Before moving into the list of different self-care strategies that can help with coping with depression, here’s an important note about practically applying strategies. When it comes to depression, different strategies are going to work for different people, and it may take many tries to figure out a self-help routine that makes a meaningful difference for you. While you’re figuring out which strategies do or don’t work for you, make a point to speak kindly to yourself. Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt can help you keep from burning out as you move through the process of figuring out what works for you.
Sometimes, it’s easy to be harder on yourself than you’d ever allow or want yourself to be with someone else, especially when you’re dealing with depression. When you feel like this, picking some of the people in your life who you love, and who love you, and trying to talk to yourself the way you’d talk to those people if they were having a hard time can be a good frame for speaking generously to yourself. Like “fake it till you make it,” the way people speak to themselves inside their heads can have a huge impact on the way they think about themselves and the way they feel, and this can easily turn into feedback loops of bad feelings. Making a point to speak to yourself kindly can help to pull you out of the loop of speaking unkindly to yourself in a way that you internalize and makes you feel worse.
Some suggestions for dealing with depression – or even most of them – can feel too simple to make much difference, and some are so often-repeated that it can feel like they can’t possibly make a difference. It’s true that no single one of these strategies may bring an end to depression, but finding the combination that works for you, in conjunction with the type of treatment that works best with your body chemistry and lifestyle, can make a big difference in helping you start to feel better.
- Get it out there: Writing in a journal can offer an outlet for getting emotions out without opening them to any judgment, and it can give you a way to keep track of your thoughts and notice any patterns in them. For example, do certain thought-patterns seem to go along with more severe depressive symptoms? That’s good information to have, and so is any strategy you might notice for steering your thoughts in other directions.
- For endorphins’ sake: Getting into a regular exercise schedule is one of the most common pieces of advice when it comes to depression, and, in turn, it’s one of the most dismissed pieces of advice. It’s true that exercise isn’t a magic bullet for depression, but getting outside and moving around on a regular basis has a whole host of benefits that can contribute to starting to feel better. Between the sun, the change of scenery, the endorphins, and the fresh air, anything from a walk around the block to training for a marathon can be a healthy part of managing depression.
- Setting up a pattern: Having a strong routine in your life can help you demonstrate to yourself what you’re capable of, especially when you’re having an especially hard time. It can help to keep self-care tasks from slipping during difficult episodes, and when depression does become severe enough to interfere with routines, having those routines set up to serve as a control can show how much is changing.
- General physical health: A lack of physical health doesn’t cause depression, but it can certainly contribute to it. Making sure to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep (but notice if you find yourself sleeping more and more often), and avoiding alcohol and street drugs can help keep you in your best shape possible to combat depression.
- Reach out: Often, during periods of strong depression, spending time with people can be one of the early things that gets cut out. But isolating yourself can create a feedback loop of bad feelings, whereas spending time with someone, even if the sound of that feels exhausting, can be a way to get out of your own head a bit. Making a point to reach out to people who feel restful or helpful to you during this time, instead of the people who may ask more from your energy reserves, can help to make social experiences during periods of depression more meaningful and positive.
- Fake it till you make it: Sometimes, especially during a spell of depression, putting on a can-do attitude – even if it’s not how you feel – is a great way to get through a difficult or challenging day, from a huge family gathering, to coordinating with an electrician or landlord over an unexpected wiring problem in your house, to a normal day of work at a time when you just don’t think you can do it. One of the reasons faking it till you make it works is that putting on such an attitude can help to infect you with some of the feelings you’re putting on, but that benefit also comes with a caution. It’s also key for you to know and understand how you’re really feeling. Denial about depression can mean putting off making the changes that can help you feel better.
- Treatment: Depression is a medical condition, but there’s still a lot of stigma around it. Some may mistakenly characterize it as a personal problem and be resistant to seeking out treatment from professionals. If depression is negatively affecting your quality of life, seek help. Medication, psychotherapy, or some combination of the two, can have a huge positive impact on your life. Just like with these lifestyle changes and informal strategies, finding the treatment plan that works well for you can take some trial and error, and figuring out how to be patient with yourself and your medical team will be an important part of the process.
Depression can make even the simplest tasks feel more challenging, and making changes to your life, routine, and comfort zone when you’re experiencing depression can feel like taking especially difficult chances. But making changes can help you feel out the shifts in your routine that can better support your changes in mood, attitude, and mental health. Dealing with depression means that you may be able to benefit from a certain amount of extra support, but by making changes in your own life, some of that support can come directly from you.
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- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Treatments and Drugs.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jul 7 2016. Web.
- “Depression: Care and Treatment.” ClevelandClinic. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 2014. Web.
- “Depression: Treatment.” ADAA. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2016. Web.
- “Depression Treatment & Management.” Medscape. WebMD LLC., Apr 29 2016. Web.