I know I’ve shared with you before about my battle with depression while in graduate school studying for my doctorate in psychology. It was by far one of the most difficult and dark emotional times of my life. The symptoms of depression can destroy your will, your energy, your emotional and physical well-being, your relationships with those you love, and your life IF you let it.
If you’re struggling with depression right now, I want you to know that you are not alone. According to the WHO (World Health Organization) as many as 350,000,000 people battle some form of depression globally! That’s pretty staggering. And, many people won’t get any help for themselves because of the perceived stigma associated with depression. And I think that’s what saddens me the most. There are people suffering in darkness and silence because they are afraid of what other people might think. But this is YOUR life we’re talking about! And, the truth is there is absolutely no shame in admitting you are struggling to overcome the dark pull depression has on your life right now. None whatsoever. As a matter of fact, it takes incredible strength and courage to say, “I need help.”
Your negative inner dialogue can be even louder during tough emotional times. Do not isolate yourself. It’s one of the worst things you can do. Reach out to your loved ones. It’s not a sign of weakness to lean on those who love you when you need them. And, if they don’t understand or say unhelpful things, forgive them. Oftentimes people who have never experienced depression have no true understanding of what it is like to be depressed. But whether they get it or not, YOU must get help and support for yourself…and you have to take care of yourself.
So, here are ten things you can do right now to help yourself win this battle:
- Start a routine. You may feel like staying in bed and doing very little, but creating structure around your day and making sure that you not only get out of bed, but also get out of the house is crucial. Set the alarm and make yourself get up and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time. Schedule activities for your day (and do them) and have a specific bedtime.
- Postpone major decisions. Do not decide to get married, get divorced, quit your job or make any other major life decision during this difficult time. Depression messes with your brain and you will not be thinking clearly (even when you think you are). You also are not really yourself. So, any big decision you make now you’ll be re-thinking later. Save yourself the second-guessing and leave the decision making for when you truly are feeling better.
- Exercise. I know some days you may not even feel like getting out of bed. I get it. But you can’t allow yourself to stay there. Get out of bed. Get out of the house. Go for a vigorous walk. Do some jumping jacks, crunches, or run. Anything that gets your heart rate pumping (even though you don’t feel like it). This activity will help boost your hormones (serotonin) and that will help you start feeling better naturally.
- Eat healthy & drink lots of water. This is not the time to skip meals, overeat, eat junk food, or forget to take your prescription medications. Our body and mind are connected. So how you take care of your body matters. Make eating healthy meals, and taking your medications and supplements part of your every day schedule. And drink plenty of water too as dehydration can affect your mood and functioning.
- Get restful sleep. I know you probably think you have been sleeping enough. But depressive sleep is often not a restful sleep. When it’s time for your scheduled bedtime turn off the TV, the phones, the lights, and anything that distracts you or keeps your mind engaged on any level. You want your mind to fully disengage and have proper cycles of REM sleep. Feeling rested is imperative to getting better and having the emotional stamina to overcome. If insomnia is the problem, try deep breathing and meditation before bed (see below).
- Challenge negative thoughts. Now is the perfect time to start mastering the art of managing your negative inner dialogue. When your negative thoughts start if you don’t shut them down quickly they will turn into a cyclone and spin out of control really fast. Get a notebook or journal and write down a reframe for the typical negative thoughts you have. Then, each time one of those thoughts pops up, look at your notebook and use one of the positive reframes to challenge the thought until you have control of your thoughts again.
- Deep breathing & meditation. For 15 minutes twice a day, develop a practice of deep mindful breathing. Most people don’t breathe very deeply and this affects how our mind and body function. Keep it simple. Inhale for a 5 count, hold for a 3 count, and exhale for 5. If inhaling first is difficult for you, exhale first and then start the inhale process. You might also want to do the second set of 15 minutes at night as it helps with restful sleep. Your mind does NOT need to be blank. When thoughts come. Acknowledge them and return to the counting.
- Stay connected. Don’t isolate yourself (even though you may want to). In your schedule, make time to be around people you care about and who care about you. And, do enjoyable things with them.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and drugs may have you think you are feeling better initially, but they will not help the situation. Eventually, they can make things worse. Self-medicating is not addressing the problem…and alcohol is actually a depressant itself. So while it may “take the edge off” it will bring you down even further…hence the need for more and more. If you think you need alcohol or drugs to get through the day, please see a doctor.
- Get help. You don’t have to do this alone. Please contact a therapist, doctor, pastor, community center counselor, or if necessary go to the emergency room at the local hospital if you are feeling suicidal. Reach out and get the help you need. Suffering in the shadows isn’t necessary and it doesn’t help you.
Every moment that you say “No!” to the dark thoughts depression weaves in your mind, you are winning the battle. Depression can take a lot from you. But you have what it takes to fight back and breakthrough. Take action and take care of your emotional health and well-being. You got this.