managing depression article by phoebe chiChronic Conditions

Managing & Overcoming Depression: 7 Practical Tools

Depression. One word that can mean so many things. For those who have lived or currently live with depression, you know very well the impact it can have on your daily life. Depression can drain not only your physical energy but also your hopes, motivation, enjoyment, and personal drive. You may be aware of all the steps to getting better, but you just cannot get yourself to take even the first one.

If this sounds all too familiar to you, you are not alone. And there is hope. This article will present seven practical tips for overcoming depression and its symptoms that will help you take back your life.

There Is Life After Depression

While overcoming depression is neither quick nor easy, it is possible, and there is life after depression. Today, I will discuss essential tools that will help empower you to take control of many of your symptoms.

It is important to note, however, that this article is not a substitute for professional mental health care. If you are currently feeling very depressed, to the point where you are thinking about death or dying, please reach out to a friend or a loved one immediately. If anonymity is important to you, call or text the Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8.

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The road to recovery when you have depression is often like a Catch-22, in which the things that would help you the most are the ones that are the most difficult to do. With that said, I want to encourage you that there is a huge difference between something that is difficult and something that is impossible. When you feel depressed, just the basic self-care tasks may seem incredibly difficult. But I’m here to tell you that it is not impossible.

Actually, just by choosing to read this article, you have already taken the first step to overcoming your depression and its symptoms. So keep on reading, and I’ll take you a few steps further as I discuss the small but positive steps that you can start incorporating into your days.

Remember, you do have control, and the fog will lift, and you will find yourself happier, healthier, and more hopeful again.

Depression: Signs & Symptoms

It is completely normal to experience sadness or depression-like symptoms from time to time. However, if you find yourself experiencing several of the following symptoms almost all of the time, it should be a sign to you that it might be time to talk to someone about it.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Feeling sad, empty, or anxious
  • Feeling helpless, worthless, or guilty
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling irritable
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Having little or no energy
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping
  • Eating too much or not wanting to eat
  • Thinking about death or dying

What Is Causing Your Depression?

7 tips for managing depression

Before I go further, I want to make something clear: depression is not a form of weakness. In order to successfully overcome depression, you have to first realize this fact.

Even though the symptoms of depression can make one feel weak and helpless, depression itself is not caused by personal weakness nor is seeking help a sign of weakness.

However, what can play an active role in causing symptoms of sadness and depression are physical chronic illnesses, stressors, and your environment. This can be further compounded by feelings of frustration, general worries about life, and anxieties about the future.

Even though the symptoms of depression can make one feel weak and helpless, depression itself is not caused by personal weakness nor is seeking help a sign of weakness.

When you have depression, it can feel like a cycle that never ends. Because you feel depressed, you may withdraw and isolate yourself. You may become less physically active. You may drive away friends and family that ask to help. As a result of doing this, you feel even worse. Sometimes, the symptoms of depression may get so bad that you feel as if there is no way out. You may ask yourself, “Will I ever feel happy again?”

I am here to tell you that the answer is yes. It is possible to break out of this cycle. It is possible to feel normal again. And it is possible to gain the joy back into your life.

However, because depression is something that is very real and very complex—it essentially boils down to a complicated interplay of your external environment and the balance of your brain chemicals—the treatment for depression often also needs to be multifaceted.

In this article, I will be discussing one important facet of overcoming depression: how to boost your mood through self-care.

A Comment on Antidepressant Medications

While I will not focus on antidepressant medications in this article, I do want to clarify a common misconception about them: just because a person needs an antidepressant today does not mean that they will need to be on an antidepressant medication forever.

Sometimes, a person may only need an antidepressant medication to help them get through a difficult period of time in their life. Sometimes, they may need it a little longer. Every person’s situation and needs are unique, but the truth remains the same: being on an antidepressant medication is not a sign of weakness.

With that said, I will now focus on a crucial aspect of depression management: self-care.

7 Steps for Managing Symptoms of Depression

#1 – Make the active decision to take control

When it comes to overcoming depression or managing its symptoms, ultimately, you are the one who is in control. However, until you realize this power and make the active decision to use it, everything will seem out of reach.

Therefore, I encourage you to tell yourself right now: “I choose to take control of my depression.” Once you do this, you have already empowered yourself to take the next step.

#2 – Reach out and stay connected in a meaningful way

For many people, the first impulse when feeling down or depressed is to withdraw and isolate. However, getting the right support is a crucial step forward that can help you break out of any negative cycle that you may be trapped in.

Rather than feeling ashamed or guilty of your situation, realize that reaching out is a sign of strength, and by doing so, you should be proud of yourself.

  • Prioritize meaningful contact. In this world of texting, tweets, and Snapchats, while we may feel as if we are always communicating with others, social media can actually have the opposite effect of making us feel even more isolated. Instead, try to set aside a special time to meet with a friend, counselor, or pastor (either virtually or in person). The important thing is to get past superficial exchanges in order to have more meaningful communication with people who make you feel safe and cared for.
  • Find ways to help others. It has been shown that the simple act of altruism can actually improve our mood more than just passively receiving support. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to volunteer somewhere, help out a friend in need, or simply make an effort to do something nice for someone. It will warm your heart and boost your mood.
  • Get animal therapy. For many people, being around animals is immensely therapeutic. While nothing can replace the human connection, if you do like animals, consider caring for a small pet or make the effort to be around them.
  • Join an online support group. Sometimes, we just need to know that we are not alone in our situation. The mutual support and connections that come from support groups can make an immense difference in your outlook and emotional state.

#3 – Identify your negative thought processes

When addressing depression, it is crucial to address the thinking process, as our own negative thoughts can serve as one of our greatest enemies.

Do you feel as if your situation is hopeless? That you are powerless to do anything? When you have depression or are feeling down, all your thoughts are processed through a Depression Thought Filter that impacts the way you feel about yourself, the world, and your future.

Take a moment to look at the following list. Do any of these examples sound familiar? From now on, whenever you start thinking in one of these ways, realize that this is simply a symptom of your depression—not a reality. And then proceed to #4.

Depression Thought Filters

  1. Over-generalization
    • Generalizing from a single negative experience (“I can’t do anything right.”)
  2. Diminishing the positive
    • Coming up with reasons that minimize the positive (“My boss said I did a good job, but he was just being nice.”)
  3. Emotional reasoning
    • Thinking that the way you feel is actually the truth (“I feel like a loser. I am a loser!”)
  4. All-or-nothing thinking
    • Looking at everything as being black and white (“If I don’t get this promotion, I’m a total failure.”)
  5. Labeling
    • Labeling yourself based on perceived shortcomings (“I’m a failure because I can never make my wife happy.”)
  6. Jumping to conclusions
    • Thinking that you can read other people’s minds and foretell the future (“My boss hates me; I’ll never get a promotion.”)
  7. The negativity filter
    • Ignoring your accomplishments but focusing on your mistakes

#4 – Put your negative thoughts to the test

Now that you know what to look for, whenever you identify one of the Depression Thought Filters, stop and ask yourself the following questions. Most of the time, these questions will prompt you to look at things from a different perspective by helping you see the situation more clearly and objectively.

Self-Reflection Questions to Ask

  1. “What concrete, objective evidence do I have that this thought is really true?”
  2. “Is there an alternate explanation for this situation?”
  3. “What would I tell a friend who is having this kind of thought?”
  4. “How might I look at this situation if I didn’t have depression?”

#5 – Get your daily dose of sunlight

Another important (and frequently overlooked) tool for managing and overcoming the symptoms of depression is something that is easily accessible: sunlight.

Getting enough sunlight is essential, because natural light not only boosts your serotonin levels (the brain chemical that makes you happy), but your body also uses sunlight to produce vitamin D. Whenever your body is deficient in vitamin D, it can cause depression or worsen existing depression symptoms.

  • Go outside. If weather permits, try to get outside daily, ensuring that your arms and legs are exposed to the sun for about 15 minutes each day.
  • Let the light in. When indoors, open your windows to let the sunlight in.
  • Use a light box. Consider getting a light therapy box if you are unable to get enough daily sunlight.

#6 – Try some light exercise

While depression can cause you to feel tired and unmotivated, physical activity is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your mood. Even light activity can do wonders in helping you manage and overcome depression. Light exercise has been proven to improve mood by helping to release several brain chemicals that have powerful antidepressant effects.

As an added bonus, exercise also helps to release endorphins, natural painkillers that can help with chronic pain issues.

When it comes to physical activity, it is important to remember that every step counts.

  • Make a plan. Promise yourself to go on a 5- to 10-minute walk this week.
  • Practice mindfulness. Be mindful during the activity by staying in the moment and focusing on your surroundings. This can further help you combat any negative thoughts that might be intruding into your head.

#7 – Make a “Wellness Toolbox

7 tips for managing depression

The purpose of a Wellness Toolbox is to ensure that you always have something enjoyable to do—regardless of the situation or how busy you get.

Your Toolbox can be as simple or as creative as you wish it to be. It can be a written list of various activities that you enjoy doing or an actual toolkit containing different things that bring you joy.

Every day, no matter how you feel, select one activity and do it.

Example of Wellness Toolbox Activities

  • Journal for 10 minutes
  • List 5 things I like about myself
  • List 5 things I have accomplished
  • Read a chapter out of my favorite book
  • Watch a funny movie or a TV show
  • Take a long, hot bath
  • Play with my pet
  • Talk to a friend or family face-to-face
  • Spend 10 minutes in nature
  • …anything that I can think of that brings me joy!

By forcing yourself to incorporate wellness practices into your days, you are helping yourself prioritize self-care, which will make a considerable difference in your well-being.

Depression is not an easy condition to overcome, but it is absolutely possible to take control of it. If you are feeling depressed, have an honest conversation with a trusted health care professional to discuss what your next steps should be and what treatment options are most appropriate for you.

By incorporating these seven self-care tools into your days, you will not only be better equipped to overcome your depression and take control of its symptoms, but you will find yourself in a better position to start taking back your life. 

Remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and you will get there.

Phoebe Chi, MD
Phoebe Chi, MD

As a physician educator and the managing editor of Health + Inspiration, Dr. Chi aims to inform, empower, and inspire the reader community. She is the author of Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, a poetry-infused health guide, and founder of Pendants for a Cause, a nonprofit organization with the purpose of raising funds to fight illness, provide care, and bring awareness to medically vulnerable populations around the world.

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60 replies »

  1. Very informative and helpful information. I have battled with depression most of my adult life at various times and I can testify that what you recommend is spot on. Thank you.

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