If you are dealing with depression, remember that you are not alone. More than 300 million people around the world live with depression. It is the leading cause of disability.
Dealing with depression is a lifelong journey of overcoming pain, accepting change, challenging your mind, training your body, and engaging in something outside of yourself. To thrive during this sometimes harrowing journey, you might need knowledge of the strategies, treatments, and lifestyle changes that will help you. We outlined them below.
Treatment Options for Dealing With Depression
Working with a licensed psychotherapist in-person is an effective treatment for reducing symptoms and learning to cope with depression, according to the American Psychological Association. A therapist can help clients with depression by:
- Identifying events, negative beliefs, patterns, behaviors, and people that contributed to the development of the depression; then working on strategies to address these issues
- Setting realistic, specific, and actionable goals for dealing with depression; then helping maintain accountability for these goals
- Helping develop skills to cope with symptoms and problems
There are many types of therapy, and some might work better for you than others.
Online therapy provides the same benefits as traditional therapy and is also clinically-proven as an effective treatment for depression. If you are looking for a more cost-effective and convenient option, it might be right for you.
Mental Health Medication
Mental health medication, including antidepressants, are effective in reducing symptoms of depression. They often work well as a supplement to therapy or short-term solution for symptoms that might initially be severe. Nonetheless, even their short-term effects can take two weeks or more to activate. If you are considering mental health medication, consult a psychiatrist, not only a primary care doctor.
Note: All of the below are strategies you can practice individually or with assistance from a therapist. If you work with a therapist to implement these strategies, you will most likely experience better and faster results.
Thought Strategies for Dealing with Depression
Accepting It Is There
It can be difficult to accept living with depression. Sometimes people feel forced to append their identity or apply a label they didn’t want.
It is actually only an illness. It doesn’t need to be part of an identity. Struggling to accept its existence might only bring more pain.
“One of the biggest things I find that prolongs depression is believing it shouldn’t be there in the first place,” said Gretchen Hellman, a career coach who works with clients on career-related depression.
Accepting depression can also have some value; it helps you more quickly become open to figuring out what led to the depression. Depression is one of the mind and body’s ways of saying you need to make a change, Hellman said, so accepting it and listening to it will help facilitate that change.
Trying Not to Beat Up on Yourself
When people have depression, they sometimes feel like it’s their fault for having it. Then they beat up on themselves for the supposed mistakes that led to the depression. This makes the depression worse.
If it makes them feel or act in ways they don’t find acceptable, they might criticize themselves for this as well. Again, this only exacerbates depression.
Ryan Potter, the Director of Clinical Development at Ambrosia Treatment Center, offered the example of sleeping in too much on weekends. When depression causes people to sleep in too much, they sometimes react by criticizing themselves for doing so, which then makes the depression worse.
When you’re struggling with depression, it’s OK to not be performing as well as you want.
“When you’re depressed, it’s hard to do things!” said therapist Kim Shashoua. “This isn’t a moral failure.”
Shashoua recommended taking some shortcuts that will allow you to rest more until you are feeling well enough to live normally and stop conserving energy. Here are some of her specific recommendations:
- Buying paper plates and disposable silverware to save time washing dishes
- Getting pre-made or delivered food instead of cooking
- If showering feels like too much, it’s OK to skip every once in awhile
Remember that depression isn’t your fault nor is it a sign of weakness. Like a flu or physical ailment, it is an illness. It’s a product of a chemical imbalance in your brain.
Identifying and Challenging Negative Beliefs
A series of negative beliefs about oneself, the world, or other people can induce and maintain depression. These beliefs are usually irrational. By examining them on your own or working with a therapist, you can transform them into rational, positive beliefs that will ease your depression.
For example, let’s say you believe you are the worst person in the world. This can’t possibly be true. To challenge this belief, uou can ask yourself questions like, “Would I believe this about anyone else? Would that be fair?”
Behavioral and Social Strategies for Dealing with Depression
Behavioral activation is the practice of gradually increasing activity to experience more pleasure and mastery in life, according to Joel Minden, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Chico Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. The therapeutic technique is relatively new, so it has a limited amount of research backing it. Nonetheless, it did spring from cognitive behavior therapy [CBT], which has mountains of research to support its efficacy.
Minden recommended practicing behavioral activation by engaging in one healthy activity each day that results in pleasure (taking a walk, visiting a friend, etc.) and one that provides a sense of accomplishment (paying a bill, grocery shopping, chores, etc.). Remember to acknowledge the completion of these activities.
Depression can make you feel paralyzed. It is the bane of productivity. Behavioral activation is helps to break you out of this paralysis, Shashoua said. Rather than putting tasks and activities off until you feel better, it utilizes the logic that doing something — anything — will make you feel better.
“These actions set up the feeling of, ‘I can do this,’” Shashoua said.
Developing a Positive Routine
Developing a routine can help you stay active and out of the mire of depression. This routine can involve scheduled activities or a daily repetition of mental health strategies. For example, you can start your day with a positive self-affirmation and end it by writing down something you are grateful for (more on that later).
Social Interaction and Involvement in a Community
When you are dealing with depression, especially during the worst phases, try to surround yourself with loved ones. Their presence might alleviate the feelings of loneliness and isolation that tend to come with depression.
If you are part of a community, try to be active or stay active in that community. If not, here are some examples of communities you can join (depending on your identity, interests, beliefs, etc.):
- A religious community
- A support group for people living with depression
- A sports league
- A book club
- A professional or networking group
- An activist or volunteer group
Lifestyle-Based Depression Coping Strategies and Activities
Exercise can ease symptoms of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic and many other mental health organizations. It releases brain chemicals that provide pleasure and calm the mind. You can incorporate exercise into a healthy routine and use it to feel a sense of accomplishment during depression.
Healthy Foods With Mental Health Benefits
There are many supplements, vitamins, drinks, and minerals that have positive effects on depression. Registered nurse and health blogger Rebecca Lee outlined a few of them (read her post for in-depth details and links to research that backs the effects of each dietary recommendation):
- Herbal supplements: GABA, kava, passion flower, L-theanine, lemon balm
- Vitamin B, magnesium, vitamin D3, omega-3 [fish oil]
You should limit substances with negative effects on mental health, including alcohol and caffeine.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness-based therapy, self-practiced mindfulness, and meditation can reduce symptoms of depression and be effective coping tools. By living in the moment and getting in touch with your external surroundings, you can temporarily detach from the internal strife of your depression. You can also do this as part of yoga, another technique therapists frequently recommend.
When you’re suffering with depression, it can be difficult to be grateful. Nonetheless, acknowledging small aspects of your life you can be grateful for has mental health benefits, including an increased sense of well-being.
Most of the time, you might overlook many of these aspects.. For example, therapist Kimberly Hershenson worked with a client who increased his sense of well-being by being grateful for his ability to walk.
At first glance the ability to walk may not seem like something to be grateful for. Think about it this way, however: There are people who were born without it. If you have something not everyone in the world has, you can consider that something to be grateful for. This attitude will allow you to transform your perception of belongings and abilities into sources of gratitude.
Hershenson recommends keeping a gratitude journal to track these evaluations. You can look at it as part of a daily routine.
Creating and Viewing Art
Creating and viewing art has positive effects on mental health, according to a wealth of research. People can experience this as part of art therapy, create something individually, or participate in a group.
“As a person who has suffered through depression, I have found that the process of creating is healing,” said artist Melissa Perhamus. “It is a sort of escape from myself, giving me a break and release from my present state of mind.”
Perhamus runs a program where people experience the therapeutic benefits of art by viewing it in galleries and museums. Both creating and viewing art has been valuable for her and the members of her program.
Note: The benefits of creating and viewing art apply to writing, music, dance, etc., not only visual art.
Being in Nature
Being in nature, including taking hikes or walks through forested areas, has mental health benefits, according to research from Stanford University. It can give you a break from parts of your life that may be contributing to depression.
If you live in an urban area, try regularly walking through parks that offer a sense of nature. If you’re in the country, it should be easy to find areas with few people. Participants in the Stanford study spent around 90 minutes in nature, so try to shoot for that if you have time.
For information on even more methods of boosting mental health, read this piece.
Taking the Next Step to Treat Your Depression
All of the methods, treatments and techniques in this article will help you deal with depression, but you don’t need to try all of them. Even one is a great start. Develop a pace and set of tactics that work for you.
By working with a therapist or thinking strategically about the tactics you want to try, you can integrate them and execute several at once. For example, therapist Asta Klimaite often asks her clients to incrementally increase their exercise by using different methods and routes to reach her office. Her tactic also helps them develop a sense of accomplishing simple goals. They start by taking a different route to her office and using whatever mode of transportation they like. She then challenges them to ride a bike or walk to her office. Before they even start therapy, they are already working on their mental health.
Here are a few other ways you can combine methods of dealing with depression:
- Exercising in nature rather than in a gym
- Joining a social club or group that creates or views art
- Working with a therapist who specializes in mindfulness-based approaches
Dealing with depression is an enormous challenge, one you might need to approach in many ways. By learning and opening yourself to methods of coping, you’re taking the first step toward a happier life.