Depression makes you feel like the whole world is on your shoulders, dragging you down. Most days, it feels like gravity gets the best of you. All you want to do is lay down. Sleep. Escape.
Depression makes you feel powerless, but there is hope. You can break free from the grasp of depression. If you feel like the task is too overwhelming, remember this: Every. Little. Step. Counts. You don’t need to go from the worst you ever felt to feeling ecstatic. You are not moving from a valley to a mountaintop. You can, however, take firm steps towards balancing your mood.
These are the steps my clients take to manage depression:
Step #1: Recognize the Signs
Have you lost your enthusiasm for activities you once enjoyed? Does it seem like you just don’t have as much energy anymore?
It’s easy to get sucked into the depression hole. You don’t realize it until it’s too late. I can’t tell you how many clients have an aha-moment just by reading the clinical criteria for depression. Let’s review the most common depression symptoms.
• Feeling sad or hopeless often
• Experiencing changes in sleep patterns, including insomnia
• Feeling tired all the time
• Feeling excessive guilt about past events
• Having trouble concentrating
• Loss of appetite, overeating, or experiencing weight gain
• Struggling with thoughts of suicide or death
How many of these symptoms describe how you feel? If you want to see change, the first step is knowing what you are dealing with. You can’t plan to get anywhere if you don’t know where you are. So guess what? By reviewing these symptoms, you can stop minimizing your depression or attributing it to external causes. You can now take charge of your depression.
Step #2: Get Professional Help
Even though treatment for depression is incredibly effective, many people hesitate to seek help. Thoughts like, If I only do x or y or
I just have to be more x or y can keep you stuck.
Depression is a serious mental health issue, and it is important to get professional help. Would you forego seeing a doctor if you had another health issue? A therapist who is trained to treat depression can be a valuable resource. Although you may think therapists are just listening, they are using skills and experience to identify what keeps you stuck in your feelings. They’ll give you a new perspective, and help you move out of that dark place.
For some reason, people think they should be able to overcome depression on their own – similar to how many men feel about asking for directions. It’s critical to talk about what’s going on to someone who will help you find answers and move past this terrible time. Why not use the help that’s available?
Step #3: Change Your Lifestyle
Another way to break free from depression is to start making lifestyle changes. Depression sucks you dry of motivation. Making changes can be extremely difficult. Here’s a tip: Don’t make the change you think would be the most important one. Start with one that you are most likely to accomplish, and that will also help you feel better. For instance:
• Eat foods that are nutritious and avoid junk food. Determine whether you use food as a way to comfort yourself from depression. Unhealthy food provides your brain with a temporary high, but makes you feel worse later.
• Avoid excessive intake of caffeine (a stimulant) or alcohol (a depressant).
• Start working out! You don’t have to become a gym-rat. Even minimal exercise each day does wonders for boosting your mood. Something as simple as walking can make a big difference. Maybe just take a walk around the block once a day.
• Sleeping can be a problem with depression. Make an effort to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Look online for tips about improving your sleep. When I work with clients who aren’t getting enough sleep, I address sleep hygiene before I address anything else. Google it.
• Create a daily routine that provides structure. Don’t add too much – maybe one thing each day that will help you feel good about yourself.
• Spend time outside. Interacting with the natural world boosts your mood. Allow your senses to really notice the outside. Spending a few minutes focusing on the chill in the air or the warm sun on your skin creates endorphins and dopamine. Do it every day, and you will physically change how your brain functions. It’s science.
Step #4: Spend Time with People
Depression makes you feel like you are the only one who is struggling. Everyone else seems able to get on with their normal lives, but you feel stuck. This can cause you to isolate or wall off from the world. Instead, make a conscious choice to reach out to others. For instance:
• Spend time with friends and family members. If you don’t have the energy to talk, try to listen and ask questions.
• Get up for work every day.
• Consider volunteering. Giving back makes us feel better about ourselves. Plus, you get to interact with other people positively. Find your favorite charity and go.
• Learn a new skill. Learning anything new produces dopamine – a natural way to improve brain function and mood.
• Participate in athletic teams or sports you enjoy.
• Join a support group where you feel comfortable and welcomed. You will notice how reassuring it is to know others who are on the same journey.
If you struggle with depression, you are not alone. You know what it feels like to act as if you are doing fine, but inside you feel completely different, right? Lots of other people are doing the same thing. But trust me, hiding won’t make things better. Acting as if you’re fine does not really do the trick. I have seen countless people step out of depression, and it’s amazing. It is possible! I wish this for you, too.