Joseph Wright of Derby captured one of the earliest examples of 24 hour industry at Sir Richard Arkwright’s cotton mill in this painting from 1782. Yikes! Not much seep happening there.
We’re not really sure why we sleep, but we are sure that’s it’s really important. When we doze off our bodies enter an anabolic state and busy themselves repairing and rebuilding all the necessary bits and pieces. Adults should aim to get 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night, but this isn’t always that easy if you’re feeling down. Depression can cause insomnia (too little sleep), or hypersomnia (too much sleep). Neither of these side-effects are particularly helpful if you’re trying your best to get into a regular sleep pattern. If you are having trouble sleeping then you should always speak to your doctor about this. In more severe cases they may prescribe you with a course of medication to get your sleep under control. If your doctor does recommend this course of action then you must follow it. Sleeping tablets can leave you feel a little groggy when you first wake up, but the side effects are temporary and a small price to pay in exchange for a night of deep, solid sleep.
Whatever state your sleep is in you can take some practical steps to ensure that it is not being adversely affected by your environment. Namely, that of your bedroom. In a depression we can get so caught up with in the agonising frustration of not being able to sleep/ sleeping too much that we begin to ignore the obvious. The bedroom is, after all, the place where we do most of our sleeping, so it makes sense to stop and evaluate how well it’s doing its job. Aside from the physiological distractions of the illness, a poorly set-up boudoir can also interfere with the duration and quality of our sleep. Here’s a simple, five-point checklist that you can use to evaluate your slumber pad:
- Are you comfortable in bed? Sounds simple, but an uncomfortable mattress can cause all kind of disturbances to your sleep. If the answer to this question is no then you need to take some immediate action. You could treat your self to a new mattress (expensive, but worth it if you have the cash). Memory Foam mattress are excellent and provide support for body parts you didn’t even know you had. A cheaper option is a mattress topper. These are nifty slices of mattress that you place over your existing arrangements. If you’re living in rented accommodation you should speak to your landlord and just ask for a new mattress, particularly if you’re paying London rent prices.
- Is you bedroom cluttered? It’s amazing how much a bit of mess can be on the back of your mind. If you’re feeling down then chances are, perfectly normally, that your housekeeping has taken a bit of backseat. Don’t beat yourself up about this, but do try to have a bit of a clear out when you feel able to. Even if the rest of your gaff remains a bit Men-Behaving-Badly, your bedroom can act as a bit of a sanctuary for you to escape to. There’s also a good chance that this positive feeling will help you relax a little in your attitudes and thoughts towards sleep.
- Is there too much light in your room? You need darkness to sleep. It’s a primordial requirement, so let’s not quibble with it. Cavemen needed it, and so do you. Unfortunately the average person doesn’t have access to a moonlit-only night-time. Today our darker hours are more like glowing, light polluted hazes. We make things worse by filling our bedrooms with various LED gizmos. Solution: cover the windows and remove the gizmos. This is pretty easy to do. Start with curtains and blinds on the main windows. If you’re still left with uncovered windows then you need to improvise (Practical Depression has an annoying door to a balcony complete with big window in its bedroom). All you need is some tape and something translucent (you could use coloured cellophane or, failing that, sheets of A4 paper). Tackle the tech a little more ruthlessly. If it’s emitting light when you are trying to sleep then it is probably distracting you. Unplug, cover, and turn off. You should also put your mobile phone of flight mode. If you’re not expecting any life or death Whatsapp’s then the messages can probably wait until tomorrow.
- Hot between the sheets? Good news if you are romping, bad news if you are trying to get a good night’s sleep. Try sleeping naked (PJs are a bit 1950’s as well as being quite warm), or taking a hot bath or shower before bed. The last suggestion might seem a bit counter-intuitive but it appears that it really does work! The hot water raises your temperature when you are bathing, but will allow your overall body temperature to regulate and drop way down once you are out. This is excellent and means you can combine the coolness of listening to Stevie Wonder in the bath with a cool night’s sleep.
- Good air quality? Hang on city dwellers, we know that the piercing freshness of an alpine atmosphere is something of an unreality for urban living, but despair not! Firstly, open your window. Even if you live on a main road a little air circulation will do you good. The pollution is a bit annoying, but a slight breeze will undoubtedly make you feel less claustrophobic and stuffy. Secondly, get some plants. Buying some greenery is a really cheap way to freshen up your bedroom, and indeed your whole place. Plants truly are unsung heros. They spend their days producing oxygen, look pretty, and smell nice. Grab some flowering pot-plants (and maybe a cactus if you are feeling adventurous) and add the strangely enlivening process of photosynthesis to your bedroom.
If your bed has reached Tracey Emin levels of mess then keep calm and tidy.
A wholesome meal for summer or winter.
Its’s delicious, it’s Sicilian, its Caponata. Click here for this delicious and nutty aubergine stew recipe.
Add a bit of spice to your life.
Try this one for a bit of healthy summer spice. A big shout out to ASDA Good Living on this one. Click here for the recipe.
Zingy, fresh, and tasty.
No one really knows how to pronounce it (is it quin-oh-ah, keen-wah, Qui-No?). Anyway, that issue to one side, it forms a brilliant, protein rich base for this tasty salad. Whip this one up for lunch or dinner, and enjoy an easy to prepare, nutrient laden plate of goodness. There’s plenty of fibre in it too, but we’ll probably leave the benefits of that out of this post…
- 2 chicken breasts
- Ras el hanout (or other spices)
- 1/2 a cup of quinoa
- Small handful of pomegranate seeds
- 1/2 of a red onion
- 1/2 of a pepper (any colour)
- 1/4 of a cucumber
- A handful of fresh mint
- Cover the chicken breasts in the Ras el hanout and place on a baking tray. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven at 200C for approximately 20-30 mins (or until cooked through). Place the breasts to one side to cool.
- Boil the quinoa in water for about 15 minutes. The grains will open out when they are fully cooked. Drain off the water with a sieve and place the quinoa back in pan.
- Chop the peppers, red onion, mint, and cucumber into small pieces and place into mixing bowl. Stir in the quinoa and pomegranate seeds.
- Cut the chicken breasts into slices and lay them on top of the quinoa and pomegranate mix.
- All done! The salad is also really tasty the next day, so don’t be scared of popping it in a Tupperware and eating it for tomorrow’s lunch.
It’s hardly a serious philosophical insight to point out that the brilliance of music, beyond it’s ability to stir deep emotional reactions, is that it’s also really fun. For no other reason than a bit of good old silliness, here are Practical Depression’s July highlights from the world of auditory hilarity:
- Wintergarten’s ingenious Marble Machine playing the funky and beautiful track ‘Marble Machine’.
Apparently the machine took the Swedish musician two years to make!
- J. Views programming fruit and vegetable to play Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’.
People would definitely eat more veg if carrots were always this cool.
- Conservative politician Jeremy Hunt being followed by a man playing a Sousaphone.
Hunt looks more silly than the man carrying a large brass instrument. Genius.
Have a listen to ‘Get a Move On’ by Manchester DJ, Mr. Scruff. The perfect soundtrack for getting active.
Ok, you’re feeling down. You’ve spoken to a friend, seen your doctor, and you’ve outlined a plan. That’s all great stuff and you should be really proud of yourself for getting this far. Your blueprint for recovery, (however sketchy), probably includes some plans to get more sleep, stop watching your Iphone in bed, and eat a bit better. Still feel like there’s something missing? That’s because there is: it’s exercise. Before we go any further it’s important to clear up a couple of misconceptions, after all this is exercise 101:
- Exercise only has physical benefits. Today, Medical Science has thoroughly documented the mental as well as the physical benefits of exercise. The old ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ adage is now supported by a wealth of scientific evidence. Exercise promotes the release of all the good brain chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, etc.), and is great for supporting long-term cognitive ability. The ‘runner’s high’ is not a euphemism for indulgent marathon participants, it’s a real physiological side-effect of extended periods of cardiovascular exercise. Basically, exercise, and particularly cardiovascular exercise, makes you feel good. This is particularly useful if you’re feeling down.
- Exercise is only beneficial if it’s intense. This really couldn’t be further from the truth. Exercise, like depression, comes in many guises. A stroll around the block is exercise, as is a 15 mile run. It’s important that you tailor exercise to your age, current levels of fitness, and general health and well being. If you don’t exercise regularly it probably isn’t a good idea to structure your recovery around training for a marathon. The main thing is to get moving and turn this behavioural change into a positive habit. It’s also important to remember that over-exercising is recognised as a form of self-harm. You must exercise, but you mustn’t exercise excessively. Physical activity should make you feel tired, calm, and sweaty, but it shouldn’t make you feel exhausted, ill, or down.
- Exercise is an expensive hobby. This is simply untrue. In our topsy-turvy modern world you could expend an infinite amount of money of gear, gadgets, memberships, and supplements. None of these things are essential to exercising regularly or successfully. You might consider a membership at a gym (local council run gyms offer reasonable deals, and are a sensible alternative to pricey, poseur-focused muscle emporiums), but only if you think you can afford it and will use it regularly. Forget magic powders and fat burning capsules, just get a move on.
Misnomers addressed, now onto the exercise! Oh wait, I’ve never exercised before… Don’t worry, everyone is a new to the world of exercise at some point. Just make sure you’ve got a pair of trainers and some comfy clothes to work out in (these don’t need to be high-spec, they just need to be functional and allow you to move freely).
Three basic exercise ideas
- The long(ish) walk. There’s an infinite amount of possibility with the long walk. You can simply set out from your front door with an idea of distance you’d like to cover or the time you’d like to walks for and go from there. This is best for when you’re feeling really down. If it’s a heroic effort just to leave you’re flat or house then you should count a successful walk around your immediate area as a real success. If you’re feeling like you could go a little further afield then why not Google ‘nice walks near X, Y, or Z’. This sounds super simple, but Google holds a wealth of good ideas when it comes to nice places to walk. Getting out into the countryside, (or in London one of the bigger parks), is a great way to clear your head and look at a more open skyline (good for the soul). S the pace according to your level of fitness and how you feel on the day. A sedentary pace is great for loosening yourself up and focusing on your breathing, and a brisker pace is great for promoting the positive benefits of cardiovascular exercise.
- Home Yoga. Somehow, through a series of increasingly baffling developments, the ancient Indian art of Yoga has become the sole preserve of affluent North Londoners. However, fear not. You absolutely should not be paying £40 per hour for something that you can do at home, for free. Visit You Tube and type in ‘home yoga’. You’ll find loads of videos of experts guiding you through yoga routines. Start with something for beginners, and progress slowly towards an expert-looking downward dog. You could watch the video on your phone, or hook your laptop up to your television for a more immersive experience. Why not try putting some soothing music in the background? Home Yoga is something that you can do completely for free. It’s got lots of positive mental relaxation effects, and is great for keeping you supple (particularly if you have spent the past few days lying in bed and feeling down).
- Park Workout. This one requires a bit of caveat. Practical Depression fully acknowledges that its British readers rarely enjoy the luxury of sunshine, however, do not let this deter you! Rain or shine the British park, beyond its role as national institution, is a great place to do some exercise. Parks usually have well maintained, traffic free tarmac paths and so make a great place for a jog. If you’re in a larger park you could pick a route through it and run from one end to the other. If the park is a little smaller then try to find a good place to do some laps. A big duck pond or flower beds are a good shout for doing this. However, don’t think that the park workout is limited to the trusty jog. Lots of parks now have outdoor exercise equipment, often including pull-up bars, leg presses, and cross-training stations. This stuff is great for a free, quick, no-nonsense fitness session. These exercise zones are also great places to buddy up with a friend, or get chatting to other like minded exercise bods. Approach the equipment sensibly if your a beginner, and work your way up from there. You could start out by trying to do 5 reps/30 seconds on each machine.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Do take it easy when you are first starting to exercise. This is a tortoise, and not hare, kind of game.
- Do find cheap, sustainable ways to exercise.
- Do mix up your work outs, and try out different ways to exercise. Variety is the spice of life.
- Don’t blow a load of cash on a gym membership or Usain Bolt-worthy trainers.
- Don’t do one, single 100m sprint and be knackered for the rest of the week.
- Don’t always exercise alone. If you’re headed for a walk, or to the park, take a friend along with you.