If you suffer from depression, you might feel helpless — and hopeless — when an episode begins. But you don’t have to surrender to it.
“While you can’t necessarily stop or cure depression, you can reduce the severity of an episode using effective, readily identifiable coping tools,” says psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD.
Here are his suggestions for fighting back when you feel depression coming on:
Learn your warning signs The first step is to develop your ability to sense the beginning of a depressive episode. The earlier you notice depression creeping in, the sooner you can take proactive steps.
What are your early signals — does your sleep pattern or appetite change? Do you become apathetic? Are you more irritable? Do you withdraw from loved ones?
Once you become aware of your particular signs, take action early, and you’ll be more successful in heading off depression.
Reach out to your support network Many people begin to isolate when they start feeling depressed, but this is almost guaranteed to make you feel worse.
Fight the urge to withdraw. Instead, reach out to trusted family members, friends, coworkers or clergy. If you’re not already seeing a therapist, this is a good time to find one.
Practice good sleep habits Depression often disrupts sleeping patterns, causing you to sleep too much or too little. Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule; you’ll feel better.
Avoid the urge to nap during the day or to lounge in bed too long after you wake up. If you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, limit your caffeine intake and screen time (on the phone, computer or TV) before bed.
Feed yourself wisely The changes in appetite and inertia that often accompany depression can make it harder to maintain healthy eating habits. But poor nutrition will only make you feel worse.
If you’re not up for cooking, invest in easy-to-prepare soups, sandwiches and frozen meals. (And add fruits and veggies wherever you can.)
If you typically eat more when you’re depressed, stock your kitchen with healthier snacks, and work on cultivating coping skills that don’t involve food.
Limit your alcohol intake You may like to unwind after a long day with a beer or glass of wine, but now isn’t the time. Depression and alcohol don’t mix.
As a depressant, alcohol will worsen your mood and wreak havoc on your sleep. And when done to excess, drinking creates all kinds of problems on its own.
You’ll feel better if you resist the urge to self-medicate with alcohol or other substances.
Exercise It may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re depressed. But research shows exercise to be a powerful tool not only for boosting mood, but also for improving energy levels and sleep.
You don’t have to drag yourself through a strenuous workout. If you can only muster enough energy for a 10-minute walk, do it.
Even a little physical activity will lift your spirits — and bring countless other health benefits.
Engage in meaningful activities One of the hallmarks of depression is a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Even if you’re not motivated to do the things you normally enjoy, try going through the motions anyway.
Volunteer. Engage in creative pursuits like writing, painting or playing music. Participate in your faith community.
As you move the focus off yourself and onto the activity and start connecting with others, your spirits will lift.
There’s no surefire way to stop a depressive episode in its tracks. But having a plan to address depression when it strikes can make it more manageable — and help you to feel better sooner.