How To Cope With Depression: Tips, Techniques, And Treatment Options

Updated November 29, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression may feel overwhelming and isolating. For individuals experiencing depression, it may seem as if everyone else is “normal” while they struggle with complicated feelings. However, you are not alone.   

Depression is common, affecting nearly 1 in 10 adults in the US in 2022.

Although common signs and symptoms may help you determine if you have depression, there are many types of diagnosable depression, and everyone’s experience may differ.

This variance in treatment options may make finding the best way to cope with depression challenging for some. However, with the right tools and support from a mental health professional, you may be able to manage your symptoms effectively. 

Is Depression Treatable?

Depression is considered manageable with a wide variety of methods. One of the most effective methods is considered to be a combination of regular psychotherapy sessions and anti-depressant medications. Consider keeping an open mind and communicating with your doctor or mental health professional to determine the best strategy for your situation.  

Like with many mental health conditions, symptoms of depression may worsen if left untreated. These symptoms can range from feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and baseless guilt to experiencing sleeplessness or difficulty concentrating. Untreated depression can also lead to potentially dangerous symptoms such as high-risk behaviors and self-harm. Therefore, consider seeing a mental health professional as soon as possible if you’re experiencing depression symptoms.

Types Of Depression

There are many types of depression, and it may be helpful to know about them when trying to determine whether you have a diagnosable form of depression. 

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) 

The most common type of depression is major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression. Those with MDD often experience intense symptoms lasting longer than two weeks that interfere with daily life. Symptoms may include:

  • Lasting feelings of sadness

  • Feeling worthless or hopeless

  • Sleeping often or not enough 

  • Changes in schedule

  • Changes in diet

  • Difficulty socializing due to lack of energy or sad feelings

  • Feeling isolated or alone

  • Feeling unlovable

  • Struggling with hygiene or self-care

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) 

Also known as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder is another common form of depression. Symptoms of PDD are often less severe than major depression, but they may last for two or more years.

Bipolar Depression 

Bipolar depression may be marked by periods of “low moods,” where an individual has intense feelings of sadness and lacks energy, at times alternating with excessively high-energy periods called “mania.” This type of depression is often diagnosed alongside bipolar disorder (type one or two). 

Psychotic Depression 

Individuals with psychotic depression may experience symptoms of depression accompanied by delusions characterized by beliefs that are not based on reality. Psychotic depression symptoms may also include sensory hallucinations, where a patient may see or hear things that aren’t there.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) 

Also called seasonal depression, seasonal affective disorder often begins in the fall or winter and may end during the spring or summer. It may consist of symptoms of depression brought on by the weather. A lack of sunlight may be the cause of this condition. However, some individuals experience seasonal depression during sunny or hot months as well. 

Perinatal Depression (Post-Partum Depression)  

Most often known as post-partum depression, perinatal depression may begin during pregnancy or a year or more after birth. This type of depression may be experienced by birth parents, adoptive parents, and fathers. It is not limited to gender or parental experience. 

Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder 

Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). This condition may impact individuals during the days or weeks leading up to their menstrual period. For example, someone may experience depression and other distressing symptoms two and a half weeks before their period.

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You Don’t Have To Cope With Depression Alone

Symptoms Of Depression

Individuals experiencing depression might not realize that others are not experiencing the same symptoms, causing them to ignore their depressive feelings and avoid seeking support until their symptoms worsen. 

If you’ve wondered if you have depression or if the feelings you’ve been experiencing are “normal,” there are some common signs and symptoms to look for that may help you decide if you should seek professional treatment. 

These symptoms often occur consistently and may continue for days, weeks, months, or years: 

  • Feeling sad, lost, empty, hopeless, or generally unhappy

  • Losing interest or enjoyment in activities you previously enjoyed (socializing, sex, hobbies, etc.)

  • Changes in sleeping habits ranging from insomnia to spending most of your time sleeping or in bed

  • Exhaustion and a lack of energy that interferes with daily activities

  • Appetite changes, weight gain, or weight loss 

  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness

  • Slowed thinking or difficulty paying attention

  • Feeling worthless or not good enough (often in conjunction with overthinking past mistakes or failures)

  • Feeling guilty about situations that aren’t your fault or are out of your control

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Difficulty remembering situations 

  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches or muscle pain

Not everyone with depression will experience all of the above symptoms, and there may be other signs of depression you’ve experienced that are not on this list. If you think you may have depression, it may be best to reach out to a mental health professional for a diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to your individual needs. 

Diagnosing Depression

Learning about the symptoms of depression may help you better understand the disorder. If you’re unsure of how severe your symptoms are or would appreciate other resources to help you determine if you’re depressed, online depression assessments may be valuable tools.  

Online assessments may ask questions to gauge your current emotional state and give you a general idea of how it compares to symptoms of depression. Ultimately, a formal diagnosis must come from a professional—typically your doctor or a mental health provider. 

To obtain a diagnosis, your therapist may conduct the following diagnostic steps:

  • Physical exam: A physical exam uses lab tests to help rule out physical symptoms of a different health problem, such as hormonal issues, thyroid abnormalities, or sickness. 

  • Psychological evaluation: A psychological evaluation may include a discussion of your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, or behavior patterns, including when they began and any notable events that may have happened to you.

  • DSM-5: Your therapist may consult the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition) to verify the criteria for the type of depression you could have.

An official diagnosis may come as a surprise to some, while others expect the outcome. Either way, the official diagnosis may lay a foundation for how your treatment plan will commence. 

Coping Strategies

While help from a professional therapist can be a beneficial treatment strategy, some individuals find it difficult to seek professional treatment and support.

There are many possible reasons for difficulty in reaching out for help, varying from person to person. If you aren’t ready to reach out yet, there are techniques you can try to ease some of the symptoms you’re experiencing.

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Stay Connected

Isolation is one common symptom of depression that may lead to a cycle of loneliness or withdrawal. Withdrawing from the people around you may seem intuitive when you’re depressed, but staying connected to a few people you trust and who know you well may be beneficial.  

Studies show that social connection to your community, family, or chosen family can benefit your mental health. Whether you discuss your feelings or something else, you may start to feel better. 

Practice Self-Care 

Engaging in activities you usually enjoy may feel exhausting if you’re experiencing depression. If you find it particularly difficult to practice self-care, begin with something that doesn’t take much energy. This low-energy activity may look different for each person. What is accessible to one may not be to another.

There are a few low-energy activities you might try: 

  • Taking a hot bath with a bath bomb or candles

  • Trying a shower bomb or shower scrub

  • Putting on lotion 

  • Curling up to read in comfortable pajamas

  • Eating a snack

  • Taking a 5-minute walk with your pet or a friend

  • Singing a song you like 

  • Spending a few minutes in nature

  • Drinking a glass of water

  • Ordering delivery 

  • Playing a board game or card game with someone you love

  • Playing with your pets

  • Playing a video game that brings you joy

  • Making a jar of potential activities and doing the first one you pull 

Don’t Neglect Your Physical Health

Even if exercise sounds difficult, eating a nutritious diet or going outside for a short walk may be beneficial. Studies show that sunlight can improve overall mood and boost the body’s vitamin D levels. 

For those who struggle to leave home, a sunlight-mimicking lamp may be valuable. Salt lamps may also cause happier feelings, but practice caution if you have pets or young children, as the salt content on the lamp may cause salt build-up in the body if ingested. 

Sleep Well 

Sleep irregularities are another potential symptom of depression. If you can, practice positive sleep hygiene techniques. At times, a soothing cup of herbal tea and an enjoyable book at bedtime could help you feel calm and comfortable. 

Consider the following sleep hygiene tips: 

  • Turn off any electronic devices one hour before you are ready to sleep 

  • Turn off the light when you lie down to sleep

  • Don’t work in your bed if you work remotely, as it may cause you to associate your bed with productivity instead of relaxation 

  • Don’t drink caffeine before you sleep 

  • Don’t snack before you sleep 

  • Try to avoid conflict before you sleep. Leave uncomfortable conversations for tomorrow. 

  • Ensure a comfortable temperature in your bedroom 

  • Ensure a comfortable mattress and pillow 

  • Ensure a comfortable bed size

Try To Stay Mindful Of Negative Thoughts

Many experiencing depression may engage in “negative self-talk” without recognizing it. This negative inner dialogue may have a significant influence on how you feel. 

A potentially effective way to manage your thoughts is to keep a daily journal or take a moment several times throughout the day to practice mindful breathing. Studies show that expressive writing (like journaling) can benefit mental health. 

Slowing down to notice your breath may direct your attention toward your thoughts, allowing you to recognize when there is disparaging self-talk. Be kind to yourself if you notice these thoughts. Many individuals experience negative self-talk. 

How To Treat Depression 

If you have never looked for a therapist, many opportunities may be available. Consider looking through a directory of mental healthcare providers that are part of your health insurance network. You may find this information on the insurance company’s website or call them directly.

You might also choose to do an online search through a directory listing all mental health professionals in your area. Often, these sites contain detailed information on each professional and allow you to select a therapist or counselor who best matches you.

You may also decide to talk to your primary care physician about options. This way, you may gain a firm referral from a medical professional you have a history with. 

Once you’ve got a list of potential treatment providers, call or communicate online to learn more about them. After choosing a therapist, you may discuss treatment options, including the following. 

Anti-Depressant Medications

Anti-depressant medications can come in a few common types, although there may be some outliers. Your healthcare provider may give you a complete list of options. Speak to your doctor about medication options before you use a medication to ensure complete education about side effects or warnings that come with it.  

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) 

SSRIs are one of the most prescribed anti-depressants. These medicines often increase the level of serotonin (a chemical messenger in the brain) and block its resorption or reuptake, ensuring enough is available for interaction with nerve cells. They are often ideal for moderate to severe depression, and while many have side effects, they may decrease with time.   

Serotonin And Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) 

A newer anti-depressant, SNRIs, may affect serotonin and norepinephrine uptake, which could help mood and transmit information through the brain. 

Tricyclic anti-depressants (TCAs) 

TCAs are among the earliest anti-depressants used for treatment but have mostly been replaced due to their high number of side effects. 

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI) 

MAOIs are typically anti-depressants recommended when others have provided little improvement in mood or symptoms or have caused too many side effects that interfere with the patient’s daily life. They often work to rebalance brain chemicals thought to cause depression.

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You Don’t Have To Cope With Depression Alone

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy (psychotherapy) often involves discussing symptoms, feelings, and related experiences with a mental health professional to treat depression or other mental health issues. Talk therapy could be defined by many different therapy techniques, including the following. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy often works to recognize and change the thoughts, beliefs, and resulting behaviors associated with mental health issues like depression. CBT is often used to help develop strategies for the patient to use in daily life for coping with their symptoms.

Interpersonal Therapy 

Interpersonal therapy often addresses issues around relationships that may contribute to depression. These may include the loss of a loved one, the ending of a romantic relationship, or interpersonal conflicts (relationship issues). 

Problem-Solving Therapy 

Problem-solving therapy is a potential depression treatment that may help you learn to cope better with difficult, stressful, or tragic life events. This technique often involves creating a step-by-step process for realistically dealing with a challenging situation. 

How To Choose The Right Treatment For You

Choosing the right therapy for you may come down to factors related to your unique situation. For instance, traditional therapy might be effective in helping you improve your symptoms of depression. Online therapy may be more comfortable, affordable, or doable with your life circumstances or needs.  

Studies show that the results of online therapy are positive for most individuals who try it. Online therapy may be a valuable option if you struggle to leave home, can’t afford traditional therapy, or want to try a new treatment method. Many individuals who try this form reach out to a counselor on a therapy platform such as BetterHelp, which matches you to a therapist specializing in your area of concern. 

Takeaway

If you think you may have depression and want to know how to treat it, connecting with a mental healthcare provider is one step towards managing it. You may also choose to try a coping skill listed above. If you’re ready to try therapy, consider reaching out to a counselor for support.

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