One reason for the dramatic surge of depression in our Western culture is the stressful lifestyle that so many are living for extended periods of time. Addressing this is not the whole answer in recovering from depression, but it is often a large part of the answer. It is vital to lead a balanced lifestyle in order to relieve the “stretch” that threatens our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
One of the keys to a balanced lifestyle is regular routine. This is also one of the first things to fall by the wayside when someone becomes depressed. Depressed people often find it difficult to resist being guided by their feelings. When a person feels down he will often do only what he feels like doing and avoid what he doesn’t feel like doing. For example, if you are depressed and you don’t feel like getting up, you won’t. If you don’t feel like working, you won’t. If you don’t feel like doing the laundry, you won’t. If you feel you want to drink or eat to excess, you do it. A positive step in recovering from depression is to restore order and discipline in your life. Regular and orderly sleeping, eating, and working patterns will rebuild a sense of usefulness and healthy “self-esteem.” It is also glorifying to God who is a God of order, not of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).
We need to build times of relaxation into our lives. This may involve finding a quiet spot at various times throughout the day to simply pause, calm down, and seek the peace of God in our lives. Jesus recognized and provided for this need in His disciples when He took them “apart into a desert place, and rest[ed] a while” (Mark 6:31).
Another helpful area to explore is whether you are breathing properly. It is common for depressed and anxious people to be extremely tense, which often leads to hyperventilation or over-breathing and then to inevitable weakness of body and brain. There are many helpful books and Web sites that, without straying into “New Age” ideas, give good basic advice on re-learning how to relax and breathe properly.
Moderate physical exercise helps to expel unhelpful chemicals from our system and stimulates the production of helpful chemicals. Outdoor exercise has the added benefit of the sun’s healing rays.
A Christian psychologist recently said to me that he starts most depressed people on three pills: “Good exercise, good diet, and good sleep!” That’s great advice, so I would encourage you to make use of the plentiful resources available today on these subjects.
As regular sleep patterns enable the body and mind to repair and re-charge, set fixed times for going to bed and getting up, and try to get at least eight hours of sleep. Avoid caffeine, vigorous exercise, phone calls, TV, and Internet use within three hours of sleeping. Get into a set routine for going to bed, and try to secure cooperation from others in the house. And remember God’s gift of weekly rest. The Lord’s Day was graciously made for us (Mark 2:27), partly to ease the tension of our busy, overstretched lives.
Examine your life and see what you can do to reduce your commitments and obligations. Areas to consider are your family, your work, your church, your neighbors, and travel. Once you are better you may be able to pick up some of these activities again. But the priority is to get better.
We may also need to look at the reasons for choosing such stressful and damaging lifestyles. What is driving us? What is motivating us? What are our aims and ambitions? What are we living for? Above all, who are we living for?