Depression is real.
Sadness in itself can be difficult to deal with, but long, extended periods of sadness that prevent you from completing day-to-day activities well (if at all) can feel impossible to live with, almost insurmountable. Everyone deals with sadness in some capacity or on some level at any point during their lives, but not everyone deals with the kind of deep, lasting pain you are experiencing right now.
You may feel as though you’ll never get through this. You might have gone through a profound loss in your life, or you’ve been disappointed by someone or something, or you may not even be able to explain why you’ve been so helpless, withdrawn and unhappy.
What we’re going to discuss here are ways to deal with your depression, but first, let’s discuss what depression is.
Do I have depression?
Depression is long-term, excessive sadness. It causes you to pull away from people you love, makes you less interested in the things you once upon enjoyed, and keeps you from wanting to do anything. It either makes you sleep too much or not enough. Sometimes, it makes you feel overwhelmed with pain, while sometimes, it causes you to feel numb and empty.
Many things cause sadness, like a death in the family, divorce, the loss of a loved one, financial distress, or regret. For many people in many situations, that sadness eventually lifts; but if you are feeling like those negative feelings aren’t going away even after several weeks, or months, it’s likely you have depression.
Depression is normal, and can be treated. Experts report that one in three people will experience some kind of depressive episode sometime in life, and most of those depressive episodes will be mild. One in ten people suffering from depression will experience a severe or serious episode.
These are some of the signs of depression:
Lack of interest in hobbies or other activities you used to enjoy
Withdrawing from friends and family members
An overactive appetite
No appetite at all
Loss of energy
Inability to sleep, or unsatisfying sleep
Recurring negative thoughts
Slowed activity or thought process
Difficulty making decisions
Thoughts of self-harm
If you’re experiencing five or more of the above symptoms, you likely have depression. If you have not yet been diagnosed, it would be beneficial to seek the assistance of a therapist or a mental health professional. If you know you have depression and are looking for ways to fight depression, here are some ideas that may help.
Talk to a therapist about your depression
Andrew, 38, is a financial planner for a small, growing municipality. He was first diagnosed with depression when he went to the doctor for help regarding his sleep habits.
“When I first saw the doctor, all I said was, ‘I can’t sleep,’” recalls Andrew. “He was asking me all kinds of questions and at first, I was stunned – I really thought he was just going to give me some sleeping pills and send me on my way.
“The next thing I know, he’s got me seeing a therapist and my ‘Hey, I can’t sleep,’ turned into ‘Oh. I have depression and anxiety and that’s why I can’t sleep.’”
While different therapists and mental health professionals will prescribe varying methods, Andrew’s therapist was a big believer in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is designed to control negative thoughts and fight sad emotions. Through CBT, Andrew began to learn how to counteract his negative thought patterns and behaviors, reframing them into positive, more hopeful thoughts. After several weeks of CBT, Andrew’s view of his world began to change.
Here’s what typically happens when you first start talking to a therapist:
1. Your therapist will ask questions about you and your life; if at first this seems intrusive, you have to remember that your therapist is trying to get to know you and your background as best as he or she can to be able to understand you the best way possible. Knowing what you’ve had to deal with will help your therapist determine the right course of action for your treatment and care.
2. Your therapist will ask you what goal (or goals) you want to achieve over the next few weeks, over the course of your treatment, and in the future. This way, you’re looking at recovery in smaller chunks, and it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
3. You will be responsible for deciding what you want to talk about or focus on in each session. It’s okay if during some sessions you talk more than others; it’s also okay to feel a whole range of emotions you might experience every day. In a therapy session, you’re not being judged.
4. If your therapist has chosen CBT, you will be asked to think about whether your thoughts, feelings and behaviors are helpful to you. You’ll examine how your current thought patterns and behaviors affect you. With the help of your therapist, you’ll come up with ways to reframe those thoughts so that they’re less destructive and more constructive for a healthier, happier life.
5. Your recovery and treatment doesn’t end when you leave your therapist’s office. You will be given some assignments or tasks that you’ll practice in between sessions. These are new coping skills and techniques. You will do them a little at a time until you start doing them naturally. Over time and with practice, you’ll learn how to combat those negative thoughts and replace them with new ones – all on your own.
Journaling for depression
Journaling for depression is one of the most effective practices for improving your quality of life and speeding up your recovery.
Journaling is different for everyone. There are no wrong or right ways to journal about your depression, but whatever method you choose, make sure to keep up with it. The secret to journaling is conscious consistency.
Here are the different ways you can journal about your depression:
When you think of classic journaling, you might think about pre-teen girls scribbling love notes in pink leather-bound books while swooning over pictures of their crush-of-the-moment. But classic journaling really just means writing in long-form paragraphs, writing whenever you have a thought and feel compelled to save it on paper. Classic journaling is for those who like to write a lot and write often, and is especially attractive to those who appreciate stream of consciousness writing and those who love to turn to writing as a stress reliever.
Bullet journal first came on the scene in 2012, and was designed to be a journal, a to-do list and a sketchbook in one. Bullet journals are filled with topics, numbers, drawings and bullets – there aren’t necessarily any long sentences in a bullet journal. It’s exactly as it sounds, a collection of thoughts, ideas and emotions drawn up on creatively laid out pages. Those who are creative, or those who appreciated organized chaos (or chaotic organization) will love bullet journaling.
Vision journaling/vision board
Ever heard of a vision board? It’s a collection of images and phrases that you want to see in your life. It might be a particular job or a home or a relationship or a feeling. Experts say that vision boards helps you work toward your intentions and motivates you toward achieving your goals. Vision journaling is similar. You’re not necessarily journaling what’s currently happening in your life, but what you would like to happen. It’s very empowering to write it as if it’s already happening, by the way. (For example, if you’re currently depressed about the state of your relationship with a sibling, you can write, ‘I have a loving, supportive relationship with my sister.’) It might feel challenging or inauthentic to start, but if you can feel what it’s like to already have what you want, experts say that positive emotion helps improve your state of mind (and makes your vision more likely to occur!)
For those who don’t particularly enjoy writing, and for those who feel like bullet journaling is too time-consuming and artistic than they would like, a-line-a-day journaling is a great option. It’s exactly as it sounds – you simply write down one line a day. It can be seven words; it can be 18. As best you can, summarize your day in one line, or one sentence. On your really tough days, you might write, “Feeling helpless and hopeless today and I wish I had someone to talk to,” while on better days you might write, “Might be a light at the end of the tunnel after all; I can do this.”
Improve your self-image to fight depression
Low self-esteem is usually a cousin to depression. If you have low self-esteem, you’re susceptible to depression, which will cause your thoughts about yourself to get even more distorted.
“I grew up with parents who always told me I was beautiful, I was smart, I was intelligent, I was kind,” says Kayleigh, 28. “But I was overweight and awkward from the day I started school, so I had a hard time making friends. Even the kids who spent time with me all just seemed so perfect – they didn’t have weight issues or they were top of the class or they were just really nice, happy kids. I felt like I was a charity case, or you know, the token chunky girl.”
After high school, Kayleigh dropped the weight. She was accepted into her college of choice, and was even approached to participate in a local beauty pageant. It would seem on the outside that Kayleigh had blossomed.
But Kayleigh had been suffering with depression since the 8th grade. Her low self-esteem didn’t improve with the weight loss or the beauty pageant win. Even though Kayleigh had changed externally, inside she was still the same sad, overwhelmed little girl who had no faith in her own worth.
Kayleigh sought the advice of a therapist for her depression and low self-esteem. She was encouraged to think about her own thoughts and beliefs about herself. She learned slowly that while she was being validated for her weight loss by winning a pageant, she focused so much on her external beauty that she didn’t pay any attention to how to improve herself on the inside.
“Things like weight and cosmetic changes can really wreak havoc on your if you don’t have balance,” muses Kayleigh. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel and be physically healthier, but if you’re just working out and shedding the pounds but you’re not taking care of yourself inside, none of it matters.
“I have to exercise my thoughts every day the way I have to work out my abs,” she continues. “I look in the mirror every single morning and say, ‘Kayleigh, you’re loved. Kayleigh, you are intelligent. Kayleigh, you are enough.’ It’s ridiculously hard in the beginning when you hate yourself. But as the weeks go on – it took me 100 days before I stopped wanting to punch the mirror or laugh myself out of the bathroom – it gets easier. You want to improve your depression? Convince yourself you are enough.”
Maintain a schedule to fight depression
For many, depression makes them feel like they’re not in control. They feel disorganized, muddled, and confused.
What helps is a daily activity planner. It can be an app you download on your phone, or a notebook you carry around with you. The benefit of a planner is that it helps you see your day on paper (or screen) and helps you at the end of the day log what you set out to accomplish and what you actually were able to do.
Your schedule can be as detailed as you like. It can look as detailed as this:
6:30am Wake up
6:40am Actually get out of bed
6:41am Brush teeth
6:44am Take a shower
6:55am Eat breakfast
7:30am Get dressed
7:45am Leave the house for work
Alternatively, it can look like this:
9:00am Doctor’s appointment
10:30am Take dogs to get groomed
1:00pm Pick up the dogs
4:00pm Call Mom
6:00pm Go to therapy
10:00pm Make sure to be in bed
As you examine your schedule or your plan at the end of the day, celebrate all the things you were able to do. If you couldn’t accomplish any of it, don’t beat yourself up, and challenge yourself to complete at least one of those things the next day. As you begin to accomplish more and more, you will feel yourself moving closer to recovery and a better quality of life.
Get some sleep to help your depression
Experts say that as many as 35% of Americans are affected by sleeplessness, otherwise known as insomnia. Insomnia causes you to toss and turn through the night, if you can stay in bed at all. Sleeplessness and depression go hand in hand – they both cause anxiety, hopelessness, exhaustion, fatigue, frustration and a seeming inability to get anything done.
If you are suffering from depression and need help sleeping, try these methods:
1. Invest in a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets are readily available at a number of retailers and have been proven to help those with depression and anxiety sleep better. They distribute weight evenly across your whole body, feeling like a big, giant hug. Try to find a blanket that’s approximately 10 to 15% percent of your own body weight.
2. Turn off all electronics at least a half hour before bed. Studies show that screen time before sleep time disrupts the body’s ability to fully relax, making it that much more difficult to doze off.
3. Don’t eat before bed. Instead, try working out just before you crawl into bed. Exercising naturally combats negative thoughts – and hopefully you’ll be so physically spent that your body has no option but to call it a night.
4. See a doctor. If everything else fails you, perhaps an appointment at a sleep clinic might help. While your depression may be what’s contributing to your sleeplessness, it may very well be the other way around. If you have a persistent sleeping problem or a sleep disorder, it may be that that is what it contributing to your depression.
If you want to discuss these ways to fight depression, or you’re looking to talk to a therapist about your depression, we're here for you. Learn more about our depression treatment options today.