I Feel Depressed
9 Ways to Deal with Depression
When you’re depressed, you can’t just will yourself to “snap out of it.” But these coping strategies can help you deal with depression and put you on the road to recovery.
Depression drains your energy, hope, and drive, making it difficult to take the steps that will help you to feel better. Sometimes, just thinking about the things you should do to feel better, like exercising or spending time with friends, can seem exhausting or impossible to put into action.
It’s the Catch-22 of depression recovery: The things that help the most are the things that are the most difficult to do. There is a big difference, however, between something that’s difficult and something that’s impossible. While recovering from depression isn’t quick or easy, you do have more control than you realize—even if your depression is severe and stubbornly persistent. The key is to start small and build from there. You may not have much energy, but by drawing on all your reserves, you should have enough to take a walk around the block or pick up the phone to call a loved one, for example.
Taking the first step is always the hardest. But going for a walk or getting up and dancing to your favorite music, for example, is something you can do right now. And it can substantially boost your mood and energy for several hours—long enough to put a second recovery step into action, such as preparing a mood-boosting meal or arranging to meet an old friend. By taking the following small but positive steps day by day, you’ll soon lift the heavy fog of depression and find yourself feeling happier, healthier, and more hopeful again.
Getting support plays an essential role in overcoming depression. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. At the same time, the very nature of depression makes it difficult to reach out for help. When you're depressed, the tendency is to withdraw and isolate so that connecting to even close family members and friends can be tough.
[Read: Helping Someone with Depression]
You may feel too exhausted to talk, ashamed at your situation, or guilty for neglecting certain relationships. But this is just the depression talking. Staying connected to other people and taking part in social activities will make a world of difference in your mood and outlook. Reaching out is not a sign of weakness and it won't mean you're a burden to others. Your loved ones care about you and want to help. And if you don't feel that you have anyone to turn to, it's never too late to build new friendships and improve your support network.
Look for support from people who make you feel safe and cared for. The person you talk to doesn't have to be able to fix you; they just need to be a good listener—someone who'll listen attentively and compassionately without being distracted or judging you.
Make face-time a priority. Phone calls, social media, and texting are great ways to stay in touch, but they don't replace good old-fashioned in-person quality time. The simple act of talking to someone face to face about how you feel can play a big role in relieving depression and keeping it away.
Try to keep up with social activities even if you don't feel like it. Often when you're depressed, it feels more comfortable to retreat into your shell, but being around other people will make you feel less depressed.
Find ways to support others. It's nice to receive support, but research shows you get an even bigger mood boost from providing support yourself. So find ways—both big and small—to help others: volunteer, be a listening ear for a friend, do something nice for somebody.
Care for a pet. While nothing can replace the human connection, pets can bring joy and companionship into your life and help you feel less isolated. Caring for a pet can also get you outside of yourself and give you a sense of being needed—both powerful antidotes to depression.
Join a support group for depression. Being with others dealing with depression can go a long way in reducing your sense of isolation. You can also encourage each other, give and receive advice on how to cope, and share your experiences.
In order to overcome depression, you have to do things that relax and energize you. This includes following a healthy lifestyle, learning how to better manage stress, setting limits on what you're able to do, and scheduling fun activities into your day.
While you can't force yourself to have fun or experience pleasure, you can push yourself to do things, even when you don't feel like it. You might be surprised at how much better you feel once you're out in the world. Even if your depression doesn't lift immediately, you'll gradually feel more upbeat and energetic as you make time for fun activities.
Pick up a former hobby or a sport you used to like. Express yourself creatively through music, art, or writing. Go out with friends. Take a day trip to a museum, the mountains, or the ballpark.
Not only does stress prolong and worsen depression, but it can also trigger it. Figure out all the things in your life that stress you out, such as work overload, money problems, or unsupportive relationships, and find ways to relieve the pressure and regain control.
Create a balanced schedule. It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending far more time working or completing chores than in making time for people and activities you enjoy. But to ease stress and avoid burnout, it’s important to find a healthy balance. Are there any responsibilities you can give up or delegate to others?
Practice relaxation techniques. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of depression, reduce stress, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.
Practice gratitude. It sounds simplistic, but taking a few moments to consciously note the things you appreciate in your life can have a notable impact on your stress levels and mood. Even being grateful for the sun shining or a smile from a neighbor can help you keep things in perspective.
Come up with a list of things that you can do for a quick mood boost. The more “tools” for coping with depression you have, the better. Try and implement a few of these ideas each day, even if you're feeling good.
For more ideas on tools to give your mood a quick, effective boost, read: I Feel Depressed: 9 Ways to Deal with Depression.
When you're depressed, just getting out of bed can seem like a daunting task, let alone working out! But exercise is a powerful depression fighter—and one of the most important tools in your recovery arsenal. Research shows that regular exercise can be as effective as medication for relieving depression symptoms. It also helps prevent relapse once you're well.
To get the most benefit, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. This doesn't have to be all at once—and it's okay to start small. A 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours.
Your fatigue will improve if you stick with it. Starting to exercise can be difficult when you're depressed and feeling exhausted. But research shows that your energy levels will improve if you keep with it. Exercise will help you to feel energized and less fatigued, not more.
Find exercises that are continuous and rhythmic. The most benefits for depression come from rhythmic exercise—such as walking, weight training, swimming, martial arts, or dancing—where you move both your arms and legs.
Add a mindfulness element, especially if your depression is rooted in unresolved trauma or fed by obsessive, negative thoughts. Focus on how your body feels as you move—such as the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, or the feeling of the wind on your skin, or the rhythm of your breathing.
Pair up with an exercise partner. Not only does working out with others enable you to spend time socializing, it can also help to keep you motivated. Try joining a running club, taking a water aerobics or dance class, seeking out tennis partners, or enrolling in a soccer or volleyball league.
Take a dog for a walk. If you don't own a dog, you can volunteer to walk homeless dogs for an animal shelter or rescue group. You'll not only be helping yourself but also be helping to socialize and exercise the dogs, making them more adoptable.
Sunlight can help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood. Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours and expose yourself to the sun for at least 15 minutes a day. Remove sunglasses (but never stare directly at the sun) and use sunscreen as needed.
For some people, the reduced daylight hours of winter lead to a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD can make you feel like a completely different person to who you are in the summer: hopeless, sad, tense, or stressed, with no interest in friends or activities you normally love. No matter how hopeless you feel, though, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your mood stable throughout the year.
Do you feel like you're powerless or weak? That bad things happen and there's not much you can do about it? That your situation is hopeless? Depression puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself and your expectations for the future.
When these types of thoughts overwhelm you, it's important to remember that this is a symptom of your depression and these irrational, pessimistic attitudes—known as cognitive distortions—aren't realistic. When you really examine them they don't hold up. But even so, they can be tough to give up. You can't break out of this pessimistic mind frame by telling yourself to “just think positive.” Often, it's part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that's become so automatic you're not even completely aware of it. Rather, the trick is to identify the type of negative thoughts that are fueling your depression, and replace them with a more balanced way of thinking.
|Negative, unrealistic ways of thinking that fuel depression|
All-or-nothing thinking. Looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground (“If everything is not perfect, I'm a total failure.”)
Overgeneralization. Generalizing from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever (“I had a bad date, I'll never find anyone.”)
The mental filter – Ignoring positive events and focusing on the negative. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right. (“I got the last question on the test wrong. I’m an idiot.”)
Diminishing the positive. Coming up with reasons why positive events don't count (“She said she had a good time on our date, but I think she was just being nice.”)
Jumping to conclusions. Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader (“He must think I'm pathetic”) or a fortune teller (“I'll be stuck in this dead-end job forever.”)
Emotional reasoning. Believing that the way you feel reflects reality (“I feel like such a loser. Everyone must be laughing at me!”)
‘Shoulds' and ‘should-nots.' Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn't do, and beating yourself up if you don't live up to your rules. (“I should never have interviewed for that job. I'm an idiot for thinking I could get it.”)
Labeling. Classifying yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings (“I'm a failure; an idiot; a loser.”)
Keep a “negative thought log.” Whenever you experience a negative thought, jot it down on your phone or in a notebook—along with what triggered the negative thought. Once you identify the destructive thoughts patterns that contribute to your depression, you can start to challenge them. For example, if your significant other was short with you, you may have automatically assumed that the relationship was in trouble. However, a more realistic way to view it might be that your partner was just having a bad day.
Examine the evidence that your thoughts are true. When challenging your negative thoughts, ask yourself if there is any evidence that your thoughts or beliefs are not true? For example, if you’re thinking, “I'll be stuck in this dead-end job forever,” how realistic is that expectation? Are there facts that you’re ignoring, such as the potential for sending out a resume and interviewing for another job? Is there another, more realistic way of looking at your situation?
Think outside yourself. Ask yourself, “Would I say what I’m thinking about myself to someone else?” If not, stop being so hard on yourself. Think about less harsh statements that offer more realistic descriptions. What would you tell a friend who had the same thought? Instead of labelling yourself a failure or a loser when something doesn’t go as planned, for example, look at things in a more realistic light: you made a mistake, but you can learn from it.
Allow yourself to be less than perfect. Many depressed people are perfectionists, holding themselves to impossibly high standards and then beating themselves up when they fail to meet them. Battle this source of self-imposed stress by challenging your negative ways of thinking. We all have bad days and life is often unexpectedly messy. Ask yourself, “How might I look at this situation if I didn't have depression?”
Socialize with positive people. Notice how people who always look on the bright side deal with challenges, even minor ones, like not being able to find a parking space. Then consider how you would react in the same situation. Even if you have to pretend, try to adopt their optimism and persistence in the face of difficulty.
As you cross-examine your negative thoughts, you may be surprised at how quickly they crumble. In the process, you'll develop a more balanced perspective and help to relieve your depression.
What you eat has a direct impact on the way you feel. Aim for a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and reduce your intake of food that can adversely affect your mood. This includes caffeine, alcohol, and processed food with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones (found in some packaged food and cured meats).
Don't skip meals. Going too long between meals can make you feel irritable and tired, so aim to eat something at least every three to four hours.
Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries, but these “feel-good” foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy. Aim to cut out as much of these foods as possible.
Boost your B vitamins. Deficiencies in B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can trigger depression. To get more, take a B-complex vitamin supplement or eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.
Boost your mood with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in stabilizing mood. The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna, and some cold-water fish oil supplements.
Feeling tired can cause you to think irrationally, increase stress and anxious thoughts, and depress your mood.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Depression typically involves sleep problems; whether you're sleeping too little or too much, your mood suffers.
Get on a better sleep schedule by learning healthy sleep habits. Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, avoid bright screens within two hours of bedtime, develop a relaxing bedtime routine, and make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet.
Find healthy ways to get back to sleep. If you wake up in the night, keep the lights low, do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book, or practice a sleep meditation using guided imagery.
If you've taken self-help steps and made positive lifestyle changes and still find your depression getting worse, seek professional help. Needing additional help doesn't mean you're weak. Sometimes the negative thinking in depression can make you feel like you're a lost cause, but depression can be treated and you can feel better!
Don't forget about these self-help tips, though. Even if you're receiving professional help, these tips can be part of your treatment plan, speeding your recovery and preventing depression from returning.
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
Find DBSA Chapters/Support Groups or call the NAMI Helpline for support and referrals at 1-800-950-6264
Find Depression support groups in-person and online or call the Mind Infoline at 0300 123 3393
Call the SANE Help Centre at 1800 18 7263
Call the Vandrevala Foundation Helpline (India) at 1860 2662 345 or 1800 2333 330
Call Mood Disorders Society of Canada at 519-824-5565
Call 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988
Call Samaritans UK at 116 123
Call Lifeline Australia at 13 11 14
Visit IASP or Suicide.org to find a helpline near you
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