Depression can be a serious, complex mental health condition that can affect not only a person's mood but also their ability to work, maintain relationships, and engage with life the way they once did. Considered the leading cause of disability globally, depression is thought to affect approximately 5% of all adults. In the US alone, over 19 million Americans are currently living with the condition. Despite its widespread and potentially harmful effects, depression is a treatable mental illness. Below, we’re going to cover what depression is and how, with the right tools and strategies, you can manage the symptoms of a depressive disorder and live a fulfilling, healthy life.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental health condition in which an individual experiences persistent feelings of sadness, lack of motivation, fatigue, loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, and several other symptoms. There are technically multiple depressive disorders that exist under the umbrella of depression, including major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
While depression can be complex, it often responds well to common treatments and management techniques. While everyone's condition is different and managing depression depends on a variety of factors, it is possible to see improvement with the right treatment plan. It is estimated that 80% to 90% of those who seek treatment for depression see positive effects.
Common Treatment For Depression
Typically, the first-line treatment for a depressive disorder consists of psychotherapy and medication. A mental health or medical professional can provide you with a treatment plan that helps you manage your specific symptoms.
Psychotherapy is one of the most common methods of addressing depression. Research suggests that therapy, either in person or remote, can be effective for depression. There are several forms of therapy, with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) being one of the most widely utilized. With CBT, the therapist aims to help the individual identify negative thought patterns, challenge their validity, and work to replace them.
There are several types of medications for depression. The most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant belongs to a class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Many people have experienced improvement with medication for depression, and a doctor can help you find the right medication if the first one prescribed isn’t ideal for you. If your doctor starts you on a medication for depression, consult with them before stopping the medication or starting a new one. Some medications work better for certain individuals, and a doctor can work with you to find one that works for your symptoms.
Tips For Managing Depression On Your Own
In addition to managing depression with a traditional treatment plan, you can also implement the following evidence-based strategies, which may help reduce the severity of your symptoms and increase the efficacy of therapy and medication. Because depression can vary based on the individual, some techniques may work better than others.
Exercise has been shown to be one of the best natural methods for managing the symptoms of depression. It can be hard to engage in physical activity, however, since depression's effects on the body—including fatigue, lack of motivation, and body pain—may hinder your progress. For this reason, you might start with small goals. Even 10 minutes of walking or exercising lightly in your home can be beneficial.
You can then aim to build up gradually to longer intervals, multiple times a week. You may experience some fatigue after the first few attempts, but if you stay consistent, you may find that your energy levels increase, your fatigue decreases, and your mood improves. Before beginning an exercise routine, you might check with your doctor to ensure your safety.
Get Plenty Of Sleep
Depression can interrupt your sleep schedule, causing you to get too much rest or not enough of it. Depression and sleep also have a bidirectional relationship, meaning depression can impact healthy sleep, and sleep disruptions can worsen symptoms of depression.
To get the expert-recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, you might try to create a restful space for sleeping. This may mean removing the TV from the room, utilizing white noise, and limiting light sources. It can also help to stick to a schedule, going to bed and waking up at similar times each day.
Develop A Self-Care Routine
Self-care generally involves tending to one’s body and mind in order to improve physical and mental health. It can include everything from taking a bath to practicing deep breathing exercises.
A self-care routine that implements several techniques may help you stay consistent. Consider creating a regimen that includes activities like meditating, journaling, and practicing yoga first thing in the morning, or drinking tea, avoiding your phone, and practicing deep breathing before bed.
Mindfulness is the process of being present and developing an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Mindfulness can help you slow down, reduce stress, identify potentially negative thought patterns, and avoid rumination. Research shows that practicing mindfulness can effectively improve symptoms of mood disorders like depression.
To practice mindfulness, you can find a quiet place to sit or lie still and breathe deeply. Bring your attention to how you feel, both mentally and physically. Are you happy, sad, or angry? Are you cold, hungry, or energetic? You might take note of the environment as well, identifying the smells, sounds, sights, and textures around you. You can aim to acknowledge your thoughts without judging them. Practicing mindfulness can help you recognize intrusive thoughts and how they may lead to unwanted emotions.
It's common to want to withdraw from others when you're living with depression, but isolation can worsen symptoms of a depressive disorder. Research shows that a strong support network can alleviate symptoms of depression. Consider reaching out to friends, family, and other people in your life when you feel like you need extra help.
It may be difficult at first, but you might try to push yourself to get out of the house whenever you get the opportunity. Consider reaching out to a friend you haven’t spoken to recently or a coworker you’d like to get to know better. You can also seek out depression-based support groups that can connect you with people who are experiencing similar concerns.
Improve Your Diet
There is a proven link between diet and depression. Depending on how depression affects you as an individual, you may lose your appetite and find it hard to eat or, alternatively, you may experience an increase in hunger and crave foods that may not be nutritionally beneficial. For example, a diet high in processed meat, refined grains and sugar, and excessive fat can worsen depression. While everyone's dietary needs vary, a balanced diet that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats can alleviate the symptoms of depression.
Focus On One Task At A Time
When you have depression, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do and, as a result, try to do everything at once. However, this can make it even harder to accomplish your goals as it can cause you to become discouraged and avoid tasks. This, in turn, can increase your stress levels and potentially worsen symptoms of depression.
If you’re having trouble getting things done, it can help to remind yourself that it's a normal part of depression to feel unmotivated. Sometimes, the act of starting can make the process easier. You might start off with the easiest tasks first and work your way up to the larger objectives on your to-do list. Also, it might help to adopt a mindful state and focus on only the task in front of you.
Managing Depression With Online Therapy
There is a growing body of research demonstrating the effectiveness of online therapy, including for depression and anxiety. If you’d like support and guidance while living with depression, consider reaching out to an online therapy service like BetterHelp. With online therapy, you can participate in therapy from almost anywhere via audio or video chat, which can be helpful if depression is making it hard to leave home. You’ll also have the option of contacting your therapist outside of sessions, so if you’d like to ask a question about your symptoms, you can send them a message, and they will respond as soon as they can.
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