is no bitchiness which normally girls are pretty good at bitching about each other. They back, backstab each other to bits. But these girls, well we’re all more mature women but there is a couple of younger girls but we all help each other, we all borrow each other’s equipment. We all respect each other. We all sit and have lunch together and talk about what we’ve been doing. And that makes me happy. And I really, for the first time in my life feel accepted for what I am.

Physical activities
 
Most people acknowledged the value of regular physical exercise. A few had structured gym routines. Others swam or walked which they found beneficial both physically and for ‘clearing their mind’. Trekking for one person was a useful motivational activity. As Linda commented, ‘getting out and getting moving, it helps clear your head’. Some people ran or cycled, while others did yoga. For some, finding time for such activities was a sign that they were getting better. A few people opted for group sports such as softball, which provided the opportunity for physical activity as well as socialising.
 

Louise summarised the benefits of group physical activities.

Louise summarised the benefits of group physical activities.

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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It can be, yes. I did take up yoga, I forgot to mention, and I found that enormously helpful and I still do it. That was really helpful and also another thing I'd - I've changed with the help of the (organisation name) program. One of the principles is to keep contact with friendly minds.
 
Well, I find if I'm on my own, sometimes my thoughts and my imagination can start getting away with me again. So when I was at the gym and I was doing my program in the gym, although people were around me, in my head thoughts were still going. So a change I made there was to get into a class. So I've been doing Pump for about nine or 10 years now and I have to follow the instructions there of the instructor and - so that keeps my mind focused on the one thing.
 
 

Ron was aware of the importance of incorporating regular physical and mental activity along with...

Ron was aware of the importance of incorporating regular physical and mental activity along with...

Age at interview: 62
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 27
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But moving your body, moving your limbs, is really, really important. So whether it’s just walking down the street, walking to your letterbox, walking around your suburbs, going to the gym or anywhere else uh and doing it regularly, at least, you know, three to four times a week for over 30 minutes works for me and uh that’s what I'll do. And I’ll be going - doing that today, this afternoon. So it’s a habit that I do and it does after - even though I don’t feel like it I know that after I finish I will feel different and I feel stronger and healthier and a sense of achievement. 
 
So these are just routines that I build into my life as part of my day to day living and they’re ordinary things. But meditation certainly, or mindfulness, certainly is a major factor that I think is helping with prevention and exercise and diet but also having fun, you know, looking for enjoyable experiences and having a rest occasionally. For me, as a person who does too much, or over works, just sitting in this room and looking out the window and not feeling I have to get up and dust the uh, the knick knacks or whatever, is amazing. I can choose just to rest. 
 
Social activities
 
Spending more time with friends and family was an important coping strategy for many people we talked with. Colin took regular time to talk with his partner, while Linda focused on ‘surrounding yourself in, by people that you love and things that you love and trying to remind yourself that everything's okay and there's a light at the end of the tunnel’. For others, talking with or befriending people with similar experiences was useful. Several described the mutual gains that came from helping others with depression through volunteering activities and support groups. Community work helped some people to refocus from unhelpful introspection to helping others.
 

Colin talked about the benefits of looking forward, spending peaceful time with his wife, and...

Colin talked about the benefits of looking forward, spending peaceful time with his wife, and...

Age at interview: 74
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 67
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It’s useful because you can - I think you can have a look at not what was yesterday - never look back at what yesterday was, I think that’s the worst thing - but look at what is to come, what are we doing today, where are we going today. And then you can go back sometimes and look at - we’ll talk about family, how we’ve raised our kids. That doesn’t happen very much. I think we’ve become quite self-centred the two of us because we talk about what is the day ahead and we’ll talk about our friends. We also read the Bible too. We read it together. And you put all those things together and it’s just peace in the house, peace in the room and our two cats they come and they’ll curl up with us as well because for them, animals, they detect peace and it is. It’s a very peaceful time in the morning, very essential to us. I don’t know what we’d do without it. 

Some people enjoyed going to the movies, either with friends or alone, as one man put it, to ‘divert attention from the issue at hand’. A few people noted that having a dog stimulated daily exercise and sometimes facilitated social contacts with other pet owners. Suzi said: ‘I recommend everyone with depression should raise a dog. It’s not always a good thing, I mean you want to stay in bed all day, but you can’t. He wants you up’. People also interpreted being able to take care of a pet as a sign of recovery. Some people were involved in sporting clubs, either themselves or through their children.
 

Rosie emphasised the importance of a variety of self-help strategies for getting better.

Rosie emphasised the importance of a variety of self-help strategies for getting better.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 44
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But certainly in the last six months or so I’ve been a lot more healthier, exercising more regularly. So I think you know, if you’re depressed it’s about getting fresh air, sunlight, getting outside, going for a walk, exercise of any kind, and contact with people, very much. Don’t isolate yourself, um. Because you know, that first year, two years, I didn’t go out on the weekend. I stayed at home, I drank wine, I read. I could easily have become an alcoholic without a shadow of a doubt. I didn’t, I haven’t.
 
I knocked back invitations to go out because I just wasn’t up to it. I think that’s probably normal and part of the process, but - so at some point, whenever that was in the timeline, but it was a turning point where I said, well I’m not going to knock back anymore invitations and unless I’m really sick, I’m going out. And I found that you know, when I get there I’ll have a good time.
 
I went, we went to [place name] [Older son] died in 2006 so we went to [place name] in 2007 and we went for a week, I had, playing softball. I had a great week and I felt guilty when I came home because I didn’t think about [older son] for the whole week because I actually enjoyed myself. And I lived. And I, you know we’d go for a walk in the sea every day after softball and we went out for dinner every night and I had to learn to accept that it was okay not to think of [older son] every day and feel sad and be depressed and be mourning and be in grief because life does go on and you have to go on with it. 
 
You can’t you know, that bottomless pit is always ready to swallow you up but you have to keep going. And that was scary for a while, certainly in the first year or two, that bottomless pit was a roaring, gaping, big, huge hole that easily, easily could have slid into and not come out. Really had to struggle and fight and really pull on every inner, piece of inner strength I had to not fall into that bottomless pit. 
 
 

Gabrielle used Alcoholic Anonymous publications, along with the Bible and other self-help...

Gabrielle used Alcoholic Anonymous publications, along with the Bible and other self-help...

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 23
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I constantly read, affirmations; every day, still. I got hold of a little guide book for Alcoholics Anonymous, and I don't know if you've ever seen their little book they have, that they carry with them wherever they're going. And it, and it's based on some Bible, readings; some teachings; and some little affirmations. And just to - just something to read you to - help you - just to help you along the way; to reassure you. And I pick that up every day. 
 
Before I go to sleep I read my Louise Hay affirmations. I just open it up randomly and read a bit. And I think oh yes, I was meant to read that. And, my little AA book is - I didn't use that for giving up alcohol. I just used it because I really liked the little passages in it, and, and it helped me, - I am that type of person. I think on a deeper level. I, - and that is a comfort to me. 
 
I remember when I first picked up a Bible. I, I went through a Catholic upbringing, so always had a belief in God; but never took it seriously; like yes, we'll go to church. Yeah on a Sunday, but never went to church as an adult.
 
I remember when I - I remember being in hospital and picking up a copy of the Bible, and I just held it. And I didn't read it. I just held it. And, as life went on, I then used to progress to going to sitting in a chapel. And then, I would start a process of lighting a candle and saying a prayer.
 
 

Returning to her Christian beliefs helped give Suzi strength.

Returning to her Christian beliefs helped give Suzi strength.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 21
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Yeah. I became a Christian. I was brought up a Christian and then I lapsed as an adult. And I became a Christian about 15 years ago. And it is, it is a big help in my life. I remember passing - lots of churches have these billboards out front and have these terrible sayings or things on it, you think, oh, you know.
 
But I remember going past one that had the most amazing effect on me. I went past and it said, “Jesus would rather die than live without you.” And it just struck me, I think I had to pull over at the time. It was just really strange.
 
I went home and I knew my Bible well enough to know that that’s actually consistent, in that they do say that Jesus would have died if you had been the only person in the world. So I went home and I put on the computer and I typed, “Jesus would rather die than live without me.” And I stuck it on the wall and looked at it.
 
I think that’s the first time I ever felt the slightest bit of, ‘I might be okay’, you know. I’d always hated myself. I’d always thought that I was this terrible person and at that moment, I just thought, well, maybe I’m worth something? 
 
So yeah. Religion can have a lot of positives and a lot of negatives. I don’t find Christians always very supportive of people with psych illnesses.
 
So I just don’t go to a church that says that. I go to one that is more enlightened. I find it really, really helpful. I find going to a good service on a Sunday can refill me enough to kind of, you know, you get beaten down by the world and it fills me up again. And I feel stronger to kind of go out and face the world again. 
 
It had a lot to do with me still being alive and my doctors know that. Sometimes I get cross with them and say that they use it. But I feel very much that I gave my life to Christ, it’s not my life to take. If I wasn’t a Christian I don’t know if I’d be here and my psychiatrist doesn’t think I’d be here either.
 

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.
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