We all experience sadness sometimes - just another part of life. Loneliness, discouragement, loss, disappointment, and more can contribute to the emotions we feel when we say "I'm depressed." It's not uncommon for us to use this term, but clinical depression can sometimes sneak up on us before we realize how serious our emotions have become. Recognizing signs of depression can be the first step to getting the treatment we need to overcome depression.
Recognizing Signs of Depression
A quick list of depression symptoms includes: lack of motivation, guilt, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, fatigue/insomnia, not caring about anything, increased/decreased appetite, loss of interest or pleasure in things that historically have helped you feel good. Anxiety also tends to "hang" with depression (kind of a chicken and egg scenario) and is something to watch for. Each of us feels some of these things some of the time, but when you are feeling several of these things a lot of the time, or if these symptoms are severe enough that they are beginning to interfere with your ability to function in significant areas of life (work, school, relationships) it is a sign that you may be suffering from clinical depression.
Alleviating Depressive Symptoms
There are many things that can be done to alleviate symptoms of depression. Keeping in mind the lack of motivation and "not caring about anything" symptoms of depression, it can be a real challenge to implement any of the following strategies. It's not just laziness that keeps a depressed person from seeking help/doing anything to help him or herself. It is REAL. Everyone's symptoms are a little different, but if you are one of those who can't get out of bed, or who finds it too much work to take a shower or get out of your pajamas, know you are not alone. Of the following suggestions, do what you can, and don't feel guilt because you can't do more.
- Sleep - regular, adequate, uninterrupted
- Exercise - pick something you enjoy and are likely to stick with, and start where your ability is
- Nutrition/Omega 3 supplement - a healthy diet that includes an Omega 3 supplement can affect your mental well-being
- Sunshine - if you do not live in a sunny location, you can purchase a light that gives you adequate exposure
- Social - a positive support system that includes others who lift you up, others you can help, and others who are your equals in terms of functioning and ability
- Watch negative thoughts - avoid "obsessing" over unpleasant things; choose positive media for entertainment and education
- Awareness - of physical needs, of thought patterns, of the affect behaviors and people have on you
- Acceptance - sometimes letting go of resistance and anger can take an emotional weight off
- Kindness - how would you treat a close friend who was going through what you are experiencing?
Asking for Help
It might seem like you already know what you should be doing, and it won't help any to talk to someone about your depression. In fact, you may have tried this in the past and felt misunderstood. However, it can be helpful to have someone to be in contact with on a regular basis who is aware of your own unique situation, who can provide compassionate feedback regarding the balance of acceptance and trying a bit harder as you navigate your experience. It's important to feel comfortable with the therapist you choose, and if you haven't found that yet, don't be afraid to keep looking. You may not feel all that comfortable with anyone though, just due to the depression you experience which can give everything a "bleh" feel.
Enlisting support from family and friends can also be helpful. However, not everyone has experienced depression, and those who have been clinically depressed may have had a different experience than you, or frankly may have forgotten what it feels like. It is not uncommon for people to reach out to family members, only to feel even more isolated and misunderstood... but it is still worth it to take inventory and think about who might be a good support to you. You will likely have a good idea of those who will be good listeners, who won't try to fix it for you, or who will be able to say the thing you need to hear.
Some people are interested in medication, others are not. This is a very personal choice and will likely be influenced by your experience with medication, and your family's background with medication. If other family members are on medication, or if you have taken medication (successfully or otherwise) in the past, this is good information to have with you when you see your doctor. It can also be wise to get a thorough exam done, as there are some medical conditions that can cause depression.
Suicidal thoughts can be scary, not to mention dangerous. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please be serious about getting help. Suicide hotlines include 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433). It is also an option to check yourself into the hospital if you are feeling unsafe. Situations are more dangerous when you have a plan, the means to carry out the plan, intent, or impulsivity. However, if you are questioning your ability to stay safe, PLEASE - seek help.
Acceptance and Self-Compassion
Sometimes we have enlisted our help, are doing all we know and are able to do, and are still just... depressed. Any acceptance you can bring will be beneficial. Acceptance that this is your current experience, acceptance of your efforts, acceptance of timing and the process of healing. Self-compassion goes hand in hand with this but may be elusive. Imagining how you would feel toward a good friend in the same experience can be helpful.
Remind yourself that you did not choose this, and you are doing the best you can in the situation. Don't compare your current actions and ability to previous ability. Give yourself permission to do what you need to cope (disclaimer -I'm not advocating any illegal behavior here!) This is hard. But it's not who you are. Don't forget that.