Whether you are struggling to manage depression or have found yourself feeling “low”, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 16 million adults in America have experienced depression within the last year. Some of us experience this challenging feeling more than we would like, often leaving us with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
Here are ten real tips straight from a therapist’s office to help you manage depressive periods:
1. Measure depression on a scale of 1-10, so you are better able to tune into your feelings. Levels of depression can and do vary and it is important to try to understand why. When effectively checking in with your feelings, you will provide yourself with a better idea of what may improve or worsen your mood. This empowers you to identify and understand triggers, leaving you with more knowledge about your needs, encouraging you to feel more hopeful.
2. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and listen to your inner thoughts. Try hard not to beat yourself up for feeling low. You are human and emotions are an intrinsic and inescapable fact of life. When we run from our emotions, we give them the power to erupt, leading to even more challenging emotional states in the future. Emotions are directly connected to stress levels and physical health, as the body is holistic and interconnected. Treat your mental health with the same respect you do your physical health.
3. One outstanding effect of depression is isolation. For many, it is daunting to find the motivation to interact with others and change one’s environment, though both are proven very beneficial in improving challenging emotions. If it feels like too much of an effort to communicate directly with people, push yourself to do something a little less challenging. Go to a local coffee shop, a park, the library or a bookstore to find some quiet space around people. Walk around a college campus, go for a drive or enjoy a yoga class. This allows you the opportunity to be around others, but does not force you to interact directly or carry on a long conversation.
4. Reflect on what brought you joy as a child. Was it reading a Nancy Drew book or finding a special nook at the library? Swimming? Walking the dog? Rolling down a hill? Freshly baked cookies? Kicking a soccer ball or hitting a baseball? Do those things. It is easy to forget or disconnect from our happy childhood memories in adulthood. Allow yourself to reenact and experience that childhood joy.
5. Change your passwords to positive statements about yourself. Leave notes around the house providing hope and reminders of what makes you happy. This may seem cliché, but there is a reason these visual reminders are touted. With enough repetition, they work. These reminders encourage you to reframe negative thinking while being mindful of the positive messages you have planted. You do not have to believe the statements for the first few days or even weeks, but with time you will.
6. When experiencing a depressive state, it is hard to know things will get better. For this reason, it is very helpful to write yourself a letter when you are in a happier or more neutral state. Outline the specifics around what helped you through the depressive mood the last time, providing sound hope that your emotions will improve. You have been there before and you have seen your way out. You can and will do it once more.
7. Remind yourself that there are many others walking around also struggling with varying levels of depression. Knowing you are not alone in your feelings can be very encouraging, as well as comforting.
8. Invest in your support system. Have a few “go to” people with whom you can share your thoughts. Do not be afraid to let them know what you need. You may be surprised by what those around you share regarding their own experiences with depression and what helped them. This allows you the opportunity to connect and feel less isolated.
9. Ask yourself, how would you help someone close to you going through depression? Allow yourself to seek the same level of support and treat yourself with the same level of kindness you would a close friend or family member. This is not the time to beat yourself up – there is never a time for that!
10. Find a local support group or therapist. This can be an intimidating and daunting task, but allowing yourself the opportunity to share your thoughts with a neutral person or others who “understand” your feelings is healing in itself. I cannot tell you how many people have walked out of my office stating, “I feel better just talking about it.” If you do not feel a connection or feel “heard” by the first (or second or third) therapist, please do not be discouraged. Continue to seek support from someone with whom you connect.
Most importantly, remember the following distinction: you are not a depressed person… you are feeling depressed. This differentiation is crucial in understanding that depression or other negative emotions do not define you and therefore, are not necessarily a permanent state. There are many facets of who you are. As a matter of fact, why don’t you write that on a sticky note and leave it on your mirror. You’ve got this!
Disclosure: This article is not a substitution for medical and/or mental health care. The information provided is intended to offer support, not serve as a treatment for depression and/or other mental illnesses. Go to your local emergency room if you need immediate assistance.