Clinical depression is debilitating. But it’s also highly treatable.
And while you’re getting treatment — whether through medication, psychotherapy or both — there are many ways you can manage your symptoms in the meantime.
In his valuable book Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed, clinical psychologist Lee H. Coleman, Ph.D, ABPP, provides tips on minimizing symptoms and getting better while you’re receiving professional help.
Here are five of his suggestions.
1. Chart your symptoms.
A chart that documents your symptoms is incredibly informative. For instance, a chart of your energy levels will let you know the time of day you have the most and least energy. A chart with your activities will let you know how each action affects your symptoms (for better or worse.)
Coleman suggests recording your energy, sleep, mood and activities every day. Specifically, rate your energy and mood from 1 to 10; record the number of hours you slept; and jot down the type of activities you did that day. Bring this chart to your provider so they can see your progress.
2. Keep a consistent schedule.
According to Coleman, “When you’re depressed is never a good time to ‘wing it’ or leave your days completely unstructured, because you run the risk of drifting aimlessly.” Be consistent about when you eat, go to bed and wake up, along with other routines.
3. Stay active.
Depression drains your energy, enthusiasm and motivation. That’s why it’s important not to wait until you feel like it to engage in activities. (It’s like Therese Borchard said in this piece on exercise: “I think sometimes we have to lead with the body, and the mind will follow.”) In fact, mood and motivation often improve by continuing to participate in activities. Coleman suggests creating a list of activities you’d like to do or did in the past.
For instance, your list might include inviting a friend over for coffee, walking around the block, preparing a meal for yourself, picking up a few things at the grocery store, and meditating. Consider how these activities affect your mood. Also, if some activities seem overwhelming, break them down into bite-sized steps. Encourage yourself to accomplish one step at a time.
4. Practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion is especially important when you’re depressed. Unfortunately, the very nature of depression makes it difficult to be kind and understanding with ourselves. Depression shrinks your self-image and self-esteem. It makes you feel worthless and guilty.
But think of it this way: “We don’t get mad at ourselves for having the flu or a kidney infection, because we know that we didn’t cause the problem and that our job is to get better, not to feel bad about ourselves. It’s no different with depression,” Coleman writes.
Some people still worry that if they’re kind, they’ll just become even more unmotivated. But, as Coleman notes, these types of beliefs only exacerbate depression. Plus, “drill sergeants rarely make effective therapists!” Remember you can’t shame or hate yourself to health.
(It also helps to consider how you’d treat a friend who was going through the same thing. It’s likely you’d lead with kindness and compassion. What does that look like for you?)
5. Adjust your expectations.
Depression tends to affect all areas of your life. It might be tougher to work, study, socialize and participate in any other activity, Coleman says. So it’s key to adjust your expectations. “It simply doesn’t make sense to expect yourself to be at 100 percent with the hundred-pound weight of depression on your back.” Coleman encourages people to ask for help and advocate for themselves. “Remember people won’t know what you need unless you let them know — so tell them!”
Depression is a serious illness. But with effective professional help, you can get better. And while you’re receiving treatment, the above strategies may help enhance your improvement.