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Depression is more than "feeling down" or " feeling blue." When you’re depressed, you may find it hard to simply "let go" or "snap out of it." Depression is very common. It comes in several forms, each with its own symptoms and criteria for clinical diagnosis. Two very important characteristics of major depression include hopelessness and the inability to feel pleasure and/or joy (called anhedonia).
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many of us are still dealing with social isolation, fear of getting seriously ill, and various restrictions that make it even more difficult to cope with symptoms of depression. Whatever your current circumstances may be, please remember, there are still many ways to overcome feelings of sadness and despair, improve your mood and health status, and regain a sense of well-being and peace. Here are some tips to implement day by day:
- Accept that you’re feeling depressed. Acceptance is always the first step when trying to overcome mental health struggles and challenges. This does not mean you’re weak or incapable; acceptance as well as vulnerability are actually major strengths.
- Stay connected. This is an excellent tool for combating depression. Bear in mind that the tendency to withdraw and isolate when you’re feeling depressed can make it harder to reach out. If you can identify just one caring person who you can turn to, that’s great. If there’s no one you can think of, try a national helpline (1-800-662-HELP) or local support resources for your state. You are not alone and there are people out there who care for your well-being.
- Get moving. It’s really hard to overestimate the importance of daily exercise. Just 20 minutes a day of the activity of your choice will make a difference! “Behavioral activation” is a term mental health professionals use when treating depression, and it means literally to "get moving" or "get going." Walk to your grocery store instead of ordering online, walk to the post-office, do some laundry, stretch or try a few simple yoga poses. Start small, and when those endorphins kick in, you’ll find yourself wanting more. Also, make sure to get your outdoor time, in spite of possible COVID-19 restrictions in your area. You can wear a mask and still enjoy much-needed fresh air!
- Challenge negative thinking. Depression is frequently reinforced by the negative triad: thinking poorly of yourself, your world, and your future. There are also multiple cognitive distortions (negative thoughts that aren’t realistic but FEEL like it) that can fuel the depressed mind. Being aware that thoughts are just that and not facts is the first step to challenging them. Next time you find yourself lost in negative thoughts or worry, tell yourself "I am thinking" and bring yourself back to the present moment. Check out this list of common cognitive distortions.
- Practice mindfulness. The benefits of an increased state of awareness, paying attention to the present, and having your mind literally FULL of attention to HERE and NOW include:
- Reduced stress
- Decreased anxiety and feelings of emotional distress
- Improved sleep
- Decreased emotional reactivity
- Decreased rumination (feeling stuck in negative thinking)
- Improved focus and concentration
- Increased cognitive coping (ability to navigate your thoughts in helpful ways)
There are many ways of practicing mindfulness in our daily lives. Breathing exercises, yoga, mindful meditation, and gratitude practices are just some of the ways you can get started. Some long-term benefits include:
- Improved relationship satisfaction
- Improved work performance
- Increased self-esteem
- Increased insight and empathy
- More compassion toward yourself and others
- Improved immune functioning (also related to decreased stress and improved sleep quality)
- Increased tolerance to pain
These benefits – and others – can help you gain a happier perspective.
- Get your sleep and nutrients. This is like going back to basics: 7-8 hours of sleep a night and eating all of your fruits and vegetables daily. Depression will certainly try to intervene; you may have difficulty falling and staying asleep, or you may oversleep. Or you may stay up at night and then sleep in the afternoon. Mindfully attending to your sleep schedule and using resources like relaxation techniques and limiting screen. will help your body cope with depression from the inside out. Depression may make you crave lots of sugar and carbs to make up for your lacking energy, so try to fill your empty tank with dietary fiber and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., fatty fish such as salmon).
- Seek professional help if:
- You have tried to cope but your depression is getting worse,
- You have thoughts of harming yourself
- It’s hard for you to manage your activities of daily living
- ANYTIME you feel you need it
If you’re new to therapy, or your provider doesn’t offer online visits, schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist using Amwell. It's a smart idea to get help and give yourself a helping hand to overcome depression!