Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs
Recognizing depression and getting the help you need
Feeling persistently sad, numb, worthless, fatigued, or trapped in negativity? Depression affects people in many different ways, but this toolkit offers simple tips to improve how you feel right now.
Feelings of sadness can quickly come and go, but when you're depressed, these negative feelings stubbornly persist. Depression symptoms such as hopelessness, fatigue, lack of appetite, and decreased interest in school, work, or hobbies can arise for a variety of reasons. Your genetic makeup can make you more susceptible to depression, but stressful life events such as divorce, job loss, or past trauma often play a role. Substance abuse and loneliness can also contribute to feelings of depression.
If you’re feeling depressed, know that you’re far from alone. Research indicates that about 280 million people in the world suffer with depression. It can impact your work life, social life, and even your physical health. In severe cases, professional treatment may be necessary for recovery. But there are also a number of steps you can try for yourself to help boost your mood and improve how you feel.
The simple act of talking to someone who cares about you is crucial to dealing with feelings of depression. Know that reaching out is not a sign of weakness and won’t make you a burden. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to fix you; they just need to listen without being distracted or judging you.
Turn to people you trust. Talk to a close friend or family member about what you’re going through. Face-to-face interactions are best for boosting your mood, so schedule an in-person chat if possible.
Rely on technology when needed. When you feel sapped of energy, you might have a harder time being motivated to hang out with friends and family in-person. However, you may find it easier to stay in touch via video, phone, or text.
Prioritize giving and receiving support. Attending a support group for people with depression can offer an opportunity to draw comfort from others who are experiencing similar issues—and offer your own support in return. You’ll get to trade stories and receive coping advice from other people in the group who understand what you’re going through at the moment.
It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing right now—but getting active, even for a short period, is one of the most effective ways of boosting your mood. In fact, regular exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant medication in easing depression. And you don’t need to join an expensive gym or health club to reap the benefits.
[Read: The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise]
While external factors such as isolation, financial worries, or fears about your health can contribute to depression, so too can the way you think. But there are ways of looking at your situation in a more realistic, hopeful way.
It’s natural to blame life circumstances for how you feel—especially in these difficult times. But there are ways to find contentment within, regardless of your situation.
Be your own friend. Instead of rehashing past mistakes, focusing on the negative aspects of your life, or dwelling on worst-case scenarios, talk to yourself in a kinder, more realistic way—the same way you’d expect a caring friend to talk to you.
Pat yourself on the back. Take a moment to acknowledge your role in the successes you’ve experienced in life and give yourself credit.
Change your morning thoughts. Before you go to sleep, write down something positive you can read as soon as you wake up in the morning—a hope you have for the day or something you’re grateful for.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. It can prevent you from getting caught up in worries about the future or regrets about the past.
Listen to a favorite song. Sit somewhere comfortable and give your attention fully to the music, even if it’s a song you’ve heard a thousand times before. Allow yourself to be present in the moment.
Try a mindful chore. Complete a household chore such as washing dishes while giving your attention fully to the task. Notice how things feel, smell, or sound and whenever your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the task.
Meditate. HelpGuide’s Mindful Breathing Meditation can help you harness the power of your breath to ground yourself in the present moment and find inner calm.
When you’re depressed, everything in life can seem bleak and hopeless. But even on the darkest days, it’s usually possible to find one thing you can be grateful about—the beauty of a sunset, the feeling of the wind on your face, or a phone call from a friend, for example. Acknowledging gratitude for even the smallest things in life can give you a break from negative thinking and instill hope back into your day.
[Read: Gratitude: The Benefits and How to Practice It]
You can’t just will yourself out of depression or force yourself to feel happier, but there are things you can do throughout the day to find joy, boost your mood, and ease stress.
When you’re feeling low, you might be tempted to close the blinds and self-isolate indoors. However, sunlight helps to boost serotonin levels and improve your outlook. Therefore, it’s important to try to expose yourself to sunlight for at least 15 minutes a day. This is especially important during winter, when the reduced daylight hours can take a serious toll on your mood.
Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. If the deep despair and hopelessness that accompanies depression makes suicide feel like the only way to escape the pain, please reach out for help.
While your problems may seem overwhelming and permanent now, with time you will feel better, especially if you get help. There are many people who want to support you during this difficult time, so please reach out!
Read Are You Feeling Suicidal?, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. at 1-800-273-8255, find a helpline in your country at Befrienders Worldwide, or use HelpGuide's Directory of International Mental Health Helplines.Last updated or reviewed on February 24, 2023
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