Research-Backed Methods For Coping With Depression

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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It can be normal to feel sad sometimes, as sadness is one of many emotions communicating essential messages to your body and mind. However, in some cases, prolonged and severe sadness can signify a mental health condition like depression. According to experts in the mental health field, if profound sadness and feelings of hopelessness last over two weeks and negatively influence your life and functional ability, they could be symptoms of depression. 

If you have been diagnosed with depression or suspect you may be living with it, there are a few research-backed coping mechanisms you can try to work around your symptoms.

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What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) that may involve persistent, intense sadness and a marked loss of interest in many aspects of your daily life. It is a severe mental health condition that can adversely affect how you think, act, and feel, significantly interfering with your ability to function.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. It is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and home.” 

Because it can hold substantial sway over how you act, think, and feel, depression can drastically affect your life. Symptoms can make it challenging to take an interest in or derive pleasure from the activities you used to enjoy, a psychological effect called anhedonia. This mood disorder can make it difficult to function at work, school, socially, in relationships, or other areas of your daily life. 

Recognizing the symptoms of depression

The first step in finding a solution for depression may be recognizing that you’re experiencing a challenge, which can start with identifying the symptoms of depression. While depression can present differently for individuals, industry professionals have identified a few symptoms that many people experience, including the following: 

  • Psychological: Anhedonia (difficulty experiencing pleasure), difficulty concentrating or making decisions, thoughts of death or suicide, or fixating on past failures
  • Emotional: Feeling sad or having a consistently depressed mood, frequent crying, feeling worthlessness, guilt, and emotions tied to emptiness or hopelessness
  • Physical: Drastic changes in your sleep and eating patterns, weight loss or gain, loss of energy, persistent fatigue, slowed speech and movements, or unexplained physical pain without an apparent cause 

Common risk factors for depression and other mood disorders include brain chemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors.  

Depression can cause numerous physical, cognitive, and psychological changes, especially when left untreated. It can change your brain, leading to more frequent or worsening episodes. Depression can also impact your physical health, causing digestive issues, pain, fatigue, and other complications. 

Treatments for depression

According to information published by the National Institute of Mental Health, typical treatments for depression and other mood disorders are medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both approaches. If neither method produces results, brain stimulation therapies may be an option to reduce your symptoms. Your mental healthcare provider can tailor a comprehensive treatment plan considering your needs and circumstances. 

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Ways to cope with depression

While therapy with a licensed mental health professional is often the most effective way to manage your depression symptoms, there are many methods you can use to live with the condition and minimize the impact it has on your life. 

Develop a selection of adaptive coping skills

Coping skills are the actions you take to help you control your unwanted emotional reactions or soothe your nervous system. Depression symptoms often cause significant psychological, physical, and mental stress, but practical coping mechanisms can help you manage your symptoms and how much they affect your mood, thoughts, and behaviors.

Coping skills can involve the following actions, but you can come up with a unique plan for yourself: 

  • Journaling or expressive writing, like poetry 
  • Singing or playing an instrument
  • Spending time with friends and family members
  • Playing with your pets
  • Taking a “spa” day to yourself
  • Spending time in nature
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Getting an adequate amount of sleep 
  • Exercising 
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation 
  • Using affirmations 
  • Taking a shower or hot bath 
  • Redirecting or distracting yourself if you’re fixated on stressful thoughts 
  • Avoiding substance use 

Make plans with achievable milestones

Depression can affect your motivation and energy levels, making it difficult to accomplish tasks you used to manage efficiently. Try breaking up your tasks into smaller, more achievable goals and celebrating milestones. Crossing items off your to-do list may boost your confidence and make it easier to overcome depression symptoms. 

Don’t isolate yourself

According to a recent study, many people with depression isolate themselves, potentially believing their problems aren’t worth troubling anyone else or don’t deserve concern and support. 

Some people find it helpful to personify their depression, and if that’s the case, you might find it beneficial to tell yourself your depression is “lying to you” and that you don’t matter and shouldn’t reach out for help. Anyone can reach out for support; your support system can be an essential resource. 

Maintain healthy food, exercise, and sleep habits

When your body is healthy, you may feel that your mind and emotions can function more efficiently. A crucial aspect of health and well-being is eating a balanced diet, maintaining brisk physical activity on a routine schedule, and establishing healthy sleep hygiene. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression can sap energy levels. Still, you may notice positive results by taking minor steps before building up to more significant ones. 

Take it one day at a time, and be kind to yourself

Learning to manage your depression is not necessarily a quick emotional journey. It can be essential to take the process one day at a time. Be kind to yourself along the way and show self-compassion if your symptoms are particularly intense one day or you don’t cope as well as you have in the past. You may feel pressure to “improve” quickly, but it can be essential to process your emotions and heal at your own pace.

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Embrace positive thinking

Depression can act as a filter for your thoughts, emotions, and actions, making it difficult to maintain a positive mindset. Challenge your negative or unwanted thoughts by utilizing positive thinking. If you struggle with this skill, you can use affirmations to reassure yourself when upset. Shifting your thought patterns can help you reshape your outlook, even if it doesn’t rid you of all your symptoms.  

Feel your emotions

Developing your sense of emotional intelligence can help you learn to identify, understand, and process your feelings. In contrast, emotional literacy allows you to communicate your needs to the people in your life effectively. When you can recognize and work through your emotions, it may be easier to recognize depression symptoms and how they may affect you. In addition, studies show that suppressing emotions can harm your mental and physical health. 

Reach out for support

According to researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 7% of adults in the United States experience symptoms of major depressive disorder in any given year. If your symptoms affect your mood, sleep patterns, eating habits, thoughts, and behaviors, interfering with your ability to function in multiple areas of your life for two weeks or longer, it may be valuable to reach out to a mental health professional for guidance.  

Depression is a severe mental health condition that can adversely affect functional ability in many areas of your life. At times, it can be difficult to make appointments or get out of bed. In these cases, you might consider working with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. An online therapist can help you find healthy ways to cope with stress and depression symptoms from home. 

According to a recent study, online therapy is a viable alternative to traditional face-to-face treatments for depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common therapeutic approach for identifying and recognizing unhealthy behavior and thought patterns, shifting to more productive, positive habits with a mental health professional’s support and guidance. 

Takeaway

Depression can substantially impact multiple areas of your life, especially if you don’t have a treatment plan. The strategies outlined above may offer insight into helpful ways to cope with depression symptoms and how therapy can help you manage your mental health condition.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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