Experiences of 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’).
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’.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.


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