With the post holiday season and dark winter days, you, or your spouse, might be dealing with a common increase in depression symptoms. We have also shown that strain in marriage also contributes to increased depression. Combine all these and you have a mix sure to make any depression worse. As depression goes up, marital discord goes up which causes depression to go up and the cycle accelerates.
While irritability is one of the most common symptoms of depression I see (especially in men), other symptoms apparent in interactions include tearfulness, sighs, looking away, whining, sad facial expression, slow speech, and withdrawal. General (physical) symptoms include feeling sad or blue, loss of interest in activities you did enjoy, trouble making decisions, loss of energy, substantial weight gain or loss, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, and loss of energy (see more here). A quick look at this list and it’s easy to see how depression can aggravate marriage. If you spouse is irritable or withdrawing it is easy to feel unloved and uncared for.
Fortunately, there are several interventions that can make a big difference.
- Exercise: A regular dose of exercise has been shown to be a fairly strong antidepressant. You can improve the anti-depressant effect by exercising out doors. Increase the benefit to your marriage by exercising together. Even a brisk walk outside together every other day can have a surprising impact.
- Healthy fuel: Decreasing sweet drinks, junk food, and sweets while ensuring a healthy diet is also key. Like any engine, you body cannot run well on poor quality fuel. A decrease in physical/mental energy is depression and can become chronic.
- Take time to recharge: Ensure you are getting a Sabbath rest. Take time to listen to music, hang out with fun friends, focus on a hobby, read an entertaining book, spend time at the spa, … whatever helps you relax. Even God took time to rest and relax.
- Monitor your thinking: Negative thinking is infectious to our brain. Taking negative thoughts captive and focusing on the positive. “…you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 – MSG). One of my favorite self-help articles on this is by Daniel Amen on ANT Therapy.
- Improve your marriage: Significant research that shows improving your marriage is a great treatment for depression. Especially in women. If you find your marriage strained or regular spats with your spouse, get some help. Don’t wait for it to get bad.
- Have sex: Yes. I had to put it in. We’ve actually proven it helps. It’s important to remember that the assumption is it’s in the context of a loving marriage and you are not being overly pressured. (Pressuring your spouse can increase their depression.) The chemical release during sex is good anti-depressant though.
Spend a bit of time to evaluate your own level of depression. Sometimes called the common cold of mental health, there is nothing shameful about being depressed. There is in not doing something about it. If you apply the above and it doesn’t help, give us, your doctor, or another therapist a call. We’ll help you diagnose and develop a treatment plan. Most depression is successfully treated.
Note: Male depression can be particularly difficult to identify. It tends to look more like irritability and aggression, sleep problems, loss of self-confidence, anxiety, or loss of energy and interest in formerly fun things. A quick web search on male depression will provide even more symptoms.