Everything feels more challenging when you’re dealing with depression. Going to work, socializing with friends, or even just getting out of bed can feel like a struggle. We are fortunate to all be living in an age when mental illness has significantly less stigma attached to it than it once did. Anyone who is suffering from depression can be forthcoming about their condition as well as be openly proactive in finding ways to mediate their symptoms and strive towards living with their condition. But there are some things you can do for managing depression well enough to cope with your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
In addition to seeking professional treatment for depression, there are six things you can do each day that will help you manage depression.
- Connect with Others
It’s unfortunately quite common for people with depression to cut themselves off from the outside world. It’s important to understand, however, that becoming withdrawn and less interactive can lead you into a debilitating cycle of feeling even more depression. Connection is one of the six basic emotional needs as defined by mental health care professionals and shouldn’t be neglected. When depression strikes it can be beneficial to focus on maintaining relationships with family, loved ones and friends in advance of their deteriorating. These are the very people who will be there for you as your support network. You may well be pleasantly surprised with how being able to talk about your problems makes managing depression easier. Don’t neglect your relationships with those you can trust and rely on.
- Improve Your Diet
Here’s a tip that’s easy and likely enjoyable for you to do to lessen your experience of depression. Eating four to six small meals throughout the day as compared to two to three large ones can help stabilize blood sugar and thus give you more energy to deal with the day. Plus, you’ll be more likely to avoid sugar crashes and the mental sluggishness that comes with eating large portions. In addition, reducing the amount of simple carbohydrates like refined sugar and white flour in your diet can also help keep blood sugar levels stable, and this goes a long way in helping improve your mood when you are depressed. Eating too much processed carbohydrate-rich foods can add to the feelings of sluggishness and heaviness which may worsen your depressive state. Swapping these foods for healthier whole grain or low GI (glycemic index) alternatives will have less impact on blood sugar and also keep you feeling full and more physically and mentally alert.
- Learn and Practice Relaxation Techniques
Many relaxation techniques put an emphasis on deep breathing and muscle relaxation. These physiological actions work very effectively to combat the body-manifestation aspects of depression thus helping in managing depression. In particular vagus nerve breathing is very effective for stroking your sympathetic nervous system and reducing anxiety and improving mood when you’re depressed. In fact, vagus nerve breathing is great for anyone regardless if they are depressed or not. Yoga and Tai Chi are also great ways to help relax the body and can provide the individual with much needed social connection if done in a class.
- Get Regular Exercise
Most of you won’t need to be reminded that the connection between exercise and feeling good has long been established, but when you are depressed it’s entirely natural to struggle with finding the motivation to be active. Whatever it takes, find that motivation and just do it, as you’ll find that even after one exercise session your spirits will be lifted and you’ll likely be looking forward to the next one. That’s a result of feel-good hormones like dopamine and endorphins being produced during exercise, and they go straight to work in improving the mood of individuals with mild to moderate depression. Something as simple as taking a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, 3 or 4 times a week, can improve your mood. Better yet, walk with someone you’re close to as it will make the experience even more enjoyable.
- Challenge Any Negative Thoughts
Negative thinking is a prominent symptom of depression and it is a big challenge to not give in to those negative thoughts. Shift the focus of your mind so that you begin looking for the positive things in your life. This helps you take control over your perspective. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much more affirming it is to feel ‘in control’ of your thoughts and emotions. When you start to notice your thoughts and turn your focus towards all that is positive in your life, you will start to feel better about yourself and your environment. For those who need help reframing their thinking, one very helpful treatment for depression is CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. There are also many self-help books, apps, and online courses that can help you learn how to change your unhealthy thinking patterns.
- Sleep Regular Hours
Sleep difficulties are common with depression. Those with depression often report having either insomnia (being unable to sleep) or hypersomnia ( finding it difficult to stop sleeping). Both of these symptoms may require physician assistance or the use of a pharmaceutical aid, but you can be proactive here as well by being regimented about going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Getting a good night’s sleep is important for one and all, but especially for those living with depression. Conversely too much sleep (more than 8 hours) can worsen depression. By sleeping regularly, you will avoid making your feelings of depression worse.
- Get a Handle on Your Household Chores
Depression can make it difficult to complete household chores, such as doing the dishes or paying bills. But a pile of paperwork, the stack of dirty dishes, and floor covered in dirty clothes will only magnify your feelings of worthlessness. Take control of your daily chores. Start small and work on one project at a time. Getting up and moving can help you start to feel better in itself. But, seeing your progress in the home can be key to helping you feel better.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.