Even if you may not feel like it at the moment, managing an episode of depression is possible.
An episode of depression refers to experiencing symptoms of depression that last for at least 2 weeks. This may happen if you live with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In any of these cases, symptoms can be managed, and although it may take some time, treatment is available.
It’s also possible to cope with everyday challenges and depression episodes that may feel more intense. In-the-moment tools and specific coping skills can help.
When you experience an episode of depression, you may feel your symptoms take hold of every aspect of your life.
Among other things, you may feel:
- fatigue and low motivation
Managing these moments may not make depression go away, but it can help you gain positive momentum in the meantime.
If you‘re going through an episode of depression, these tips to boost your mood can help you cope:
Seeking out humor
“As strange as it may sound, laughter is highly effective in lowering your stress and depression levels by cooling down its responses and reducing its physical symptoms,” says Tasha Holland-Kornegay, a mental health counselor in Raleigh, North Carolina.
She recommends grabbing a comic book, watching funny video clips, or seeking out the funniest person you work with for a chat.
Even if you have to force it at first, it can be helpful to just try to laugh and expose yourself to funny situations.
Connecting to nature
“Looking at the sky — whether through a window or actually stepping foot outdoors and taking in our natural surroundings — connecting to our environment can boost our mood and increase our recognition and awareness that there is a lot more than just us,” says Michelle Pargman, a mental health counselor in Jacksonville, Florida.
You may feel like staying indoors with your curtains shut. This is depression talking to you. So, it‘s OK if you want to start slowly.
You can try to open your curtains first. Then, you may want to open the window and look around. Later, you may feel like stepping out and sitting in the backyard.
These gradual steps can eventually help you spend more time outdoors. As you feel your mood improves, you may be more likely to want to repeat the experience.
If stepping out feels too difficult during an episode of depression, you can try bringing nature in. Consider adding natural plants to your environment or spending some time playing with a pet.
Embracing the cold
Brian McCallum, a mental health professional in Barrington, Illinois, explains, “Exposure to cold activates our sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which gives us energy.”
That may help you if you experience fatigue and low motivation.
McCallum suggests taking a washcloth soaked in ice water and applying it to your face for 30 seconds.
Taking hot and cold showers may also have the same effect, although you might want to consult with a health professional first, particularly if you live with a heart condition.
Cultivating your curiosity
“Explore something you always wanted to know about; researching interests helps stimulate the part of the mind that looks forward to the future and enjoys learning,” suggests Kimberly Perlin, a clinical social worker in Towson, Maryland.
Stimulating your vagus nerve
“I believe that stimulating the vagus nerve can aid in reducing depressive symptoms,” indicates Amber Weiss, a mental health counselor in New York City.
She explains the vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in the body and can be stimulated by engaging in a variety of activities, such as:
- receiving a foot massage
Research may partially back up this claim, although it‘s important you discuss it with a health professional first.
Coping skills are mental and physical tools that can help you meet the demands of life’s challenges. They may help you deal with the situations that affect you most.
Coping skills aren‘t in-the-moment tools you use to boost your mood. Instead, they can become long-term resources to handle the challenges you might face.
When it comes to the challenge of depression, coping skills aren’t intended as a form of treatment. They can, however, help you manage your symptoms on a regular basis so you can continue functioning in the world.
Coping skills for depression include:
Lesley Smith, a clinical social worker in Portland, Oregon, explains behavioral activation is one of the most popular depression management methods. It refers to intentional engagement in activities.
Behavioral activation is about doing something that would usually make you happy, even if it doesn’t bring you joy in the moment, she says.
“Those are the things that create meaning in your life and can help to decrease the hopelessness you feel,” she adds.
McCallum adds to Smith’s recommendation, indicating that exercise can be a form of behavioral activation.
“Either a 20- to 30-minute walk outside (weather permitting) or a 20- to 30-minute walk on a treadmill has mood-boosting effects,” he says.
The goal of behavioral activation is to get you to do something — anything you may find pleasurable. Even if it feels difficult at first, you may experience the benefits once you get started.
Thought distancing helps you step away from negative thoughts. Its technical name is cognitive defusion, and it‘s a technique used in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
“This practice is akin to envisioning your thoughts as news headlines scrolling by on the screen of your mind,” explains McCallum. “They appear and then move off the screen.”
He points out that thought distancing can help you identify when thoughts are untrue and not helpful.
One way to practice is through a third-person perspective.
McCallum offers an example, saying, “Let us say you notice this thought: ‘Things will never get better.’ Once you notice and capture the negative thought, then say to yourself, ‘I noticed that my mind had the thought that things will never get better.‘“
He explains this form of self-talk creates space and prevents you from relating to the thought. In time, these affirmations feel foreign to you, and it may become easier for you to change them into positive self-talk.
Cultivating relaxation methods
“When you are in control of your stress and depression levels, it can no longer have a debilitating effect on you,” says Holland-Kornegay.
She recommends a tai chi exercise known as “embracing the tiger.”
“All you need to do is open your arms wide, and put your hands together,” she indicates. “Draw them towards your core. Then, reverse your hands and push them out. Such an exercise can help you take in the good and take out the bad.”
Holland-Kornegay also suggests making an acupuncture appointment, pointing out it’s been shown to have positive anti-stress effects for some people.
You may find it particularly helpful to pair relaxation exercises with positive affirmations.
Paying attention to nutrition
“Become more self-aware about providing your body with the proper nutrition and hydration it needs,” Weiss suggests. “If your body lacks certain nutrients, this could potentially be feeding your depressive feelings.”
You could start by limiting sugar intake and increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables when possible.
“Self-efficacy is based on one‘s belief in their own capability to achieve,” explains Pargman.
Completing small, achievable tasks can create momentum, she adds. Over time, one task can lead to another, helping you navigate through an episode of depression.
If taking on complex tasks feels overwhelming, you could start with simple, everyday jobs. It could be getting up from bed, preparing coffee for yourself, or making the bed.
“Merely focusing on brushing one‘s teeth and taking a shower and accomplishing one or both can feel like a huge victory,” she says. “[It] is worthy of feeling good about during a depressive episode.”
Depression is a manageable condition. Whether you live with clinical depression or you‘re experiencing an episode of low mood, there are ways you can cope and feel better.
Coping skills and quick-relief tools can be useful if you‘re going through a difficult time and have difficulty finding the energy and motivation to get anything done.
Even if it doesn‘t feel like it at the moment, depression doesn‘t have to be permanent. You can get through this.