When you’re already depressed, stress only compounds your symptoms. Stress only boosts your anxiety and overwhelm, said Robin Starkey Harpster, MA, MFT, a psychotherapist who specializes in treating depression and anxiety in Los Angeles.
Many of Harpster’s clients are new moms struggling with postpartum depression. “Attempting to manage the needs of a newborn while you are depressed and overwhelmed is extremely difficult.”
Then there are other people’s expectations. They “can add additional stress to a normally stressful transition.” Well-intentioned loved ones might have a tough time seeing you not feeling like yourself, she said. So they put unrealistic expectations on you to do what you normally do and be who you normally are, she said.
Harpster also sees other clients with depression struggling with expectations at work, managing financial pressures and balancing their loved ones’ needs.
In a previous post we shared five tips for navigating stress when you’re depressed. Below, Harpster shared three additional strategies.
1. Ask for help.
“If there is one takeaway I’d like your readers to get is that it really is OK to ask for help,” said Harpster, who also specializes in couples, parent coaching and life transitions. This might include seeing a psychotherapist with expertise in treating depression. It might include hiring a housecleaner. It might include asking a friend to come over and simply sit with you, because it’s comforting, she said.
It might include asking your aunt to pick up a few groceries. It might include asking your best friend to run errands with you or help you get to your therapy session. It might include asking your loved ones to create a meal train, “a way to organize meals for friends or family.” Harpster’s favorite website for organizing meal trains is www.mealtrain.com.
Sometimes, we just need to rely on others to reduce the stress of daily tasks. Because then you can focus on getting well, Harpster said.
2. Distract yourself.
“Though I don’t recommend ignoring feelings, sometimes when life is too overwhelming, it can be helpful and therapeutic to distract yourself for a little while — to take a break from the dark cloud,” Harpster said.
She shared these ideas: If it’s too hard to focus, “snuggle up with a cup of tea and a book.” Listen to podcasts, audio books or uplifting music. Watch TV. Or take slow walks in beautiful places.
3. Increase your social support.
“Depression often makes us want to isolate ourselves away from others,” Harpster said. One reason is that we think no one understands us, she said. That’s why it can help to talk to people who are or have been there. For instance, try support groups. Harpster suggested starting with a simple Google search for “depression support groups” in your area.
Also, check out online groups. Psych Central has a forum dedicated to depression (and other mental health support). Mental health writer, activist and author Therese Borchard founded Project Beyond Blue, a powerful online community for people with treatment-resistant depression and other chronic mood disorders (and their loved ones who want to better understand them).
Postpartum Progress is another excellent website, which focuses on postpartum depression and other maternal mental health issues. It has a private forum (and a comprehensive list of stories written by moms who’ve struggled).
“Sometimes just finding a blog of someone dealing with depression can help quell some of the loneliness and isolation,” Harpster said. Remember that “ultimately, you are not alone; help is out there.”
Again, the key is to ask for it. Don’t hesitate to find a psychotherapist who specializes in depression (and with whom you seem to have a good connection).
Also, don’t skimp on self-care. As Harpster said, “Know the things that help you feel more like yourself [such as] exercise, meditation [and] indulging in a long bath.” Whatever your depression may be telling you (and often the messages are distorted or full-blown lies), you deserve care and compassion.
Depressed mom photo available from Shutterstock