How to Overcome Depression: A Comprehensive Guide
The first thing to understand about overcoming depression is that no matter how impossible it seems, or how far gone you feel, it is possible. Every choice you make matters and can have an impact on how your life unfolds. We all know the stories of famous people such as Kurt Cobain and Avicii who succumbed to this illness, but the truth is that YOU CAN overcome depression.
Because depression is complex, presenting with a wide range of symptoms and severity levels, it affects everyone differently. For this reason, it makes sense that there is no cure-all formula. That said, fortunately there is a ton of research on lifestyle choices and treatment options that can help in relieving depression symptoms or or even eliminating depression entirely. Successfully coping with depression is most often achieved using a ‘come at it from all angles’ approach.
How to get out of depression: Coping skills
Do as many of the following as frequently as possible (daily, perhaps), and chances are high that you’ll begin to notice a real difference in your overall mood. Here’s the clincher, though: you probably won’t be motivated to do any of these at first because depression doesn’t do much for your motivation.
Understand this, though: it’s perfectly normal to feel unmotivated until you’re halfway through. As you practice these coping skills, they will only get easier.
Hang out with friends
While it’s perfectly alright (and necessary) to have some quality alone time, it’s important to strike a balance because too much isolation is fuel for depressive symptoms.
Interact as often as you can with people who uplift you rather than drag you down – and this isn’t just limited to friends, but family members as well. You might also consider joining a support group as a way of connecting with others dealing with depression—this can go a long way toward reducing your sense of isolation.
And while nothing can replace human connection, having a pet can be highly therapeutic, bring joy into your life, get you out of your head, help encourage physical activity, avoid you engaging in self-sabotage, and give you a sense of being needed—all powerful ways of tempering a depressive episode.
Be of service to others
Caring for a pet is just one way of finding personal meaning by serving something other than or larger than yourself. You might also volunteer your time to help those in need, be a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on for a good friend, or commit random acts of kindness for total strangers.
Remember—acts of service don’t have to be big or bold to have a positive ripple effect. Sometimes the best way to receive is to start by giving.
Set achievable goals
When discussing their goals, many people feel they’ve failed, largely because they set unreasonable or unattainable goals. A goal is workable if you can control its outcome without depending on others. This means it shouldn’t be some daunting task, but something you can manage without getting overwhelmed, that is realistic for you personally, and that is measurable.
In other words, it should be possible for you to know whether or not you’ve been successful. If you don’t get the outcome you desire, it’s important to glean lessons learned rather than compare yourself to others. After all, comparisons like that are unfair and inaccurate.
It’s easy to take notice when something goes wrong, but making a conscious effort to notice what has gone well each and every day can create much-needed balance.
When you do something that gives a moment of peace or joy, or when you discover a new activity that takes you out of your comfort zone in an unexpectedly positive way, taking time to be thankful for it can be a boon to your mental health.
Consider keeping a gratitude journal: writing down what you’re thankful for (including writing notes to others) can act as a very meaningful reminder.
Do fun things
It may seem like a very long time since you had a genuine laugh or moment of lightheartedness. But carving out time for activities that give you genuine pleasure—whether it’s reading in a park under your favorite tree, seeing a funny movie, going go-karting with friends, knitting, or laying on the grass underneath the stars, enjoyment is an integral factor on the road to beating depression.
Why not give yourself permission to take a daily 30-minute “vacation”? All you have to do is show up and be open to having a bit (or a lot) of fun.
Challenge negative self-talk
Being kind to yourself is difficult on a good day, but when you’re depressed it can seem downright impossible. Do the best you can not to engage in negative self-talk. Even if you can’t stop yourself from having negative thoughts, you can work to notice it and rein yourself in.
Do you say things to yourself you’d never dream of saying to someone else? Do you call yourself an ‘idiot’ when you break a plate or ‘stupid’ when you can’t quickly learn a new skill? Do you call yourself ‘lazy’ because you feel depressed?
Make time to speak to yourself from a place of love and self-compassion. It won’t feel natural at first, but you’ll be surprised at what an effect it has over time.
Keep stress in check by practicing relaxation techniques
In case you missed the memo, stress worsens depression, and can even trigger it. Do an assessment of all the factors in your life that stress you out, such as overwork, financial problems, or toxic relationships, and find ways to address each one in a way that relieves the pressure—at least a bit.
A daily relaxation practice can also help reduce stress and relieve depression. You might try yoga, deep breathing exercises, or meditation to help you improve your sense of wellbeing and connectedness to your surroundings.
How to fight depression with lifestyle changes
Sometimes, making tangible changes to your lifestyle can help improve depression to a surprising degree. The body and mind really are inextricably linked. Consider the following lifestyle changes as you navigate learning how to get rid of depression.
There is no magic diet to cure depression, but what we eat and drink influences our mood. While adhering to a specific diet may not improve your symptoms right away, it can really help over time.
Don’t skip meals, boost your intake of B vitamins and folic acid, and choose foods rich in omega fatty acids, as they play an essential role in stabilizing your mood. Eat foods rich in antioxidants to lessen the destructive effect of disease-causing free radicals, and opt for smart or “complex” carbs like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Try to eat something with protein several times daily, especially when you need to clear your mind and need an energy boost. Protein-rich turkey, tuna, and chicken have an amino acid called tryptophan, which may help you produce serotonin, an aptly named “happy hormone.”
As much as possible, avoid binging on sugary or processed foods, and limit your alcohol intake, as it can cause dependency and ultimately make depression worse.
Research shows that exercise can help improve mild to moderate depression. High-intensity exercise releases feel-good chemicals known as endorphins, which produce the “runner’s high” commonly associated with jogging.
But there is also incredible value in low-intensity exercise like walking or swimming: when practiced regularly over time, it supports nerve cell growth in the brain, improving your brain function and your mood.
Try doing moderate exercise about five times a week for 30 minutes at a time—chances are you’ll notice a dramatic shift in your mental and emotional state.
Get enough sleep
Did you know that almost everyone with depression experiences sleep disturbances or sleep issues? It’s true. An estimated 75% of adults with depression suffer from insomnia. Poor quality sleep can exacerbate depression and depression can likewise worsen sleep issues. Sometimes, it can actually be challenging to know which came first.
Developing a consistent routine around going to bed and waking up can go a long way toward helping your body get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep. Staying up late one night and sleeping in excessively the next day is very likely to worsen and prolong depression. If you have difficulty creating a routine you can stick to—let alone sleeping through the night—you may need to work with a doctor or mental health provider to better understand the type and severity of your sleep issues and hatch a plan that properly addresses them.
Get a daily dose of sun
Can depression be cured? Go outside and ask the sun. Sunlight is known to boost serotonin levels and improve your mood. Whenever you can, get outside during the daylight hours, remove your sunglasses (without looking at the sun directly) and expose yourself to the sun’s rays for 15 minutes a day at minimum.
Whether it’s taking a walk or run on your break, having coffee or lunch outside, tending to a garden, or taking up an outdoor activity like hiking or sailing, you can make time to get some sun. You might also increase the amount of natural light in your home and workplace by opening blinds and curtains and positioning yourself nearer to windows.
And there isn’t a lot of sunlight where you live, consider getting what is called a SAD Light (SAD = seasonal affective disorder). These lights mimic the power of the sun and challenge the winter blues. They have been shown to be quite effective, especially for those stuck in climates with long winters.
When should I get help for depression?
If you’ve done your best to challenge negative thinking, boost your motivation, and make positive lifestyle changes, and yet the signs of depression in your life are only becoming more present, it may be time to seek the help of a mental health professional. They can provide medical advice, help avoid making your depression worse, and teach you how to avoid the kind of major depressive episode that can really take you down emotionally.
Whether you need to better understand the root of your depression through the use of treatment facilities, antidepressant medications, therapy or some combination, there really is zero shame in this. Needing help does not mean you’re weak. And even though you may have convinced yourself that you’re a lost cause, research shows that your depression can be treated and you can feel better.
How a therapist may help
Talk therapy can be a valuable outlet and a chance to look at your life with a fresh perspective. A therapist’s job is to create a non judgemental space for you to explore your negative emotions. At the same time, they can also help curb the all-too-common isolation that goes hand in hand with depression.
Through their advice, diagnosis or treatment, a quality therapist can help you clear a path to meaningful change in your life and help you sustain a lasting recovery. Since, for some, depression is a recurring illness, having a long-term relationship with a good therapist may be the best way to ensure you remain anchored to that which brings purpose and positivity to your life.
How medication may help
While self-help and lifestyle changes can help you beat depression, you may be too depressed to even begin. If you feel immobilized and powerless to kickstart any forward motion in spite of your efforts, medication may be a necessary stepping stone. There is no shame in using any and all tools at your disposal to get better.
While antidepressants are not a replacement for lifestyle changes, they can be used to reduce anything from more minor symptoms all the way up to suicidal thoughts, enough that you are able to begin developing healthier habits. Find a doctor or therapist who listens to any questions and concerns you may have, and who takes the time to clearly discuss all options available in positive ways, along with possible side effects and benefits. While medication is not the best option for everyone, it may be the difference-maker for you.
Overcoming depression (and the symptoms of depression) can be overwhelming to say the least, but learning mood management techniques like the ones listed above can be very empowering. While it may be exhausting just thinking about the things you should do to feel better, taking the first step is always the hardest. You have what it takes!