Coping with Depression: Self-Help (Part 1)

When you're depressed, you can't just will yourself to "snap out of it." But these tips can help put you on the road to recovery.

Why is dealing with depression so difficult?

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.

Tip 1: Reach out and stay connected.

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.

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.

How to Reach Out for Depression Support

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.

10 Tips for Staying Connected

  1. Talk to one person about your feelings.
  2. Help someone else by volunteering.
  3. Have lunch or coffee with a friend.
  4. Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly.
  5. Accompany someone to the movies, a concert, or a small get-together.
  6. Call or email an old friend.
  7. Go for a walk with a workout buddy.
  8. Schedule a weekly dinner date.
  9. Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club.
  10. Confide in a clergy member, teacher, or sports coach.

Tip 2: Do things that make you feel good.

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.

Do things you enjoy (or used to).

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.

Support your health.

Aim for eight hours of sleep. 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.

Keep stress in check. 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.

Practice relaxation techniques. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of depression, reduce stress, and boost feelings of joy and wellbeing. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.

Develop a "wellness toolbox" to deal with depression.

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:

  • Spend some time in nature.
  • List what you like about yourself.
  • Read a good book.
  • Watch a funny movie or TV show.
  • Take a long, hot bath.
  • Take care of a few small tasks.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Talk to friends or family face-to-face.
  • Listen to music.
  • Do something spontaneous.
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Smith, M., Robinson, L., & Segal, J. (Updated 2019, October). Coping with depression. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.helpguide.org