Major depressive disorder creeps up on people, leaving them feeling tired, unmotivated, sad, and irritable. At first, these are all the symptoms of a spectacularly bad mood, and the nature of the disorder itself means that most people don’t even realize they may be depressed until quite some time has passed. And even then, the urge to seek help is unfortunately rare among those struggling with depression.
Because it’s a disease of apathy and doesn’t announce itself in any grandiose or trademarked way, depression can be difficult to identify. Some of the common negative feelings experienced by people with depression include the thought that they’re faking it, that they’re inherently lazy, and that they’re just looking for an excuse to wallow.
These thoughts fester and grow, perpetuating a cycle. This level of self-stigma is just one of many reasons why managing depression is so inherently difficult. But with some help and support, any patient with depression can eventually make enough headway to begin managing their symptoms, to the point that they can reclaim their lives and experience joy despite their depression.
What the Doctor Ordered
The first step to successfully managing a depression is to get into the mood to do so. As a mood disorder, depression is highlighted by symptoms of sadness, loneliness, procrastination, and negative thinking. These are all major obstacles to any motivation to get better. However, depression treatment helps. While there is no such thing as a magic pill, modern day antidepressants can often reduce depressive symptoms in people, provided they’re given time to work.
Most patients are started on a dose of SSRI antidepressants, before trying a different brand if the first didn’t work. If SSRIs seem unsuccessful, psychiatrists may prescribe another type of antidepressant, before moving on to alternative therapies. All the while, psychotherapy is used to help a patient make better sense of their depression, separate the disorder from themselves, and recognize when they are struggling with thoughts that are a result of the disorder, and when they are thinking clearly.
The reason this is an important step in managing depression is because treatment should come before coping. Coping mechanisms for depression are effective only if a patient has achieved some measure of success in reducing the severity of their symptoms, enough to effectively instate some of the tips below to continue managing the symptoms of the disorder should it persist after treatment. Alternative treatment methods to antidepressants include brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and more.
Prioritize Sleep, Food, and Exercise
Some people greatly underestimate the lengths to which a good diet, enough sleep, and regular exercise can affect mental health. We already have a substantial amount of evidence that implies that diet has an impact on depressive disorders and anxiety issues, and we have only yet begun to scratch the surface.
Furthermore, plenty of evidence shows that mood and hormone levels are best regulated through exercise and diet, and that good sleep isn’t just a bonus, but an absolute necessity for good mental health. Not enough sleep or an inconsistent sleeping schedule can be incredibly detrimental to one’s physical and emotional health, both of which heavily affect mental health.
This isn’t to say that a balanced diet is the cure for depression, but without a healthier lifestyle and good sleep hygiene, many efforts made to treat or manage depressive symptoms will be in vain.
Never Isolate Yourself
Depression feeds on isolation and grows the more you escalate in your negativity. When surrounded by nothing but your own thoughts, it’s likely that your depression will take you to some very dark places, with no one around to help. It’s okay to want some time to yourself sometimes, but avoid spending long periods away from others, holed up or otherwise unavailable.
No matter how uncomfortable it might be, you must try to reach out and talk. If no other options remain, grab your phone and chat or call someone. Facetime with a friend. Take a loved one up on their offer to grab a cup of coffee together. Any contact with others can help you listen to a different voice. Furthermore, we’re ultimately social creatures.
Although introversion and extroversion are noted to exist, the main difference isn’t in the binary difference between having friends and not having friends, but the extent to which one person feels comfortable around strangers, as well as the number of friends we are likely to hang out with. As such, being with people we like is a great mood booster. A day out with some friends might sound tiresome in the moment, but it could be just what you need. Push yourself to take them up on that offer.
Depression can often leave a person feeling restless, useless, and unwanted. While these feelings aren’t often grounded in reality, they feel real, and the fear of being irrelevant in the eyes of those around us and world in general can foster dangerous thoughts, including suicidal ideation.
It helps to remember that you do matter by taking the time to do something. Anything. Whether it’s taking care of a pet, a plant, a home, or doing work, managing and achieving anything at all can help a person feel better, and solidify the idea that they do exist and matter. Sometimes, we just need to see our actions unfold into changes in the world around us. And even when we only muster the strength to do so on the smallest scale, seeing that we still effect change can be a big pick-me-up.
Make A List of Happy Things
Some people call it a wellness toolbox, but whatever you want to call it, it’s important to have a handy list of things that you know can improve your mood, whether it’s visiting certain websites or going through certain photo albums, running a hot bath, making yourself a specific meal, playing with your pet, listening to a nostalgic piece of music, or playing an instrument.
These should be actions that don’t take very long to make you feel a little better, and they should be on a list you can print out or paste somewhere you’d see it every day. Decorate the list, design it to your heart’s content, and consider it your Plan A whenever you’re feeling really bad and aren’t sure what to do.