Depression can feel like an overwhelming sadness that saps the joy out of your life and prevents you from taking even small steps forward. Depression is treatable, though, and there are many ways to manage the symptoms of depression. Treatment is different for everyone, and what works for one person may not work for another. This is why it is important to have a lot of different coping methods and options for how to manage your depression.
Unfortunately, many people suffer through depression without the support or resources they need to help alleviate their symptoms in an effective way. This may be true for a number of reasons, including embarrassment or shame about the struggle with depression, lack of support from friends or family, a lack of access to resources to treat depression, or just not knowing what to do to deal with the overwhelming feelings.
Tips To Manage Depression
It’s important to understand that managing depression is usually not going to be a quick and easy fix. Most people have to really try to use multiple strategies to help them with their symptoms, depending on what their specific circumstances and experiences are. Here are 10 tips and strategies to help manage your symptoms that may help to provide some relief from the severity of your symptoms.
1. Talk about it
When you are struggling with depression, you may want to isolate yourself from others and hide how bad you are feeling. This is understandable because part of depression is often feeling like a burden on others, or believing that people in your life don’t truly care about you or what you have going on. Sometimes it is absolutely true that the people in your life are not as supportive as you need them to be. However sometimes there really are people that care about you and want to be able to be there for you and support you. Talking about your feelings and what you are going through with people who are genuinely concerned for you and care about you is such an important part of managing depression. Even when you don’t really understand why you’re feeling so down, just talking about the struggle can be helpful. When we don’t give our feelings a voice, they will continue to stay stuck inside you. Try to think about the people who have offered to listen or support you in the past and let them know that you could use someone to talk to. You might be surprised at who is willing to listen.
Writing or journaling is an excellent outlet for people who enjoy this kind of practice. This is basically the same kind of practice as talking to someone else, it just keeps your thoughts and feelings more private while you still have an outlet to express them and get them out of your head. Journaling can be a way to directly express and release distressful thoughts and feelings, while creative writing can be a totally different way of accomplishing the same thing. Writing poetry is one example of creative writing, but you could even write fiction if you feel like it. Some people may find writing or journaling to be stressful or unproductive and that is totally fine. You don’t have to do this if it’s not your style or you don’t find it helpful. But for the writers out there, this can be an invaluable way to cope with your symptoms.
3. Use creative expression (art, music)
Aside from writing, there are many other forms of creative expression that can be an outlet for your feelings. If you are drawn to visual arts, painting, drawing, sculpture, and even coloring can be good creative outlets for you to express how your feeling. If not, consider music, dance, or other forms of self-expression. Think about what you feel your depression looks or feels like and put that down in some kind of artistic medium. Giving your depression a concrete representation through creative expression can help you feel more power and control over those emotions.
4. Intuitive exercise
Exercise has been clinically proven to help alleviate symptoms of depression and other mental health symptoms, but from a therapeutic perspective I always recommend intuitive exercise when it comes to managing mental health. This means that you absolutely should use exercise, but you should focus only on exercise that you enjoy and that doesn’t stress you out. This means that the most important thing to consider is what the impact of that form of exercise is on you specifically. It will be different for each person. One person may find yoga therapeutic, but the idea of a Cross-Fit session makes them dread even leaving the house. Another person may find kick-boxing exhilarating and energy-giving, but find walking dull and unhelpful. The main concern should be listening to your body and your own intuition and honoring what feels best and most helpful to you.
Getting some sun and spending time in nature is another important way to create an overall healthy lifestyle to manage symptoms of depression. Sunlight is also a proven natural therapy that can boost mood and provide an important source of Vitamin D. for people who struggle with depression, taking a short walk outside when the sun is out or even absorbing the sun’s rays relaxing in a park or by the pool can provide a little boost to your mood. I have actually seen this benefit people in therapy, as well. When I have clients that are really stuck in a rut and can’t seem to do much else to combat their depression, sometimes taking their dog for a walk outside daily and spending a little more time in the sun and a little less time indoors in the dark can provide just the smallest boost they need to start feeling a little better. Gardening is another natural therapy with proven mental health benefits that helps you get some sunlight into your life.
6. Gratitude practices
Doing a daily or weekly gratitude practice is a good thing for everyone to do, but when you are struggling with depression, it is really important. Sometimes that can be hard to do, when you are feeling so low and it seems like nothing is going your way. Yet there is almost always something to be grateful for, and sometimes you have to start small when you can’t see the big picture. Sometimes if might be just having a bed to sleep in today, or having the love of one person in your life. Often, though, there is so much to be grateful for, but we don’t always see it when we are struggling. Being more intentional about gratitude can help you frame things in a way that helps you to shift your mindset away from depression and towards feeling grateful for all you have in your life. For more on creating a gratitude practice, see this post.
7. Access counseling
This can be a tough one for many people both because the idea of counseling can be intimidating, and also because many people struggle with access to mental health services due to the many complicating factors involved in our healthcare system. Furthermore, some people may have had negative experiences with counseling in past and therefore are hesitant to form a trusting relationship with a counselor again. However, if you are able to see a counselor, I would encourage anyone who is struggling with depression to seek help. There are many dedicated and caring professionals with experience treating depression. Sometimes it takes a little time and effort to find the right therapist for you, but it is well worth it to find the person who you feel most comfortable with. Counseling has saved many people’s lives, and having that professional support could make a huge difference in managing your depression.
8. Take time off
This strategy can also be difficult for many people because of the barriers involved in taking time out from work, family, or other social obligations. There are financial considerations, work performance considerations, and the pressure of stepping away from all of the obligations you have towards people who are counting on you. All of that extra pressure can trigger your symptoms of depression to worsen and leave you feeling hopeless about ever being able to take a break. Everyone has to evaluate their own situation and figure out what they can reasonably do to get a break from some of the things that may be overwhelming you and exacerbating your depression. What you don’t have to do, though, is feel guilty about taking time to take care of yourself. Your life and health are important—just as important as everyone else’s and certainly more important than any task or social obligation you may feel tied to. Releasing yourself from the guilt of taking time to take care for yourself is one thing that you can do right now to help manage your depression.
9. Plan for the future
When you feel depressed, you may feel hopeless about the future. The present may seem miserable and the past may seem like it clings to you. You cannot change the past, but you can change your future, and thinking about and planning for all the things you want to look forward to can help to alleviate some of the sadness and hopelessness you feel. Believing that things can change is one of the keys to managing major depression, because feeling hopeless is a significant symptoms of depression. There is no guaranteed outcome in life, but as long as you can see a future for yourself where things are different, then you can hang onto that hope for a time when you will feel better and be able to live your life fully. Make a promise to never give up on yourself by envisioning the future that you want for yourself and use that vision to give you hope when you are feeling low.
10. Consider Medication
Mental health medication can be life-saving for some people, yet many people are hesitant to take them. This could be due to being worried about side effects, not wanting to be “dependent” on a medication, or not having access to appropriate mental health care. Not everyone needs to be on a medication, but it is appropriate and even necessary for some people depending on the severity of their symptoms. Taking an anti-depressant is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, you probably know several people on mental health medications, even if you are not aware of it. Taking a mental health medication is a serious decision, though, and one that should be made by you and your doctor together. For more information on how to know when a mental health medication is right for you, see this post.
Managing depression usually requires people to use several different methods to help combat their symptoms and help them feel better over time. Some people may need long-term treatment, while others may be able to recover after a few months of treatment. There are so many factors that influence how severe an episode of depression is, but please remember that help is available and that depression is a treatable condition. Above all, listen to yourself and your needs, and recognize that your life is worth fighting for. You are not alone in how you are feeling, and you can get better with treatment and support.
For more information and resources on depression and mental illness, please visit:
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Note: Always consult with your doctor when making decisions about your options for medication and the severity of your symptoms.
People experience mental health symptoms on a scale, which is to say that the severity of their symptoms vary widely amongst individuals. For example, most people have a bandwidth of happiness in which they exist regardless of their circumstances. Think about happiness as being a scale from 1-10, in which 10 is the most happy, joyful, and blissful mood you can experience, and 1 is being so depressed that you are suicidal. Some people never get to that feeling of 1. Even when things are really bad, such as experiencing the pain of grief, or significant financial hardships, or experiencing a severe trauma or assault, they still never get to the point at which they are suicidal. Maybe that person stays within a bandwidth of 5-9, so that when things are really, really, bad, they would rate their happiness around a level 5, and when things are going really, really well, they get pretty close to that 10 on the happiness scale. There are other people, though, who never ever get to that feeling of 10. They tend more towards depression, and when things are really, really going well, they experience their happiness around perhaps a 7, but when they are really struggling with things going on in their life, or something pretty bad happens, they can become suicidal and really struggle to cope with their circumstances.
All this means is that some individuals may need more interventions depending on where they fall on an overall bandwidth of their symptoms. The same analogy above can be considered when you are thinking about symptoms of anxiety as well. Some people tend to have more of an anxious nature, while others may be very laid back in how they handle life’s curveballs, and many of us land somewhere in between. You can use this analogy to help you determine how severe your symptoms are and whether or not your symptoms are likely to improve with non-medical interventions such as traditional talk therapy, utilizing your coping skills, and reaching out for support from family and friends, or whether you need to seek out medical interventions.
I have found in my clinical practice that many people do not want to take medication for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other diagnoses or symptoms. This is understandable, because no one wants to feel like they have to have a crutch to help them cope with life. However, there is no shame in using a medical intervention when needed to help you better manage your mental health. We use medication all the time to address our physical health needs. Just as we preserve our physical health by using non-medical interventions such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes when necessary, we can use our coping skills, support systems, and lifestyle changes to preserve and promote our mental health. However, just as we sometimes need an antibiotic or another medication to manage a temporary or chronic physical condition, we may need to use a mental health medication to manage a temporary or chronic mental health condition.
If you are wondering whether medication is right for your mental health, consider the following in order to help you make a decision about whether a temporary or long-term mental health medication is something you should discuss with a therapist or doctor.
- You have been diagnosed with a mental health condition that includes symptoms of psychosis or other features that necessitate medication management.
- If you have a mental health diagnosis that includes symptoms such as hearing voices, dissociative states, or severe mood swings, medication may be something that needs to be included in your long-term treatment plan. While some diagnoses may be temporary in nature, other conditions such as schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, or bipolar disorder require long term treatment and medication is frequently a part of the treatment recommendations. Understandably, there are many people who resist being on medication long term. People with these conditions often do benefit from their medication protocols, but they can be susceptible to lapses in medication compliance because they begin to feel better and mistakenly believe that they no longer need the medication. This can result in a harmful cycle of symptom escalation, which could be avoided with regular compliance with their medication protocols. If you have a more severe clinical diagnosis, it is important to recognize that medication can be an important part of maintaining a good quality of life, with your symptoms being closely monitored by your treatment team and your medications managed by a doctor you trust.
- Your symptoms have been ongoing for a month or longer.
- We all experience temporary struggles in life that can affect our mood and can increase symptoms of depression or anxiety. However, sometimes those feelings become overwhelming and our regular coping skills aren’t cutting it when it comes to managing our mental health. For example, you may experience a significant loss in your life and grief becomes overwhelming. Or, you might be going through an extremely stressful life change, and your anxiety starts to escalate to the point at which you begin to experience panic attacks. While some stress, depression, or anxiety is normal when you experience these major life changes, if you are experiencing significant distress for a month or longer, please consider consulting your doctor or a psychiatrist to help you learn what medical options may help you experience some relief.
- You have begun to experience physical manifestations of your mental health symptoms.
- When your body starts to show physical signs of your mental health stress, it is probably time to consult with a doctor about your symptoms. For example, some anxiety under periods of stress is normal, but when you start to experience panic attacks, tightness in your chest, or hyperventilation, you have crossed a threshold at which medication management may be another tool that you can benefit from to get relief from the distress. This applies to depression, too. Many people experience bouts of depression during difficult times in their lives, but when your depression is causing extreme fatigue, disrupted sleep, changes in weight, body aches and pains, or other physical manifestations, you may benefit from trying an anti-depressant under the supervision of a qualified doctor.
- You have tried utilizing your coping skills and support system but your symptoms have not improved.
- I am a big advocate of utilizing non-medical interventions for mental health treatment and building the right skills to help manage symptoms on your own. However, this doesn’t mean that medication can’t be an appropriate tool to use when your other skills are not helping you to feel better. We all need to develop and use our own coping skills and reach out to our positive support systems when we are distressed. Yet if you have tried these interventions and you are still suffering, there is no shame in seeking out more help when needed. This doesn’t mean you have to be on medication forever, but medication can help your brain chemistry a little bit, and help you get back to feeling normal (whatever that is for you) again.
- You have had thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or other people, or you have engaged in self-harm behaviors such as cutting to relieve or manage your symptoms.
- Self-harm behaviors or suicidal ideations are significant indicators that you may need some help with medication management. No one deserves to feel like they need to harm themselves to experience relief from anxiety or depression, and no one deserves to feel like their life is not valuable enough to fight for. If you have engaged in self-harm behaviors (including disordered eating behaviors like restriction, binging, and purging) or you have thoughts of wanting to harm yourself, you need to talk to a professional about getting your symptoms under control so that you can stop harming yourself and start working towards recovery. Your life and your mental health are worth fighting for and you should not feel ashamed about seeking medical help. If you have significant anger issues that result in you having thoughts of wanting to act out in violence or harm others, you also may need to seek medication in addition to traditional therapy in order to prevent an escalation of these impulses.
- You are engaging in other forms of self-medication such as overuse of alcohol, marijuana or other substances to get relief from your symptoms.
- If you find that you are using alcohol or other substances on a regular basis to experience relief from symptoms of depression or anxiety, your efforts may backfire on you. Alcohol is a depressant, and thus it may temporarily make you feel more relaxed or less anxious, but it can ultimately exacerbate your symptoms. Alcohol also interferes with your sleep, and the lack of quality sleep can also exacerbate your symptoms (hint: passing out is NOT quality sleep!).
- Substance use functions as a form of escapism for many people, but your problems are still there when you wake up in the morning. If you really want to get a handle on symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, think about your use of substances and whether it is really helping you improve your life, or if it is just serving as a form of self-medication or causing you to avoid seeking professional help.
- Alcohol and other substances can interfere with many medications. If you have consulted with your doctor and decided that medication is right for you, be sure to let your doctor know about your drinking or other habits so that they can ensure you are informed about potential interactions or side effects when taking your medication.
So, what if you have been on medication for mental health symptoms, but now you are feeling better and you don’t want to be on medication any longer? First, recognize that if you are feeling better- this means the medication is working as intended. Some people want to get off medication as soon as they start to feel better, but understand that you may need to stay on the medication for a while longer, especially if you are getting good results. Sometimes people stay on an anxiety medication or an anti-depressant for a year or longer. However, if you have done the work of developing stronger coping skills, or you have had success with traditional therapy and feel as though you are ready to wean off of a medication that you have been utilizing to address your symptoms, you can seek guidance from your providers about your options for the next steps. A good provider will be honest and frank with you about your progress and the risks and benefits of changing your medication protocol. However, if you have decided to go off of your medication, make sure that you do so under the guidance of your doctor. Many medications build up in your body in order to reach a therapeutic level (the dosage at which they are most effective). It is very important not to wean yourself off of a medication without consulting your doctor, because your doctor may be able to help you get off the medication slowly so that you do not experience harsh side effects or a dramatic return of your symptoms. You do not have to feel ashamed about pursuing medication when it is right for you. Think of it as just another tool in your toolbox of coping skills. Deciding to take a medication doesn’t mean you have to stay on it forever, and it doesn’t mean you don’t still have to do the work of going through therapy or otherwise building your other methods of coping and obtaining support. Just understand that medication is a tool, not a panacea to resolve your problems. A medication is not going to magically make your problems go away, but it may just help you get the relief you need to keep moving forward with your life in a healthier and happier way, and there is no shame in that.