10 Ways to Crush Long Distance Relationship Depression, Backed by Science
Do you agree with this statement?
A LDR can be one of the toughest journeys for a couple to experience.
There are many instances where you can go from feeling invincible to wanting to curl up into the fetal position.
It is definitely an emotional roller coaster.
Whether one of you has departed after an amazing visit, the length between visits is becoming unbearable or just not being able to express yourself physically and emotionally in the way that you want with your partner, and many other similar situations, can impact our mental health.
It's perfectly ok to feel this way. We're all human and it gets tough when we know we can't have what we want!
But when the sadness becomes a daily companion and long distance relationship depression starts to set in, it is important to recognize it to have the best opportunity to deal with it.
This is an issue that is very important to us. So we have put a lot of time and effort into researching the best ways, backed by scientific evidence and studies where possible, to combat depression in a long distance relationship.
We truly hope what we've put together can act as the building blocks for you or your partner to getting back on the right track.
NOTE: While this list can be considered general techniques for helping with depression. We've spent a lot of time going a step further to documented everything in a way that relates back to long distance relationships. Read on, you'll see what we mean 🙂
1. Talking About It
It's sounds easy doesn't it? Just open your mouth and let it all come out. But in reality talking about depression is damn hard. We care a lot about what others think and no one likes to look vulnerable, which can prevent us from opening up when we really need to.
You may think others will worry too much or that they may think it's an overreaction. But this train of thought needs to be broken! Depression isn't to be taken lightly and support from those around us plays a pivotal role in recovery.
Remember you're not alone, there is no shortage of people you can turn to for help:
Friends & Family
If there is one person that NEEDS to know how you feel it's your partner. Keeping things from them won't make things better. They love you, they want to be with you, so they will do whatever they can to make you happy.
If your partner is the one suffering from depression but are having a hard time opening up don't force the situation. Make sure they feel safe and confident enough to talk. Let them know you'll be there when they are ready and will support them in any way possible.
Friends & Family
Being in a LDR means our partners won't always be accessible when we need them. This is where friends and family are so valuable.
Although they might not know the struggles of depression in a long distance relationship, they truly care for you. More often than not they'll know you differently thank your partner does, which can be invaluable when it comes to knowing the best way 'for them' to help.
If you find it hard to open up to people you know, support groups, online or in-person, can be a great option. When there is a level of anonymity it can be easier to open up without the fear of ridicule. It can also be much more relatable atmosphere with others having the same issues.
Google is your best friend when it comes to finding online and local support groups. But some online groups we recommend are:
If none of these solutions are helpful and you have the means to do so, find a therapist in your area. They can provide an unbiased opinion and sometimes it can be nice to talk to someone you don’t know very well but has a lot of experience in dealing with different issues.
2. Creating Routines
When you’re feeling depressed and missing your partner, it can seem like each day melts into the next as all you can think about is being with them.
Being fixated on this negative train of thought can suck the life out of you. Time stands still and the rut you're in keeps you withdrawn and unfocused from everyday life.
Ian Cook MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA noted that depression can strip away structure from your life. Without structure you can't escape that rut. This is where setting up a routine is key.
Creating a schedule, and sticking to it, helps you to focus on the task at hand. As you do this your mind is occupied and keeping negative thoughts at bay.
Here are a couple of routines to get you on the right track:
Create a Morning Routine
Morning routines are a great way to make sure you're taking care of yourself before the day gets ahead of you. This is something Britt Reints, authour of An Amateurs Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness, has been doing to take control of her situation.
Tip: Wake up a little bit earlier than usual and do something that calms or relaxes you. This is a great way to get started while setting the tone for the rest of the day.
You can take this a step further like Malan Darras who set up a daily routine. Check out his article that shows just how crazy his routine was and how he turned it all around. His current routine is something to aspire to!
Scheduling Time With Your Partner
This is something that many of us take for granted. Setting up a schedule for when you chat on Skype or FaceTime can be a great way to build up a healthy routine for your relationship. It will also help mentally by reinforcing something positive to continually look forward to.
Need help planning your routine? Take a look at WebMD's Daily Activity Planner for Depression Recovery. It's a great tool to keep you in control.
3. Setting Goals
Creating routines and setting goals go hand in hand. If we think of routines being the foundation for creating change then goals are the building blocks set upon that foundation.
When starting out it's imperative to set goals you can achieve. Setting the wrong goals or unattainable goals can have the opposite impact.
In a 2013 study, researchers from the University of Liverpool found that depressed people tended to form more unattainable goals when compared to people unaffected by depression. This was in part due to the fact that depressed people's goals were less concrete and detailed, while their non-depressed counterparts created fairly specific detail orientated goals.
So if we're going to create REAL and attainable goals we need to move away from generalizing the outcome we want to achieve and create a detailed plan of how we're going to actually do it!
The team over at Resilient have a great article on setting goals when you're depressed. They talk about using a cool technique called SMART, which stands for:
- Realistic, and
Lets look at some goals we can set.
- Read more
- Stay away from negativity
- Get to work on time
- Eat breakfast every morning
- Go to the dentist!
- Learn a new skill
- Lose X amount of weight
- Create clear career objectives
- Pay off debts
Personal Growth Goals
- Volunteering your time
- Finish your schooling
- Working with a mentor
- Visiting family more often
- Stop procrastinating
Long Distance Relationship Goals
- Communicate everyday
- Schedule 'date nights'
- Plan a visit
- Plan for closing the distance
- Interact with your partner's family & friends
Remember setting goals is just the first step. We also need to do our best to achieve them! This is where we see real results when it comes to change.
4. Staying Involved
Staying socially active is really important when suffering from LDR depression.
We don't usually have the luxury of spending time with our partners and others at the some time so it can be very easy to become withdrawn when in a long distance relationship. Add depression into the mix and becoming recluse is a very real possibility.
Without wanting to sound like a 'Debbie Downer', this may be the only way to help someone get off their butt and do something about it, but if it gets to the stage of chronic loneliness the outlook can be grim.
Research from the journal Mind, Mood & Memory suggests how physically and mentally harmful it can be:
- Greater risk of cognitive impairment
- Increased incidence of physical illness
- Possibility of shortened lifespan
It may be challenging to develop a habit of actively structuring new social and learning activities, but it becomes easier with practice, and it's well worth the effort.
Director of Psychotherapy Services at MGH's Depression Clinical & Research Program
Possibility of shortened lifespan... are you kidding me? Of course it's worth the effort Joe! 🙂
But in all seriousness this is eye opening research. The potential issues people can face shouldn't be taken lightly. Let's take that first step to reconnecting.
Don't just grab your phone or laptop to connect with someone... Further studies found that all types of socializing aren't created equal. Face to face interactions have far more impact when it comes to fighting depression when compared to phone calls and emails.
5. Physical Exercise
We know exercise can have an impact on our physical health and appearance, but what impact does it have on our wellbeing?
When you exercise your body starts to react in different ways. It releases endorphins, which act like a painkiller and norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in your mood, is also boosted.
A study by Duke University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences found that participants who were prescribed moderate aerobic exercise, was as effective at relieving symptoms of depression in the short term as antidepressant medication.
Participants in the study also had very low relapse rates when prescribed with exercise.
Cool right? Staying active can not only make you happier, but it can make you feel better too.
And lets be honest, who doesn't want to look great the next time they see their partner? We definitely consider this a win-win situation.
It's one thing to accept exercise as a solution but we need to act on that acceptance to really make a difference. So here are some ways to get back into the groove.
Getting Back to Your Roots
As we get older recreational sports can fall to the side. When we were younger there was always something we were playing or was interested in trying. Why not use this time to get back into an old passion or a potential new one that we've always admired?
If you're getting back into a team sport you'll have increased social interactions, which we've mentioned the benefits of already!
Hit the Gym
Gyms are great because of the many options you have under one roof. You can get into aerobic training, hit the weights or even sign up to a heap of different classes. There's also a lot of other people around you working hard, which can be a great motivational tool.
It's also worth taking an appointment with the gym's personal trainer if you're not too sure what to do. They can help you through the process of figuring out your goals and how to obtain them.
If you find gyms to be a bit daunting you're in luck. There are a lot of amazing workout videos on YouTube, below is just one of the many effective workouts you can do at home.
What You Can Do Right Now
If you're keen to get started straight away there's nothing stopping you from taking a walk, going for a run or hopping on a bike! But don't just be happy with getting out there today, make a routine of it to see the real benefits.
Tip: Don't forget you're in this together! Whether it's you or your partner who is battling depression, when you've got the support of one another anything is achievable. So why not use our best friend, technology, to help get through it together. Check out Everymove.org's article 8 Fitness Apps That Use Your Friends for some ideas.
Now get out there! Well... once you've finished our article of course 🙂
6. Mental Exercise
The physical body is not the only thing that needs to be exercised. The mind needs to be worked on just as much and meditation holds the key.
After analysing over 18,000 studies researchers at Johns Hopkins University found meditation to be beneficial for many mental disorders, especially depression.
Meditation impacts your brain on multiple levels:
- Increases levels of serotonin AKA your "happiness molecule"
- Increases gamma-aminobutyric acid AKA your "relaxing neurotransmitter"
- Reduces levels of cortisol AKA the stress hormone that contributes to depression
You may think this means that if you're to meditate you need to cross your legs, close your eyes and hum. But in reality you have many different options at choose from.
Rather than listing all the different options we recommend you check out Giovanni from LiveandDare.com who wrote on great article overviewing 23 different meditation techniques.
Yoga does need special mention though. It's listed as a good meditation technique and while it might not look that hard, it can be quite taxing on the body. So it's a great option for working on physical and mental exercise at the same time!
While studies haven't given a definitive answer on their effectiveness, two other options that should be considered are brain training and reading. For more information check out these articles:
- NeuroNation - Brain Training Against Depression
- Huffington Post - Bibliotherapy: How Books Can Treat Anxiety, Depression
We wanted to mention both of these because they're something you can do together to fight LDR depression. You don't have to both be in the same location to read the same book or to even work together (or compete!) in brain training games.
7. Healthy Eating
Depression can lead to poor appetite, meal skipping, and an overwhelming desire for sugary foods, which can lead to a lack of important vitamins and minerals.
Research completed in 2009 that studied 3,400 people's dietary pattern and depressive symptoms over 20 years found those who ate healthier foods were less likely to be depressed. Those that ate more processed foods were more likely to suffer from depression.
So what are the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that can help, and inversely what are those that we should stay away from?
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fish - Nuts - Seeds - Algae oil
Why? Necessary 'building blocks' for brain development and function.
Meat - Eggs - Seafood - Green Leafy Veggies - Legumes - Whole Grains
Why? Studies show a deficiency in B vitamins can be linked to depression.
Fortified Breakfast Cereals - Breads - Juices - Milk
Why? Required for brain development.
Cod - Brazil Nuts - Walnuts - Poultry
Why? Helps to create antioxidant balance in our cells.
Turkey - Beef - Eggs - Dairy Products - Leafy Greens
Why? Low tryptophan can trigger depressive symptoms.
Why? Acts as a nervous system depressant. Also addictive.
Green tea is a healthy substitute that can reduce stress and increase dopamine.
Why? Creates 'highs/lows'. May also trigger anxiety and insomnia.
Why? Can increase inflammation. Is an 'unhealthy' short term suppressant.
This doesn't mean you can't enjoy certain food and drink every once and a while. Like anything, moderation is key.
Why not turn eating right into a date night?! If you can video chat or Skype your partner, try "cooking together” by using the same healthy recipe and try it out together. Bon Appetit Magazine has a great article on recipes high in Omega-3 fatty acids.
8. Getting Enough Sleep
Long distance relationships on their own can wreak havoc on your sleeping patterns.
Staying up all night chatting, lying in bed thinking about how much you miss them, or worrying about what they 'might' be doing while out with friends... there are so many scenarios that ultimately have you paying for it in the morning.
This doesn't work well for couples already dealing with depression in a LDR as the ups and downs we all go through can further impact wellbeing.
There have been many studies that link irregular sleeping patterns (too much and not enough) and insomnia to depression. So to break the cycle we need to have more control over when we rest.
Get in sync with your natural sleep cycle
- Sleep and get up at the same time every day.
- Avoid sleeping in (weekends also!)
- Limit napping or try not to at all.
- Fight off the after-dinner drowsiness.
Control your exposure to light
- Expose yourself to bright morning sunlight.
- Spend more time outside during daylight.
- Steer clear of screens 1-2 hours before bed.
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible.
Exercise, exercise, exercise
- The more vigorous, the better!
- But just 10min/day can improve sleep.
- Finish at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Reduces insomnia and sleep apnea symptoms.
Be smart about what you consume
- Limit caffeine and nicotine intake.
- Avoid big meals at night.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages before bed.
- Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening.
Improve your sleeping environment
- Reduce distracting noise to a minimum.
- Keep your room cool (65° F / 18° C).
- Make sure your bed is comfortable.
- Limit your bed to anything other than sleep/sex.
Learn how to get back to sleep
- Stay out of your head & focus on your body.
- Make relaxation your goal over sleep.
- Reduce stimulation with a quite activity.
- Idea? Write it down for the morning.
9. Practice Gratitude
Question: How many times have you caught yourself thinking negatively about being in a LDR.
Answer: Definitely more times than you can remember!
LDRs are not for the faint of heart. Most of us have these thoughts but they usually don't last long. For some these negative and self-absorbed outlooks don't go away and can spill into everyday life, which has been linked to depression.
Inversely studies have also found that practicing gratitude can help to foster social support and have a positive impact against stress and depression. But how?
Scientists say practicing gratitude shifts thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones and also boost 'feel-good' hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
Psychologytoday.com has a great list of gratitude techniques that can help alleviate depression. We've slightly adapted the techniques to give them an LDR focus and so that couples can do them together:
Write a letter or email saying why you're grateful for each other and thank them for something you appreciate about them or that they've done for you.
Three Good Things
Tell each other three good things that have happened in the past week and explain WHY they happened.
Three Funny Things
Tell each other three funny things that have happened in the past week.
In the next week, use one of your strengths to help your partner in some way.
Talk about the acts of kindness you offer and receive from others with your partner.
One Door Closes, Another Opens
Talk with your partner about negative moments that led to positive consequences.
Of course you don't have to implement all of these techniques. Pick the ones that will be the most helpful and make the most sense to you and your relationship. The main goal is that they're not just used once, but become a part of your routine to feeling better.
10. Professional Help
Please understand that we are not medical professionals and the data we have collected is for informational purposes only. Yes there is a lot of evidence in support of this information but please consult your doctor.
Professional medical help is highly recommended to get a concrete diagnosis. Working with someone that has vast experience in such a serious condition is important to find the right solution to getting back on track.
How Can You Help Someone?
Have you or someone you know struggled from or are currently battling depression while in a long distance relationship?
Let us know in the comments below about dealing with this disease and the techniques being used towards getting better!