3 Ways to Manage Depression
I've been prone to depression for as long as I can remember. As a teenager (and into my 20s), I was pretty horrible at managing it. I didn't understand what would help me, nor did I understand what would send me spiraling down. So very often, my natural inclinations contributed heavily to the depressive funk. Over the years, I realized that "curing" my depression might not be likely. However, I could become adept at understanding what fuels my depression, what triggers it, and what behaviors keep me stuck in it. I've also learned what behaviors propel me upward, and have focused my efforts more on managing the symptoms so I could lead a fulfilling, meaningful life.
I know I'm not alone. 16 million American adults experience depression each year. So for those of you who are familiar with the struggle, I'll share some tips that I've learned both personally and professionally. I will never assume that my experience with depression directly mirrors anybody else's experience, but I do believe that there are some well-researched methods for treating depression.
1) Social Connection. One of the first things people tend to do when they experience an episode of depression is to cut themselves off from the outside world. Maybe they do this because they don't have energy, or because they have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy. Some of us push people away because our depressed minds are telling us that we are unlovable. While isolation is a normal inclination with depression, the reality is that withdrawing from social connection can be part of a downward spiral that keeps you stuck.
In my own experience with depression, I have learned that I need socialization the most when I want it the least. I have learned that putting myself out there and connecting even when I'm "not feeling it" is actually an important way to put myself back on a mood-boosting trajectory.
2) Physical Self-care. It is common for healthy lifestyle behaviors to get tossed out the window when we are experiencing a depressive episode. You might notice a change in your appetite (under-eating or over-eating), a change in your sleep habits (lack of sleep or too much sleep), or a decrease in physical activity/exercise. The connection between our minds and bodies is strong, and the better we care for our physical bodies, the better we will feel emotionally.
As tempting as it may be to skip meals or sleep all day when you're feeling depressed, these choices may keep you in the downward spiral of depression. Try to eat consistently and wholesomely. Keep a regular bedtime, and refrain from taking lengthy naps during the day. These small changes may be just the shift you need to improve your mood.
Get outside. Fresh air and sunlight can be healing for your mind and body. Sunlight is full of Vitamin D, a natural mood booster. A few years ago, I was in a bit of a depressive slump and my psychiatrist recommended bloodwork to make sure everything looked okay. As it turns out, I had a Vitamin D deficiency that was easily addressed through vitamin supplements. Getting outside can also help keep your circadian rhythm properly calibrated, which in turn can help with sleep disturbances.
3) Challenge negative/depressive thinking patterns. Depression tends to put a negative spin on life. The way you see yourself, the way you see others, the way you see the world, and the way you see your future can all be negatively impacted by depression. Learn to identify and address thought patterns that might be fueling your depression. Here are some examples of common "cognitive distortions" that could contribute to depression:
All or Nothing thinking places things into black and white categories. If you failed a test, then you believe you are a failure in general. If you have a flaw, you see yourself as a flawed creature with no positive qualities.
Overgeneralization takes one (or a few) bad experiences and assumes that all similar situations will turn out badly in the future. For example, if a significant other breaks up with you, you might assume that all relationships will end poorly. Or if one person rejects you, you might assume that all people would reject you.
Discounting the Positives negates any positive experiences that don't fit in with your negative perspective. For example, you ignore the test you did well on, or the person who was interested in you, or the kind words someone said to you. Somehow, those experiences don't count.
Fortune Telling is constantly assuming that you know how things will turn out (and it's always negative). You are already certain that your friends will abandon you, your significant others will break up with you, or life will otherwise let you down.
Mind Reading assumes that you know what others are thinking (and somehow it's always something negative about you).
I truly believe that implementing these practices can be life-changing (and in some instances, literally life-saving). Whoever you are, whatever you are experiencing right now, I want you to know that you matter. There is hope; there is help. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help if you are having a hard time getting this under control by yourself. If you need help, our therapists are eager to accompany you on your healing journey.
Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.