Depression is a serious illness that drains your energy, attacks your sense of self-worth, and makes you feel hopeless. Sometimes, just getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult, and the simple tasks of life can seem overwhelming. When you are battling these struggles, taking the steps needed for recovery can be hard. Overcoming depression requires positive action, but often just thinking about making the necessary changes can be exhausting. The key is to start small. Don’t think about how much work you have to do to get better, but rather focus on one step that you can take to improve how you feel today. You don’t have to plan to go to a party, but you can determine to call a friend. You don’t have to go for a jog, but a short walk around the block can go a long way toward lifting your mood.
If you set your expectations too high, you will end up discouraged and frustrated, which will only exacerbate your depression. Begin with a few manageable goals and build on them. You know the old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”? Well, recovery will not happen overnight. It takes time to accomplish great things, and learning how to overcome depression may be one of the greatest things you ever do.
So, the important thing to remember is that recovery will take time. There is no quick and easy method – no magic pill that will immediately cure your condition. And, often treatment is trial and error because what works for one person may not be effective for another. But, overcoming depression is possible, and you will be surprised how quickly all the little accomplishments can add up.
And, don’t forget to celebrate your successes. If you went out for coffee with a friend for the first time in months, allow yourself to enjoy the experience and be proud of your bravery. It will be tempting to say, “But, it was only coffee. I still feel awful and I have so far to go.” How far you have to go isn’t nearly as important as how far you have come. Every step you take toward recovery is a step in the right direction.
Patience is a virtue you will have to exercise, but when you find a treatment method that works for you, all the effort you put into overcoming depression will be worth it because you will finally feel good again.
So, if you want to begin your journey to recovery, here are a few effective tips and methods that you may find helpful:
Visit a doctor to rule out any medical causes.
In some cases, depression results from a medical condition, or is the side effect of a treatment being used to cure a physical problem. For example, an overactive or underactive thyroid can cause symptoms that mimic depression. As well, vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as low B12 or vitamin D can cause fatigue, lack of energy, and other issues that may frequently be mistaken for depression.
Substance abuse is often connected with depression, although in some cases it is the result of the condition while in others it may be the cause. Sometimes, receiving treatment for addictions also deals with the depression.
It is also important to rule out any co-existing illnesses which often accompany depression such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or social phobias, as well as medical conditions like heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer or HIV. The connection between these illnesses and depression is unclear, but doctors do know that these conditions can either precede depression, cause depression, or be a result of depression. It it well understood that serious illnesses can lead to depression, but the reason why depression can be the cause of a serious illness is still somewhat of a mystery.
In many cases, if a medical condition can be identified as the reason for your depressive symptoms, then treating the illness will usually eradicate the depression. However, if no medical cause can be found, then it is time to begin the process of overcoming your depression.
Focus on Relationships
Finding and maintaining supportive relationships is a very important part of the recovery process. Feelings of isolation and loneliness are often symptoms of depression, and these are made worse by the fact that depressed people tend to withdraw from social situations. But, having a supportive family member of friend that you can trust is vital if you are trying to overcome depression. Even if it is just meeting for a coffee, going for a walk, or shopping together. You don’t always have to talk about your condition – just knowing that there is someone in your life who is understanding, supportive, and non-judgemental can be very helpful.
You should also try to keep up with your social activities as much as possible. Even though you want to quit that pottery class or stop volunteering at your child’s school – don’t! If you are feeling overwhelmed, cut back a bit, but try not to remove yourself entirely from your supportive network.
Support groups:You may also find it helpful to join a support group for depression. Sometimes it is encouraging just being with other people who understand what you are going through and can offer useful advice. Knowing that you are not alone, and hearing the stories of others who have overcome depression can be very motivational.
Keep it positive: Finally, when building a social network, remember to choose people who are positive. Support groups may be an exception since they are usually monitored by a professional who keeps the conversations in perspective. However, you may feel drawn to negative people because they validate your own feelings, but it is important to surround yourself with positive people who will encourage and support you throughout the recovery process.
Change Your Thinking
Depressed people have a tendency to see everything in a negative light. But when you continually follow this type of thinking pattern, you will eventually begin to dislike yourself and hold no hope for the future.
Typical depressed thinking includes such things as:
• Generalizing: One bad experience or mistake becomes the basis for all subsequent actions. You may say things like, “I can’t do anything right”, or, “I always mess things up.” This defeatist attitude will stop you from even trying to improve your situation.
• Selective View: Many depressed people have a tendency to ignore the positive and focus only on the negative. In fact, identifying the negative becomes a habit to the point that the positive may not even be noticed. These are the “but….” people. If someone says, “You look nice today,” your response will be, “Thank you, but……my hair didn’t go right….my makeup looks awful….I’m getting a lot of wrinkles….” Do, you get the point?
• Negative Assumptions: Depression can often cause you to jump to incorrect negative conclusions, especially about the way others see you or think about you. You automatically assume that a person does not like you, is not happy with your work, or has reason to criticize you.
• False Reality: This type of thinking is very typical for a depressed person, but it can also be very detrimental to the recovery process. Basically, it means that you assume your feelings are reality. “I feel like a failure; therefore, I am a failure.” Or, “I feel unattractive, so I must be ugly.”
If you recognize any of these thinking patterns, then it may be time to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones – or at least more realistic ones. This doesn’t mean that you change, “I can’t do anything right” to “I do everything right”. That would be ridiculous since no one is perfect, and trying to be a perfectionist is probably one of the reasons for your depression.
No, changing your thinking patterns simply means that you begin to view yourself and your situations more realistically. “Sometimes I make mistakes, but I do some things right.” Basically, it is breaking the pessimistic pattern that has entrenched your thinking and adopting a more balanced, or more hopeful, approach.
This transformation may take time, but there are a few things you can do to help the process:
• Cut yourself some slack: Don’t be so hard on yourself, and don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards. If you wouldn’t expect it from someone else, then maybe your shouldn’t expect it from yourself either.
• Accept Yourself: You may not like everything about yourself, but there are some good points. Realize that you can’t be perfect, but this doesn’t mean that you aren’t valuable. Recognizing the need for change or improvement while still appreciating your good qualities is a big step in dealing with depression.
• Identify the Good: No matter how bad you feel, there is still usually something good about your life. You may not recognize it, but it does exist. Take the time to write down those positive things and make a point of being thankful for them everyday. At first you may only be able to come up with one or two things, but as you move through the recovery process you can add to your list. You will be surprised how quickly the positive outweighs the negative.
• Watch Your Words: Change the way you talk about yourself and others. Even a small change in your language can help you think more positively. Instead of saying, “I don’t have enough energy to vacuum the house today”, try, “I think I feel good enough to vacuum the bedrooms today.” Rather than lamenting what you can’t do, focus on what you can accomplish, and you will feel better for it!
Take Care of Yourself
One of the key points to overcoming depression is taking care of yourself. Your body needs proper food, rest, and exercise in order to build immunity, function efficiently, and resist the negative thoughts that are associated with depression. Even if you are on antidepressants or using other forms of treatment, most doctors recommend adopting a healthy lifestyle to increase the effectiveness of medications and therapies. The main areas that have the greatest impact on depression include:
• Sleep: Sleep deprivation can make depression symptoms seem much worse. When you are tired, you become more irritable and moody, and have less ability to fight off negative thoughts. Waking in the morning feeling unrefreshed or tired is a common symptom reported by people suffering from depression,and this can begin a cycle of increased negative thoughts accompanied by an inability to sleep (because you are focusing on negative thoughts). Even sleeping too much can cause fatigue. It is important that you speak with your doctor to find a way of restoring proper sleeping patterns so that you will have the energy you need to fight your depression.
• Sunlight: Many people suffering from depression often isolate themselves or withdraw, spending hours indoors, or even sequestered in a bedroom. However, lack of sunlight can worsen depression, especially considering the connection between low mood and vitamin D deficiency. Even 10 minutes a day outdoors can make a huge difference. Take a short walk, have your breakfast on the patio, or take a good book to a local park.
• Exercise: This is extremely important since recent studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants at improving mood. When you are depressed, you probably won’t feel like engaging in any physical activity, but the benefits are worth the effort. Exercise increases the production of serotonin, endorphins, and other chemicals that boost mood. It can also relieve muscle tension, reduce stress, and improve energy levels. Aim for about 30 minutes a day, but it’s alright if you can’t do this much at first. Begin with a short walk and increase your time as your condition improves.
• Healthy Diet: What you eat determines how you feel. You may crave sugary foods, but these will only lead to crashes in energy and fluctuations in mood. Instead, reduce sugar and try to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also, make sure that you are getting enough vitamin D and B. Remember, your eating habits not only affect your physical body, but they also have an impact on your mental and emotional state, so it is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
• Grooming: If you are depressed, you don’t always feel like taking care of your appearance. The last thing on your mind is how nice your hair looks when you barely have enough energy to pull yourself out of bed in the morning. But, studies have shown that people feel better about themselves when they feel good about their appearance. If it helps, have your hair or nails done, buy new clothes, or whiten your teeth. And, try to focus on your good qualities rather than worrying about those things that you don’t like. For example, if you think you have nice eyes, then spend some time applying eye makeup or buy yourself a new pair of glasses. This way you draw attention to something positive and away from other things that you see as negative.
Stress has been identified as one of the main triggers for depression, so it is important that you learn to manage it effectively. Some people find it helpful to keep a journal so that they can recognize and identify those things that cause stress in their life. Once you know the source, it is much easier to find ways of minimizing its effect on your mood.
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, massage, prayer, mediation, or progressive muscle relaxation have also been recommended for stress management. Or, you can just set aside some time for doing something you enjoy like taking a bath, reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, or writing in your journal.
It doesn’t matter what method you use to relax and relieve stress as long as you understand the negative effect stress can have on your body and the importance of learning to manage it effectively.
Counselling and Therapy
Working together with lifestyle changes, counselling and therapy can be a very effective way to help you overcome depression. Psychotherapy – or talk therapy – is the most common method used and it includes three approaches:
• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Helps to overcome negative thoughts and re-establish healthy thinking patterns and behavior.
• Interpersonal Therapy: Focuses on relationships and helps you understand your relational patterns so that you can build better relationships and improve current relationships. A Marriage or Family counsellor might be called upon if you are having problems with your spouse or children.
• Psychodynamic Therapy: This approach studies the unconscious and looks to past problems or conflicts as an explanation for present behavior. In other words, it strives to find the root cause of your depression so that you can understand your current actions and feelings.
Typically, a blend of all three approaches is used, and an individualized program will be constructed for each patient. The advantages of talk therapy include:
• Gives you insight and understanding about your depression so you can not only recover, but learn how to prevent future episodes.
• Teaches you how to change your thinking patterns and perspective about yourself, others, and the world around you.
• Helps you deal with past, unresolved situations that may be contributing to your depression.
• Teaches you how to build healthy relationships, avoid isolation, and connect with social networks.
• Gives you the tools and coping skills needed to handle problems and difficulties in a positive manner.
• Provides a comfortable, non-judgemental environment where you can be honest and open without feeling guilty or ashamed.
• Helps you regain control of your own life and realize that only you can determine how you think, feel, or behave.
• Improves your decision making skills and teaches you how to make healthy choices in every area of your life.
If lifestyle changes and counselling have not improved your depression, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. However, many health care practitioners are hesitant to give medications and will only do so as a last resort. While antidepressants can be effective, particularly for those whose depression is severe and long-lasting, they also come with significant side effects and usually only mask the problem.
Studies have shown that other treatments such as exercise, diet changes, hormone replacement, or therapy can be just as effective as medication without all the uncomfortable side effects. And, while antidepressants may treat the symptoms, they do not deal with the root cause of your depression. So, even though you may feel better, you really aren’t better. Also, antidepressants are usually not a long-term solution, so when you go off them, not only will your depression return but you will also have to face withdrawal symptoms.
Some doctors question the idea that depression is a result of reduced serotonin levels in the brain. They argue that if this was the case, then antidepressants should begin working immediately since they raise serotonin levels within the first few days of use. However, most medications require several weeks before positive results are noticed.
New research has concluded that the causes of depression can vary and may include everything from inflammation to elevated stress hormones, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, low self-worth, poor diet, loneliness, chronic illness, financial pressure, and family conflicts. Therefore, it is often difficult to tell whether medications are the best treatment for each individual.
Statistics tell us that 80% of depressed people will get better without the use of medications; however, despite all the alternate treatments, some people will still need to use antidepressants temporarily so they can get their thinking and behavior back on track and begin taking the steps needed for recovery. For these people, depression medications can be a lifesaver.
It may take a few attempts to find the antidepressant that works for you. Doctors will usually begin with the ones that have the least amount of side effects and will only use the more dangerous medications if you do not respond to initial treatments. Side effects will vary from person to person and can include minor symptoms such as nausea, constipation, and dry mouth, or more severe effects such as fast heart rate, blurred vision, and seizures.
In most cases, side effects are the greatest when you first begin using the medication and will diminish with time.
Since the use of antidepressants is typically a short-term solution, it should always be accompanied by lifestyle changes and talk therapy so that you are still learning how to manage and prevent your symptoms.
Tips for Overcoming Depression:
• Exercise. This is such a great help against depression, so if you in any way can run or go for a walk outside when you feel the heavy thoughts starting to weigh you down, do it! I know how much easier it will be to cuddle up in the bed below the quilt, but getting outdoor and move is so much more helpful. It doesn’t really matter how long or how fast you run or walk or bike, the thing is doing it.
• Set small goals. Remember, recovery is a step-by-step process. You will not get better overnight but, you WILL get better.
• Remember that it takes time to find the right treatment for you. Don’t become discouraged or give up when the first thing doesn’t work. Together with a good doctor, you can find the best solution for your depression.
• Treat yourself. Remind yourself that every accomplishment toward recovery is worth celebrating and you deserve a reward.
• Volunteer. Helping others is a good way to help yourself. And, by staying busy, you will have less time to dwell on negative thoughts.
• Care for a pet. Pets should not replace humans, but they do offer companionship and help you feel less isolated and lonely. Caring for an animal also requires routine and will give you a sense of purpose.
• Keep a journal. This will allow you to work out your feelings, and will also help you keep track of how far you have come. When you are feeling down, you can review all the accomplishments you have made toward recovery. And, it is also a good way to document how you feel after certain events so you can discover your warning triggers for depression.
When learning how to deal with depression, you should find out as much as possible about your condition. Try to discover the root cause, identify your triggers, and experiment with treatments until you find something that works. Depression affects everyone differently, so the ideal treatment will also be different. There are many ways to cope, but the cause and severity of your symptoms will have an impact on which solution is optimal for your situation.
And, once you have come through a depressive episode successfully, it is important to realize that your depression may return. The best thing you can do is learn to recognize the warning signs and begin a treatment program as soon as possible. With proper knowledge and management, you can deal with recurrences quickly, or possibly prevent them altogether.
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