For almost 20 years, depression has been a major, constricting factor in my life. I was officially diagnosed with it in high school and have struggled with it ever since. Officially, my diagnosis is situational depression. Most times, I’m okay. In fact, I imagine most people wouldn’t think I have depression. I’m optimistic, joking, and an overall goofball.
When I’m depressed, though? People tell me I’m a completely different person. I’m irritable and gloomy. I withdraw, refusing to engage in conversation. Sometimes, my depression will last a day, a few days, a week, several weeks, or months at its worst. Most times, it only lasts 2-3 days before I crawl out of it.
Depression has cost me friendships and relationships. Twice, I’ve lost jobs. I’ve dropped out of university. It took me over ten years, off and on, to get my undergraduate degree.
Through the years, I’ve learned coping mechanisms. Of course, that’s not including decades of different counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Or the dozens of medications that I’ve tried (you name the antidepressant, I’ve probably been on it). I’ve read several helpful books, such as David M. Burns’ Feeling Good. I recommend it anyone with depression, anxiety, or similar mental illnesses.
However, I’ve realized that even counseling and medication are unhelpful on bad days. Sometimes it’s a chore just getting out of bed. For me, these little things help me cope with depression. They may not fully break me out of the depression, but I feel a little better. Sometimes, it feels near impossible to do them. Sometimes, I’m too depressed to think of doing any of it. It happens. But when I do some of this list, I feel better. Some of these might not work for you and that’s okay.
Though they’re numbered, this list isn’t ranked in any particular order.
10) Get out of bed: For many – certainly those in their hardest bouts of depression – getting out of bed requires Herculean effort. When I’m that down, all I want to do is either lie there and brood or sleep away the time, hoping I might not wake up. This is what Depression wants: for you to stay in bed. If you’re doing nothing, then depression is winning.
So get up. No, don’t take the blankets with you and move to the couch. Get up. If you get out of bed, that’s one thing you did that you weren’t doing before. During the worst depressive bouts, getting out of bed will be the hardest thing you’ll do. But if you do, you just accomplished something. It might feel like nothing, but trust me, it’s an accomplishment. Get up.
9) Make your bed: This might sound odd, but for me, making my bed mildly presentable feels good. Not only does it look tidy, but it also doesn’t look like you just got out of bed. That’s not for other people to think, that’s for me. When I look at my unmade bed, I’m tempted to go lay down again. After all, it’s already a mess. What’s it matter if I lay back down? But a made bed looks nicer. It makes me think, “Hurm, well, I’m up. And it does look nice. I might as well wait until tonight to mess it all up when I lay down to sleep.” That might sound weird, but it helps me ensure I don’t go back to bed.
8) Exercise or go for a walk: I’ve discussed my love for yoga (especially DDP Yoga; BANG!). Nothing wakes me up more doing the 10 minute Wake Up workout. It’s not much a workout, but it stretches my muscles after sleeping for 8 hours and works my muscles enough to wake me up.
I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but exercise works the endorphins in your brain. Getting your blood pumping, even a little, moves neurotransmitters, helping you feel better. Trust me, I speak from experience. There were times I didn’t feel like doing anything but sit in my computer chair, surf the web, or play games all day. After even a little exercise, I feel better, more alert, and ready to tackle something. Even just walking clears my head. When I went through a hard time last fall, brooding way too much on a recent breakup, I took long walks. I put on some music and shut out the world for about 30-45 minutes. When I got back, all the negative emotions were minimalized. They were still there, but not nearly as prominent.
7) Clean yourself up: When I exercise, I get a good sweat going. So I usually hit the shower immediately after. But when I’m depressed, I’ll go days without bothering to shower, shave, brush my teeth, or clean myself up in any way. My unchanged clothes and I start to stink. However, even simply brushing my teeth makes feel a little better. A shower makes me feel fresh and clean. After shaving, I love the way my smooth face (or at least neck, since I’m currently bearded). It’s refreshing to wash all that filth away.
6) Eat something healthy: Let’s be honest. We eat a lot of crap these days: chips, chocolate, greasy fast food, soda. Years ago, I was a horrible eater. I was picky, too, barely ate any fruit or vegetables, often frequented A&W, and pigged out on chips. When I started eating better, cutting out a lot of that crap, I felt so much better. Your body wants good food. It functions better with the right food in your system. Now, after cutting out or reducing the junk food, I feel like my body functions better.
This is more of a long-term suggestion, but if you want to eat better, try having alternative foods or drinks. Try having some vegetables instead of potatoes or fries. Maybe have tea instead of coffee or soda. Some friends of mine stopped drinking soda altogether and soon dropped several pounds. Try drinking water more often to cleanse your system. Actually, I enjoy putting lemon wedges in my water, which is even healthier.
5) Write/Draw it out: When I get depressed, while I withdraw, I also tend to rant publicly on Halforums, a forum I frequent. It’s cathartic to let it all out. I’ve also ranted privately, in MS Word documents. Sometimes, it’s a letter to someone specific. Sometimes, it’s general ranting. Either way, as a writer and a fast typist, I type faster than I think. So when I type out a long, depressive rant, I’m free-writing. I’m not thinking while I’m writing. I’m not thinking the ramifications. I’m just writing. When I post publicly on Halforums, this has gotten me into trouble, depending on who I’ve discussed and if they’ve seen the post. I rant more privately now in order to avoid this, and it still does me wonders.
Not everyone is a writer, though. But if writing isn’t your thing, maybe try drawing? If you’re an artist, maybe try taking out your sketchbook or picking up a brush and just paint. Don’t think about it. Let your brush or pen or pencil do all the work. Who knows? You might paint or draw something that you really like. And if you don’t like it? Don’t worry about it. It’s just for you.
4) Talk to someone: As I said above, ranting publicly on Halforums got me in some trouble with the person I was ranting about. The less said about that, the better. However, since getting out of the hospital last October after a major breakdown, I’ve tried reaching out to friends more. I finally took up some people’s offers to talk to them. I ranted to them. I poured my heart out. To be fair, I listened to their woes, too. But I found opening up to people, talking about my problems, helped, too. Those friends gave me new perspectives while I felt my worse.
Honestly, even talking to someone at all helps me, even if I’m discussing my problems. Some friends get me talking about my interests, like wrestling, comics, movies, or even my own writing. That helps, too. It briefly gets my mind off whatever’s bothering me.
3) Browse a store: Like going for a walk, I find getting out of the house at all clear my head. Sometimes, I’ll visit my favourite stores. If I have no money, I’ll browse. I’ll make mental notes of things to get in the future, when I might afford it. Personally, my favourite stores are book stores (used or new), comic book stores (all the books!), toy stores, and video stores (or movie sections of stores). Your list might be different, but again, I find just getting out of the house helps make me feel better. It forces me to get out of bed, clean up, put on clean clothes, get out of the house, and get fresh air. As I said, these are all things that can help cope with depression.
2) Watch or read something funny: When I’m depressed, I can’t concentrate enough to read. That might differ for other people. But much like most people, I can veg out on the couch or my computer chair and watch something. Fighting depression can include tricking yourself into feeling an opposite emotion. So if you’re sad or angry, how about enjoying something that will make you smile? It takes more energy to laugh, which means it releases endorphins that’ll make you feel better. Me, I like watching clips on YouTube of some funny shows (or at least, funny for me), like Scrubs or Robot Chicken. Or maybe some cartoons.
1) Interacting with animals: Whenever I’m down, my cat, Diomedes, rarely leaves my side. It’s like he knows. When I was younger, my dog, Digby, was the same way. Not everyone enjoys an animal’s company (or maybe can’t because of allergies), but for me, it’s comforting when no one else is around. Diomedes’ purring soothes me. If you don’t have a pet, you likely have a friend or family member that does. If they’re friends or family, or they understand your situation, maybe they’ll let you visit to cuddle with their pet. Heck, maybe you can offer to walk their dog. It gets you out of the house, walking, and you get to hang out with an adorable furball!