Depression in the modern world is an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 350 million adults are affected worldwide, making Depression the leading cause of disability. And it truly is a disability… the chemical imbalances caused by chronic Depression make even the simplest daily tasks seem herculean. Depression saps your physical and mental strength, causing chronic fatigue and apathy. It can contribute to bodily aches and pains; cause insomnia (or hypersomnia); become a factor in weight gain or loss; and at its worst, can even lead to self-harm or suicide.
I was plagued by severe Depression for a number of years, and was also diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I now consider myself to be mostly recovered from the former (and my anxiety has steadily become more manageable), but at my worst I battled daily with obsessive thoughts about self-harm. I ended up forcing myself to seek help from my doctors when it became evident that I wasn’t getting better, and I had become afraid that I would seriously injure myself.
Depression is deadly serious, but there is no shame in admitting that you struggle with the condition… or that you need help in managing it. Throughout my journey into recovery, I’ve discovered that the ten methods I’ve listed below have been the most effective for handling my Depression (or keeping it in remission).
1. Set goals for yourself.
There is a sort of school of thought floating around social media that self-care is supposed to be cute. Wrap yourself up in a blankie, eat your favorite snacks, binge on Disney movies all day, that sort of thing. And there is something to be said for having those recovery days where you veg out and take the time to enjoy the things you love.
But this very easily takes the notion of caring for yourself and lets it slip into escapism. Watching endless hours of Netflix and eating junk food all day, every day isn’t going to cure your Depression. Instead, set goals for things you genuinely want to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be big… it can be something as simple as doing the dishes every day, or being awake and fully dressed before 11 a.m. And once you start mastering those smaller goals, you can push yourself to reach higher, like finishing a project you’ve been working on or completing applications for jobs that you might genuinely enjoy.
Achieving goals that you set for yourself is guaranteed to raise your sense of self-worth and help combat the effects of Depression in your life. It will also help keep your life organized and moving forward, rather than stagnating or taking steps backward.
2. Avoid clutter in your home/office.
There have actually been studies that have shown that living in a messy or cluttered environment is detrimental to your mental health, and can contribute to the symptoms of Depression. Taking the time to tidy things up, even if it’s difficult to find the motivation to do so, can be intensely therapeutic. If you’re having difficulty figuring out where to start, you can find plenty of DIY suggestions for organizing your living space(s) on Pinterest, or you can even contact a professional organizer to help you out.
3. Stay active for at least 30 minutes a day.
Exercise raises the levels of endorphins and serotonin your body, which are the two main feel-good hormones that help to boost your mood, minimize your perception of pain, and even help control your sleep cycles. And you don’t have to go run a marathon or become a bodybuilder to feel the effects; you can fight Depression with something as simple as a quick walk around the block every evening. Finding an activity that you enjoy- Zumba, swimming, yoga, martial arts, etc.- will help exercise to feel more fun and less like a chore.
Sidenote: Spending time outdoors in the sunlight will boost your mood too. Sunlight lets us absorb Vitamin D, which can fight off feelings of fatigue, loss of appetite, and more. Sunlight also boosts serotonin levels, which will improve your mood. All you need is to aim for 15 or so minutes of direct sunlight a day (make sure to wear sunscreen!).
4. Partner with the experts.
Seeking clinical help when you’re suffering from Depression is not a weakness… actually, it’s a necessity. Psychologists and psychiatrists are specifically trained to help their patients overcome conditions like Depression. Chances are that they have suggestions and coping mechanisms that you may not have ever thought of trying.
Also, even if you aren’t fond of spilling out your troubles to a stranger, many people find talking to a therapist extremely helpful. A psychologist or psychiatrist will be unbiased and nonjudgmental, and you can trust that everything said in their office is kept with complete confidence. They can enable you to get things off of your chest that you may not have been able to confide to the others close to you in your life.
5. Surround yourself with a support system.
It is vitally important that you surround yourself with positive, loving relationships when you are struggling with Depression. I can be just a smidge prideful myself, so it took me a long time to admit to my family and close friends that I needed help. But I’m glad I did.
When the people close to you are plugged in to what you’re experiencing, it’s easier for them to them to understand their needs. They can encourage you by checking in on a regular basis, be a shoulder to lean/cry on if needed, and help you to stay connected to the world when you might be tempted to retreat inside your shell.
6. Practice positive self-talk.
This particular tip is probably the one I recommended the most often. Positive self-talk (which is technically referred to as Cognitive Therapy) is basically a way of challenging the negative thoughts that bombard your brain when you’re depressed. When you catch yourself spiraling into beating yourself up or chipping away at your sense of worth, force yourself to stop and make a list of 5 or more things that you like about yourself (even if it’s something small, like your hair looking good that day or your taste in music).
Then challenge the veracity of those negative thoughts. Are any of them really true? Are you engaging in all-or-nothing thinking (i.e. “If I can’t be perfect, then I am a complete waste of space.”)? Are you overgeneralizing a less-than-positive experience? Depression puts a spin on everything going through your brain, and Cognitive Therapy/ Positive Self-Talk can help you to catch these patterns, so that you can avoid them in the future.
7. Invest in things you enjoy.
Even if you don’t feel like doing anything more than sitting in bed and staring at the wall, try to force yourself to engage in an activity you know you enjoy, even if it’s only for an hour a day. Take the time to figure out what hobbies make you happy: playing guitar, drawing, reading, playing video games, singing, photography, exercising… the list goes on. Participating in these activities on a regular basis will provide a stress outlet for you and will help keep your mood high, even on days when you feel like doing nothing.
8. Seek out new activities.
Teaching yourself a new skill or trying out a new activity will keep your brain active, and can distract you from feeling depressed. Challenging yourself to do something different will actually kick-start chemical changes in your brain. New activities will encourage the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which (like serotonin and endorphins) is a feel-good chemical that is associated with pleasure, enjoyment, and learning.
9. Regulate your sleep.
Most people who have Depression usually fall into one of two groups: those who don’t sleep at all, and those who sleep way too much. Insomnia (sleeping too little or not at all) and hypersomnia (sleeping too often) are two of the most common symptoms of the condition.
You can avoid these problems by enforcing a regular sleep schedule (or as close to one as possible). The National Sleep Foundation recommends about 7-9 hours of sleep per night for the average adult. Make sure that you remove all distractions – tv, computer, etc- out of your bedroom, and do your best to limit your exposure to any blue-toned lighting, which will mess with your circadian rhythms.
10. Avoid drugs or alcohol.
It can be really tempting to use drugs or alcohol as a way of numbing the feelings of Depression, or of finding a way to be carefree/ happy for a brief period. But eventually any kind of substance abuse is going to have a negative effect on your brain chemistry, and only make matters worse. Alcohol and a number of recreational drugs have been proven to increase the sensations of anxiety and depression with consistent consumption, which isn’t going to help your situation.
Plus, if you are on antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication from your doctor, chances are you shouldn’t be mixing alcohol with those prescriptions. Doing so can be extremely dangerous, or even lethal. So stay safe, and stick to the other options I’ve listed.
Defeating Depression can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible! I guarantee that if you follow this tips you’ll begin to notice a big change in your everyday mood and general outlook on life. And remember that you’re never alone: be sure to reach out to those close to you and let them know what you’re struggling with, and if you need to, notify a professional so that you can get the help you need.