I am not a medical professional. I am just one person with depression, trudging her way through the darkness and looking for ways not to drown. If you need help, please reach out and seek medical attention from a trained professional. I have struggled with depression since my early teens. I have been on and off different medications, read countless self-help books, and have been to therapy. While all have briefly helped, none lasted for very long. Some have caused unwanted side effects, and sometimes a therapist has unexpectedly moved away.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States experienced a depressive episode or about 7.1% of adults. (1) From the outside looking in, it’s easy to think, “Why are these people sad? They have nothing to be sad about.” But depression isn’t just being sad. It includes so much more. Depression can mean losing interest in the things you love, changes in sleep and eating habits, lack of energy, hopelessness, mood swings, agitation, excessive crying, irritability, restlessness, social isolation, restless sleep, fatigue, slowness, repeatedly going over thoughts, thoughts of suicide, and many other symptoms. (2)
I am currently descending into a depression spiral, and while I wanted to write this when I wasn’t in this state of mind, perhaps it’s better to write from this perspective. It’s been a challenge, but I have persisted. This episode, like most, came out of nowhere, and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it. I have learned not to fight it. Fighting it has only worsened my suffering. Over the years, I have devised ways to cope and, while I am not perfect and I still get depressed, the battle is less intense, and the episodes have shortened.
Here are some of my tips for getting through:
It’s Okay Not To Be Okay
Thinking there is something wrong with you and fighting to avoid it often makes it worse. This thing is not you — it is something that happens to you, and it is largely out of your control. Adding shame to the mix brings us further down and is never helpful. Brene Brown is a researcher/author who has written many great books, including I Thought It Was Just Me, The Power of Vulnerability, and Braving the Wilderness. Each has given me a greater understanding of shame, how it can play a role in everyday life, and how it interacts with my depression. I highly recommend her books.
Give Yourself Permission
This may seem counterintuitive, but permitting yourself just to be as you are in the moment is so freeing. Stop fighting against yourself and fight for yourself. When you know you are in a depressive episode, it doesn’t help to beat yourself up. Allow for grace and realize what you are going through is hard. It’s okay if you aren’t performing at your highest standards. You are doing the very best you can and that is more than enough. In his book The Four Agreements, Paulo Coehlo states, “Under any circumstances, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next.” His words ring so true during a depressive episode! You aren’t going to be able to do everything as you usually would. Some days, just getting out of bed and getting dressed is your best (even if you are wearing the same clothes for three days in a row), and that is okay.
When it’s hard just to breathe, doing anything can seem insurmountable, including putting on clothes. Focus on the small things you can do. For example, if the idea of taking a whole shower is overwhelming, try a shorter shower, or just wash your face and brush your teeth. If cooking an entire meal is impossible, prioritize getting food, ordering in if you can. Make everything as easy as you possibly can. Break tasks down to their smallest steps.
Make certain you meet your basic needs. Don’t forget to eat, even if it’s only a little bit. Make sure you are hydrated. And if you can’t drink water, drinking something is better than nothing, whether it is bone broth, coconut water, or milk. Use the bathroom, keep up on basic hygiene, brush your teeth, take a shower (warm showers are very comforting).
Find an outlet to express and move your energy and feelings if you can. Doing so can be highly beneficial. This may include writing sad or angry poems, songs and music; drawing or painting your inner demons; ecstatic dance, yoga, massage, weeding, gardening, hiking or boxing.
Grasp at Straws
When it feels like you are drowning, start grasping for anything that will remind you of better times to come. Reach for what brings you joy, happiness, a smile, hope, comfort, or peace. As hard as it is to do, reach out to anyone. When someone knows you are struggling and need support, it can be emotionally beneficial. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but having a lifeline in anyone can be a light in the dark. You might also try offering service to others. Helping others smile can brighten your day as well as theirs. Baking is a really good straw to grasp. And when I can convince myself to do it, I get cookies!
Break Up With Perfection
Guess what? There is not one person on this planet who is perfect. It is not possible, and to hold yourself to the expectation of being perfect is a disservice to yourself. Mistakes are part of life. Break up with the idea that you can be perfect or that anything you do will be perfect. Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfect helped me immensely with learning this.
This one requires some work, most likely with a therapist, life coach, or other trained professional. Finding out what triggers big emotions is the first step in the long process of healing. Of course, we can’t get rid of memories, and sometimes that includes negative feelings and thoughts, but we can start to recognize them and begin to control how we react.
Whether we know our triggers or not, we can reparent ourselves and reprogram our minds. By changing the way we talk to ourselves, we can change how we think and view the world. The first step is just to notice how you speak to yourself. Do you say that you are a lazy loser or that you are worthless and will never amount to anything? Once you recognize what you are saying, you can interrupt and stop negative self-talk. You can start saying things like, “Even though I didn’t finish everything I set out to do today, I still did a great job!” Have your own back. Stop name calling, take your feelings seriously, validate them, and offer yourself grace when you make mistakes. Practice kind self-talk and watch how your world changes. By becoming your own friend, offering support and love, you start to build self-esteem.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but simply being grateful for anything and allowing yourself to feel that emotion can be the first step toward coming out of a downward spiral. Whatever you are thankful for — your favorite shirt or blanket, a pet, a home, clean water, a soft bed — sit and think about how grateful you are for it. Hold that feeling as long as possible. Doing this can help immensely, especially during challenging moments.
Finding the right tools that work for you is significant. They are lifelines that can take you far.
- Books can be a big help. Read books that you find interest in so you don’t get bored.
- Find people, pages, groups, and hashtags on social media that help give you tips. For example, I follow Dr.Glenn Doyle on Facebook, and I am in a few different online depression support groups. In addition, I follow therapists on Instagram and TikTok. Make your social media work for you! This also means removing whatever brings you down and monitoring how much time is spent.
- Affirmations are your friends. They can be a big help. I like to write my own, but there are many available online. Pick the ones that work best. You can even rewrite them to suit your needs better. If the “I am” affirmations are too difficult for you (and they might be), switch to “what if” affirmations. They allow space and feel more authentic. What if I love myself today? What if I am worthy? What if I am good enough? The “what if” technique engages curiosity instead of a possible defensive emotional reaction.
- EFT, or the Emotional Freedom Technique, is a unique acupressure method that has done wonders for me. Read my article on EFT.
- Get a depression buddy, someone you know you can say “Hey, I’m depressed” to. This is usually someone who will be there for you and tell you everything is okay. Explain any necessary boundaries to them. For example, when I am depressed, I need to know I am not worthless and everything will be okay, but I don’t want to answer any questions. Find a lifeline and connection any way you can.
- Use depression and anxiety phone/text lines. Most are free and can be very beneficial.
Supplements as Tools
Supplements may help bring balance in times of need. The following have worked for me:
- 5-HTP. This helps the body naturally synthesize serotonin (your happy chemical). I like Irwin’s Natural 5-HTP plus.
- Vitamin D. In a 2013 study, researchers found those low in vitamin D were at higher risk for depression. (3) (4) I love the 10 Days of Sunshine product by 10-Day Results. In addition to Vitamin D, it also has a blend of included vitamins and helpful herbs. Want to get your daily dose naturally? Just sit in the sun for fifteen minutes or more!
- Probiotics. Research is developing regarding the gut-brain axis connection and how probiotics can help. (5) A favorite of mine is from Just Thrive. I usually notice a difference within three days.
- Omegas. Scientific research helps demonstrate how omegas affect us and what benefits they may provide. There are many to choose from, but if you have a hard time with fish (smell or taste), Barleans Fish Oil blends taste amazing. They also have other sources like olive and flax oils.
- Multivitamins. Find a good one. I didn’t pay attention to multivitamins for a long time because I didn’t think they’d make any real difference. I was wrong. I found Smarty Pants multivitamin for women, and it blew me away. They are a blend of essential vitamins and minerals plus herbs and fish oil. And they are gummies!
Out of the Spiral/Setting Yourself Up
When you know you have depression and depressive episodes, it helps immensely to set yourself up for when you do go back into that spot. Organize your space and give things a home, so they are easy to find. Creating a clean environment helps to boost our mood. Shop and stock your home with easy-to-grab, go-to meals and snacks for when you don’t have the energy to cook. Pre-cook and freeze meals, keeping nonperishable foods on hand, including canned soup, ramen, and mac ‘n’ cheese. Try to make your home depression ready so you are as prepared as possible for when the time comes.
Again, please reach out to a medical professional if you need help. This information is not meant to replace medical treatment.