Experiencing one depressive episode increases your risk for experiencing another. So in order to reduce the risk, it’s important to be proactive and take good care of yourself.
In his new book, Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed, clinical psychologist Lee Coleman, Ph.D, ABPP, includes a valuable chapter on how to take care of yourself after a depressive episode. Coleman also serves as the assistant director and director of training at the California Institute of Technology’s student counseling center.
Below you’ll find four helpful tips for caring for yourself after an episode of depression.
1. Continue your treatment.
Coleman stresses the importance of continuing your treatment for at least a few months after your depressive episode is over.
He writes, “The window of six to nine months after a depressive episode is particularly critical, and to be on the safe side I often encourage depressed clients to consider the first year after an episode to be a time of heightened risk for relapse and recurrence.”
(Relapse means having another depressive episode within six months of the first one; recurrence means having another episode after six months.)
Research shows that continuing your treatment can reduce both. He also suggests talking to your treatment providers about how you can prevent relapse.
Interpersonal psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful in reducing relapse, he writes. Psychotherapy after an episode is valuable because it can help you cope effectively with stress and build resilience.
Also, if you’re taking an antidepressant, don’t stop abruptly. Always talk to your doctor first about discontinuing medication because stopping cold turkey, as Coleman explains, can have serious side effects.
2. Seek help sooner rather than later.
If you start experiencing symptoms of depression again, don’t wait to get help until you meet full criteria for the disorder, Coleman writes.
He encourages readers to think about the early signs of your depression, which can clue you in on what to look out for. Pay attention “to the number of symptoms, their severity and duration, and their effect on your life.”
This doesn’t mean that you need to fixate or hyper-focus on how you’re feeling. Everyone has a bad day. As he put it, “Just have a low threshold for resuming treatment.”
3. Don’t isolate yourself.
Maintaining positive relationships is important. Coleman cites one study that found that just being part of a sports team protected some individuals from depression.
4. Practice self-care.
He clarifies that this doesn’t mean leading a boring life. It simply means taking good care of yourself, which includes getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and exercising. (Here’s one study on the importance of moderate exercise for reducing relapse.)
If you’d like to learn more about Coleman’s book, check out our review on Psych Central.
How about you?
What has helped you in caring for yourself after a depressive episode?