Today on the Michelle Obama podcast our former first lady mentioned that she thinks she’s suffering from “low-level depression”. And she’s not alone! About one third of Americans report experiencing symptoms of depression and / or anxiety this year. It makes sense! Between the worry about COVID- 19, the isolation of quarantine, racial tension, politics, and economic strife it’s no shock. 2020 has been a rough year for most, to say the least. As a person who struggles with depression I can certainly relate to and understand the very real struggles that even low-level depression can cause. So, I thought I’d share 10 things to do if you’re suffering from depression.
1. Get Professional Help
The first thing I’m going to recommend is the most important. If you think you’re struggling with depression (or any other health issue) get professional help. I’m not a professional, I’m just a gal who’s been there and I’m sharing my knowledge and experience. So, get some pros on your team. And let me be very specific here, make an appointment with a psychiatrist AND a therapist! Some people need medication, some need therapy, but most need both!
It can take months to get in with a psychiatrist so make that appointment ASAP and, in the meantime, see your General Practitioner, talk to them about your concerns and get a physical while you’re there!
Sometimes the thought of medication freaks people out. It’s ok, I get it. Here’s the thing though, just because you need meds to get through this dark time doesn’t mean you’ll be on meds forever. Sometimes it’s just the thing to help you break out of the funk so you can start putting other habits into place that will bolster your mood.
You should also know that there are MANY medication options and it can take a few tries to get just the right thing. Don’t worry if your first, or second, or even third med doesn’t work out. Sometimes it does but if it doesn’t just give it some time, there is something out there that will work for you. ALWAYS honestly share your med concerns with your pros and don’t go off of them or change your dosage without their thumbs up!
Just to be clear here, by therapy, I mean therapy! Not life coaching, not margaritas with your bestie or a long chat with your mom… therapy! Find a therapist or counselor you connect with and schedule at least a couple sessions. If your insurance doesn’t cover therapy, there are often low cost or free options. You can contact your health department, doctor’s office, or school district for referrals to therapists in your area. It usually takes a few sessions to know if the person you’re talking to is a good fit but once you find the right person you’ll know, and it’ll make all the difference.
Therapists are incredibly talented at helping you process emotional challenges, discover your stinkin thinkin (if you have any) and creating healthy coping strategies. Don’t skip the important step of talking to a therapist!
2. Get Out of Bed
Because I’m a person who has struggled with depression, I know how big a deal this one really is. And to be honest if not for the incredible importance of professional help it would’ve come first.
Getting out of bed is sometimes the biggest challenge and greatest accomplishment you’ll have in a day. That’s ok! Just drag yourself out of bed and be proud of that! That’s enough!
And here’s why… you’ll feel worse if you don’t. I know your bed might seem like the best place in the world. I understand it seems that the only way for it to be better is if it swallowed you whole. But that simply isn’t true! That’s the depression sinking it’s teeth deeper into you.
You’ll feel WAY worse if you stay in bed all day! So, even if all you do is get out of the bed and move to your couch, do it! Count it as progress and be proud of yourself! The change of scenery and just sitting upright will make a difference. And a win is a win no matter how small!
3. Take Care of Yourself
You don’t have to do all the things but once you get in the habit of getting out of bed, add something to your routine. Try doing something to improve your hygiene.
You only have to choose one thing (of course you can do more if you feel up to it). Something as simple as brushing your teeth or your hair can make a huge difference. It may just make you feel a little better about yourself or it might help you start establishing more healthy routines. But here’s the thing… even if you hate doing it, do it anyway.
When you’ve gotten to the point where you can shower and brush your hair and teeth you may want to add some simple tidying like loading the dishwasher or running a load of laundry. Don’t rush it. Just do what you can as you can. And remember to celebrate your small wins.
4. Nourish Your Body
Since you’re out of bed and headed to the living room you may want to grab something to eat. It’s a common side effect of depression to lose your appetite and it’s easy to forget to eat. And let’s be honest if you do remember you’re likely to go through piles of junk food. So, try to keep some healthy quick and easy food in the house. Maybe order it from Shipt or another grocery delivery service if you aren’t ready to head out.
Load up on fresh fruit and veggies, the easier the better. Mini carrots, berries, apples and bananas are great choices. Even a rotisserie chicken is better than a bag of chips or pile of candy. And you can now buy peeled hardboiled eggs.
Get the biggest cup you have and fill it with water. Be sure to drink regularly. And if you’re struggling to remember to eat just grab at least a few bites every time you get up to head to the bathroom.
5. Avoid Substances
I’m always tempted to have a drink or two (or let’s be honest 5) when I get out of bed and I’m depressed. Partly out of boredom and partly because I feel like garbage.
Substances are the worst thing you can do when you’re struggling with depression and especially alcohol because it’s a depressant. That means it just makes you feel 100 times worse! And don’t get me started on the hangover that’s sure to make you even more miserable the next day!
Just trust me here, that vodka might sound like a good idea and maybe it’s even calling your name but avoid it! And let me be even more clear… using substances to cope with depression is a great way to kick of a raging addiction. In this case it’s best to follow Nancy Reagan’s advice… just say no!
6. Manage Your Media
There’s nothing wrong with curling up with a box of tissues and watching a tearjerker but you might want to take a break from the news or any other real-world stuff that gets you down. Avoid triggers of any sort! This might mean straight Netflix or even old school DVDs because even commercials could be a problem. And to be on the safe side I highly recommend you stick with known content. This might not be the best time to try out a new series.
As for social media… well, that can go both ways! Be sure to hide anyone who upsets you in any way even if you usually love to see them on your social. For example, I often need to hide my sister if I’m going through a bad stint with depression. She’s SUPER productive and posts about her activities when I’m feeling down… well it doesn’t motivate me like it usually does, let’s just say that! She reads my blog by the way and this is how she’s going to find out that I do that. Because when you hide someone, they don’t even know it. When you’re feeling better you can unhide them, no harm, no foul!
If you use social media like I do, it might not be the best idea to shut it down all together. I find it’s a pleasant distraction in small doses and it gives me a way to connect at least a little which is honestly all I can handle when I’m struggling. Which leads me to the next tip.
Make an attempt to connect with someone, anyone really. It would be great if you could have contact with a family member or friend but if that isn’t an option an online friend or even crisis hotline would work. Again, start small. Maybe just comment on a social post, then, when you’re ready, shoot someone at text. Over time you can work up to a short phone call or maybe a visit.
One of the most difficult things about depression is the isolation it creates. And while there’s no way you want to leave your safe cocoon you feel guilty for hiding away in it and worry about the toll it’s taking on your relationships. So, reach out as much as you can when you can to the people you feel safest with.
Plus, getting some outside insight and support can help lift your spirits and get you on the right track!
8. Head Outdoors
You may not have heard but vitamin D deficiency mirrors depression greatly. That means that if you’re already suffering from depression or even mild symptoms staying cooped up indoors is likely to make it worse. Getting some sunlight is sure to help even if just a bit.
You don’t have to go far or even do much. A cup of tea and a good book on the back patio is plenty. You could even stay in your jammies since you won’t be seeing anyone anyway! I like to head out with my kindle and watch a little sitcom like Friends. Just 20 minutes is a great start.
If you happen to be feeling up to it, a nice walk or some time spent gardening will give you added benefits. It takes time to work up to that though so be patient with yourself.
If you aren’t ready to outdoors at all, invest in a full spectrum light bulb and put it in a nearby lamp. These are commonly used for Seasonal Affective Disorder and they work wonders at boosting vitamin D levels safely and naturally.
9. Get Moving
This is often the first piece of advice given to people with depression and I get it, it seems logical. But it’s about as helpful as “shake it off” or “choose happy”. The truth is when you’re struggling to just get out of bed or brush your hair, exercise seems impossible.
One of the lesser known side effects of depression is lack of energy. As in profound and debilitating fatigue. This makes exercise a particular challenge. That’s why it’s so far down on the list.
I’m not suggesting you start with anything to rigorous or unfamiliar. Something small, approachable or familiar is the best way to go here.
At first you can totally count the walk from your bed to the couch as your exercise because let’s face it, it’s more than you were doing before. Then maybe you can challenge yourself to tidy for 15 minutes and count that. Walk a few houses down then to the end of the block and then around it.
The other option is heading back to an old familiar and enjoyable exercise. Just take it slow! If you used to do yoga for an hour a day try 10 minutes to start.
You may also want to try out short burst exercise. Put on a fun song and dance around until it’s over, that’s it, just one song to start! I’ve found Twitter to be a great place to get song recommendations for this.
The point here is start small just like with everything else and work your way up little by little. Exercise can’t and shouldn’t be the first thing you tackle on this list if you’re in a deep depression but when you’re ready it will make a huge difference.
10. Keep to a Schedule
While this is the last one on the list it is certainly not the least important or the last step you should take.
Getting yourself on a sleep schedule to start is going to help tremendously and the more things you can stack into your routine the better. Sometimes the best way to get things done when you’re struggling with depression is on autopilot. And a schedule can help make this happen.
Start by sleeping and waking at the same time daily even if that means you’re sleeping 10 or more hours. Add in items on this list step by step. Get out of bed for a while then, when you’re ready, add brushing your hair or teeth, then another hygiene task and so forth. If you’re already able to do the first few items on the list add something from the 4th.
You might not feel completely back to your “normal” self, but you will start to gradually improve (with help from the pros, of course). Just keep reminding yourself that you’re doing the tough work. It takes a serious badass to deal with depression. Even on your most challenging days you’re tough and strong and brave! I know because I’ve been there. But believe me, it’s worth the work, you’re worth the work! You can do this!
I hope you’ll share this post far and wide to help others who struggle with depression. And by share, I mean pin it, post it or send it to a friend. I don’t mean make a loved one with depression read it or try to force them through these steps. You can encourage and support those you love with depression, but you can’t fix it. I suggest you consider professional help too if you’re struggling with this.
A Note About Suicidal Ideation
Depression and suicidal ideation are NOT the same thing. If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide or passive suicidal actions (such as high-risk behavior) please, PLEASE get help immediately! And if you know someone who is struggling in this way, get them help if you’re able. Call 911, go to your nearest emergency room or call a suicide prevention help line, US 1-800-273-8255.
And to be crystal clear here, if you have reason to believe your child is struggling with suicidal ideation, take them to the emergency room, do NOT call them ahead of time to ask if they have a bed available. Even if they don’t, they will keep your child safe and find space for them in another facility. Don’t take the chance!
Please remember suicide is a very permanent action to resolve a temporary problem and no matter how severe… this really is a temporary problem. I promise you… it will get better!