Managing an episode of serious clinical depression — whether stand-alone or as a part of bipolar disorder — can be a challenge. For people who’ve never experienced depression, they don’t understand the black-hole feeling depression creates. Nothing seems do-able, even simple things like making something to eat or getting out of pajamas. The world seems to close in around you, and you feel utterly, completely and helplessly alone.
Depression is rarely cured quickly and many people who have a depressive episode will be more likely to experience future depression too. That’s why it helps to have some tips to actively manage your depression and the feelings that accompany these kinds of episodes.
Here’s a few things that have helped others.
Stick with Treatment
It’s easy to stop treatment for depression, especially if you’re feeling better and the remnants of depression seem like a hazy memory. So many people stop taking their antidepressant medication or stop going into therapy — or both. As writer Adia Colar told us two years ago, “I would quit therapy, stop taking my meds, tell myself it wasn’t as big of a problem as I thought — you name it. What would inevitably happen is my depression — which had previously been manageable when I was taking care of myself – would increase to the point that I was pretty debilitated.”
There may come a time when you can go off the antidepressant medications and stop going to therapy. But you should do so in consultation with your therapist and/or psychiatrist. This is especially important if you have bipolar disorder (as opposed to clinical depression alone).1
Read All You Can & Join a Community
Reading about other people’s experiences with managing their own depression is often helpful. There are literally hundreds (maybe even thousands) of stories online about how people cope with their depressive feelings, in online communities like this one and this one, and also articles like this.
Some of our readers’ favorite articles on this topic include:
- 7 Ways to Manage Clinical Depression by Therese Borchard
- The Biggest Lesson I’ve Learned in Managing My Depression by Margarita Tartakovsky, MS
- 6 More Ways to Manage Clinical Depression by Therese Borchard
- 5 Mistakes People Make When Managing Their Depression by Margarita Tartakovsky, MS
Going through an experience like depression is lonely. Incredibly lonely, as you feel not a single soul in the world understands how blue you feel. Sharing in that experience with others who are feeling similar feelings can help keep you connected and feel just a little bit lonely.
Sometimes our minds go down into the deep, dark places where no light escapes and no hope lingers. These are the places where depression likes to hibernate and live. But you can combat these incessant thoughts through mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not some cure-all, it’s simply stopping all of the thinking you’re doing — all of those negative, harmful thoughts — and focusing on just one thing — breathing. By taking a few minutes out of your day, every day, to do nothing but focus on your breathing, you will learn to be more calm, less anxious, and more in touch with your body.
Practicing is easy. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for 10 or 15 minutes. Find a relaxing position to sit in, close your eyes, and start breathing in and out more slowly. Focus all of your attention just on your breathing and the sensations of breath coming into your nose, your chest inhaling, and then all of the breath leaving your mouth, your chest exhaling. Take long, deep breaths.
If your mind wanders, as everyone’s does, don’t worry (and don’t judge!). Just gently refocus your attention on your breathing when you remember that’s what you’re here to concentrate on. The first few times can be hard, but the more you practice this technique, the easier it’ll become to keep more and more of your mind focused on breathing.2
Practice Compassion — For Yourself
We seem to have little trouble being compassionate for others less fortunate than ourselves — the homeless, the hungry, a friend in need. We seem to have a lot more trouble being compassionate to ourselves and giving ourselves a break. As a previous article on this topic noted:
[It’s important not to beat] yourself up over what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Suffering every day is hard, he said. “It’s a process to get healed. Try not to make it any more difficult [by being mean to yourself].”
Kindness can include acknowledging your pain and engaging in relaxing activities, such as reading, watching funny films and getting a weekly massage…
Exercising & Eating Right
Managing depression is as much about managing your daily life and not going to extremes in anything you do. That means not becoming the couch potato that depression would like you to be, and not to engage in binge eating (or failing to eat anything at all). Depression will work its darnedest to keep you from engaging in these regular, daily activities. And you’ll justify it by saying to yourself, “I can’t do it, it’s too hard to grab some fruit instead of a candy bar.” But that’s the depression winning.
One of the hardest parts of managing depression is doing things you just don’t want to do and have zero motivation to do. Taking a walk, going outside, or getting a healthy bite to eat are all the things you just don’t want to do. But the more you do them, the more you will work to beat depression.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg in managing depression successfully. You can learn more about this topic by clicking on any of the article links near the top of the article. And remember — you’re human and you’re going to make mistakes. Allow yourself that and
- And if you’re not seeing a therapist or psychiatrist, and are still not feeling better with clinical depression or your bipolar disorder, that’s usually a sign you’re not receiving the gold standard of treatment for these conditions. So go do that too — don’t settle for partial-treatment (either just meds or just therapy). You wouldn’t if you had cancer, so why would you for depression? [↩]
- Few people ever are able to completely empty their minds the entire time, so don’t worry — you’ll always have to bring your mind back from time to time in its wandering. [↩]