Depression is difficult. A truth that 280 million people around the world unfortunately know and deal with every day.1
It’s not simply feeling sad, being a little tired, or wanting to stay in rather than hang out with friends for an evening. Depression is a serious mental illness that can have negative physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual impacts on those living with it. It’s estimated that depression affects 1 in 15 adults every year, and that 1 in 6 people will experience depression in their lifetime.2
Some of the symptoms that could show up include, but are not limited to, the following:
Depressed mood (feeling sad, irritable, empty)
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
Lack of energy or increased fatigue
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
Changes in appetite—lack of or increased
Feelings of excessive guilt, shame, hopelessness, or worthlessness
Thoughts of death or suicide
Not only is depression itself difficult, but reaching out or doing things that can help you feel better are often just as difficult. That’s because depression can often drain you of energy, motivation, and hope. While it is hard, it’s fortunately not impossible.
I firmly believe that depression is not something you can just “snap out of”. I’m also not saying that these tips are automatic curing agents nor are they a substitute for professional help when professional help—medication, therapy, doctor, psychiatrist— is needed. But I do know firsthand the positive impact that coping skills can have on managing and living with depression. If you struggle with depression, whether it’s seasonal, situational, or chronic, consider adding one or some of these tips to your toolbelt for help managing your depression.
Depression is not just a disorder of the mind, it can also affect you physically. So, it’s important to take care of your body to help manage your symptoms. This includes movement, getting good sleep, spending time outside, and nourishing your body with food.
I know when you’re exhausted one of the last things you want to do is activity, but it truly can boost your mood. Exercise is a great stress relief, but beyond that, movement can actually help increase the production of endorphins—one of your brain’s happy hormones.
Beyond moving your body simply to move it, it’s important to choose a form of exercise that you enjoy. If you can find a type of movement you enjoy, you'll be more likely to want to get up and do it. Plus, enjoying a part of your day, even if it’s small, can help boost your mood as well. There are so many ways to move your body—walking, running, yoga or stretching, lifting weights, kickboxing, swimming, dancing—so pick one and give it a try.
The tricky thing with sleep is that one of the symptoms of depression can be not being able to sleep and yet sleep can help you manage depression. Instead of stressing about how you can’t fall asleep or how you wake up in the middle of the night, do your best to focus on your sleep hygiene. Things like the darkness of the room, temperature, avoiding screens before bed, and calming activities can give you the best shot at getting some rest during the night.
Getting outside can have huge effects on your battle with depression. I know for me personally, it’s been one of the biggest tools I utilize from my coping toolbelt. But don’t just take my word for it; studies have shown that sunlight exposure increases serotonin levels.3 Sunshine aside, even feeling and breathing the fresh air can help you feel more refreshed and at peace.
It also doesn’t have to be for a long time, even something like 5 or 10 minutes can help boost your mood. Consider going for a short walk, journaling outside, or even just sitting down on the grass for a few minutes. Don’t underestimate the power that sunshine, fresh air, and nature (where and when possible) can have on managing your depression.
Food is the nourishment for our bodies and the source of energy for all our systems. In other words, it’s important! I’m not going to give you advice on how to eat, I’ll leave that to the professionals. However, making sure that you’re nourishing your body with food throughout the day can help you get through the day a little easier. I understand making meals can be difficult during times of depression. A little tip is to keep easy-to-make or prepackaged options on hand. Also, keeping nonperishable items such as granola bars, snack packs, applesauce, etc., around the places you often are (bedroom, desk, car, etc.) can provide grab-and-go options to help you stay nourished.
2. Take Care of Your Mental Health
While some aspects of your mental health are out of your control, there are some tools or mechanisms that allow you to help your mind. The first is journaling. You don’t have to be a writer or a teenage girl to keep a journal. Journaling can be a great tool to help you manage your mental health by giving you the space to express all your fears and emotions, process something that happened or why you’re feeling a certain way, and cope with depression.4 Just spending 5 minutes a few times a week can boost your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Another great tool is something called challenging your thoughts. Now, this does not mean you negate or shame your thoughts. Rather, you take a look at your thoughts and work on creating a more balanced view. Because the unfortunate truth is, depression can create negative thinking patterns and an overall pessimistic view of life and self. When we struggle with depression, our brains often create cognitive distortions such as all-or-nothing thinking, diminishing the positive, and “should” statements. When you find yourself thinking this way, gently put your thoughts on the witness stand and ask yourself things such as:
Is this true? What is the evidence for or against it? Whatever you're thinking is real and valid. But if the only evidence for it to be ‘true’ is that you thought it, that doesn't always mean it’s 100% true. It could be distorted in some way.
How would you respond to a friend who had this thought? We are often much more compassionate towards our friends or loved ones than ourselves. Next time you have a thought, ask yourself what you would tell a friend and then tell yourself that!
Is there another way to look at or explain the situation? You might not hate your job; you may just have depression which can demotivate you and cause you to think you don’t like what you do. Your friend might not be mad at you because she didn’t text back immediately; she could be busy or having a rough day and need some alone time.
3. Do Your Best to Stay Connected
Again, like many of these tips, I know how hard coping mechanisms can be when you are struggling with depression. But something can be hard and helpful all at the same time. Staying connected is worth pursuing. Depression tends to cause you to isolate—whether it’s because you don’t want to be a burden, your depression lies and tells you no one cares, or it just takes too much effort. But the truth is, isolation can actually make depression much worse. When you open up to someone, they can help share your burden and be there for you.
Staying connected gives you people who can come alongside you on difficult days, make you meals, help make and go with you to appointments, listen and encourage you, and so much more. I highly encourage you to find at least one person you can talk to—a friend, family member, counselor, pastor at a church, neighbor…the list goes on. Reach out to someone who supports you, shows that they care for you, and who you can trust.
Below are a few ideas about how to stay connected even when it’s tough:
Calls or facetimes — even if all you do is listen
Text funny memes or gifs with someone
Ask a friend or family member to come over and watch a movie
Go for a walk with a neighbor
Join a community or hobby group
Being around people and staying connected, even if you’re tired, don’t feel like it or aren’t happy, can be such a huge help in battling depression!
4. Find Joy Where You Can
Depression often feels like a dark gray cloud is hanging over you at all times, zapping your energy, desire, passion, and motivation. All of which can make feeling joyful very difficult. However, doing your best to find joy even in the midst of not feeling it, can create a lasting positive impact on your life and mental health.
So, how do you find joy? First, keep in mind that joy can be found in the littlest of things; it doesn't have to be anything major. You might find joy in your morning coffee or a sunrise, cuddling up with your pet or a soft blanket, your favorite movie or a funny meme.
Second, a good place to start can be creating a list of all the things that you used to love doing before depression. Hobbies you had, activities you loved, things you did with a friend every week. I know right now it may seem like you don’t enjoy those things anymore, but oftentimes it’s not that you can’t enjoy them, but rather the signals firing in your brain are having trouble connecting with the joy. While doing things you used to love might not make you find full enjoyment again, it can help you create some meaning and joy in your life.
A second way to find joy is trying or starting something new! Sometimes getting out of your routine or comfort zone can be a great way to boost your mood or help you get out of a rut, even if just for a little bit. Some examples include joining a walking or hiking group, picking up a new skill like painting or an instrument, or even taking a mini-trip somewhere.
But if you aren’t able to find joy in this season of life right now, that’s okay! There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, and as painful as it is right now, one day you will find joy again. Keep holding on.
5. Be Compassionate to Yourself
Self-compassion is your lifeline to managing and living with depression. In fact, self compassion can have multiple benefits such as lowering anxiety and depression, more social connections, greater life satisfaction, and fostering resilience.5
Because the truth is, depression is tough. And it’s even tougher when you don’t give yourself a break. Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or self-loathing can unfortunately tag along with depression as other symptoms. You may feel lazy or like a failure or a burden, but your brain is not telling you the truth. The truth is you’re doing your best! You are not your depression or what your depression makes you do or think.
When you notice you're being hard on yourself, try replacing that thought or response with something more kind and gentle. Consider how you would speak to a friend struggling with the same thing…and then use that tone, voice, and words towards yourself!
To Wrap Up
These are just a few examples of things you can do to help fight depression. But my biggest tip of all would be to start small. You don’t need to pressure yourself to do every single one of these things to the highest level. Depression and mental illness makes life difficult, and adding pressure only adds to the guilt you may feel. Which is not helpful!
So, start small. Rather than piling 5 to-do tasks on your list right away, start with a goal of opening the curtains or making your bed. If you want to increase your movement but are overwhelmed, start with 3 minutes and then move to 5, 15, etc. Start with journaling 3 sentences and gradually move to a full page. Whatever you want to work on, remember you can take it slow and start small to get to where you want to be.
Lastly, if you need professional help, check out these resources here or the help line mentioned at the start of this post. And even if you don’t need professional help, we encourage you to find someone to help you with these tips. Battling depression can be much easier when you have others helping to lift you up, carry your burdens, sit and talk with you, and remind you of your value and worth. You are not alone!