As usual, it’s been a bit of a break between posts. Things have been up and down, but I’m coping.
On that note, I wanted to write a post about how I deal with bouts of depression as well as share some ways I’ve found that help me get back on track. It’s a bit of a longer read, but I hope they help you or someone you know in even the slightest way.
Alright, on to the meat (sorry, vegans) and potatoes.
Avoid the negative.
This includes negative thoughts and words. When I’m feeling less-than-ideal, I tend to make things even worse by putting myself down, especially with my own words. On my worse days, this ends up putting me in a terrible cycle: I feel down, and then I’m hard on myself for being down, which in turn tends to make me feel worse. On other days, I make plans then either cancel or fail to meet my goals, which in turn makes me punish myself for not meeting them or canceling on someone. I also tend to make everything black-and-white (things are either all good, or all bad), which we know in reality is never the case.
Challenging these thoughts and feelings can be difficult, but is a necessary step in moving forward. One of the ways I do this is for every negative thought or feeling, I try to think of a few of the positives relevant to it. For example, if I have a stressful day at work I try to remind myself that hey, I have a job. Even though it may have been hard to get out of bed, I was able to make it there.
Another method I use to try and cope with negative thoughts and feelings is to own them, but only within that moment. For example, there have been more than a few times where I’ve said to myself “I feel like I’ll never get anywhere” or “I feel like I don’t have a purpose.” When I’m struggling with these thoughts, I try to make an effort to change them to “I feel like I’m going nowhere right now” and “At the moment, I feel like I don’t have a purpose.”
See the difference? They change from absolute statements to ones that are more open-ended and a bit more optimistic than before. Sometimes, slight changes in your thinking like these may be all you need to get you going.
Add some structure.
I try to avoid the term “routine”, because for me nothing ever goes 100% according to routine…but I find having some structure to my day helps me cope. For example, I try to set a general idea of when I get to bed and when I want to wake up. I also try to make a mental note of one or a few things that I want to get done or should get done that day, such as “get up from my desk every so often” or “go for a walk at lunch” or “finish this task today.” More on this later, but I find that these small action items really help me feel good to accomplish.
I approach meals the same way as bedtime, by trying to have a general idea of the times I want to eat. There are still days that I get either so busy or so overwhelmed that I “forget” or don’t have too many opportunities to have a decent meal (which is never a good thing), but I find that even just mentally reinforcing the fact that I need to make time to eat will help me stay on track. This leads me to my next point:
Some people (me) don’t have an appetite when they’re depressed, while others find comfort in food. I’m not here to tell you what you should or should not eat, but step one is making it a habit of getting your meals in.
As I mentioned above, I regularly end up skipping meals (especially breakfast) due to wanting to stay in bed longer or being “too busy.” I always find on these days, though, that I am more irritable, fatigued, and more prone to feeling down than if I took the time to get something healthy and filling into my body.
Other suggestions I would add here include reducing sugars and other carbs (in the future I’ll post about a few of the diets I’ve tried and how they made me feel), as well as throwing in a multivitamin to help your body get what it needs.
Ease off of alcohol.
For some people this may be harder than others, but I found personally that when I stopped drinking as much, I generally felt better. I used to drink a lot to cope and to escape from what I was going through. This coupled with the usual social drinking saw me imbibing way more than the average person, and nothing good came out of it. The days after binge drinking were my worst days, as everything I was going through felt magnified.
When I stopped drinking, I almost immediately saw benefits. My mood was better, I lost the weight I gained, and generally felt less fog-brained. I began to replace the alcohol with other activities, and I really believe it made me better off.
I’m not suggesting to cut out alcohol completely, but I’m living proof that alcohol in moderation is orders of magnitude better than making drinking a regular thing.
Set small goals.
The smaller the better. There’s a common saying that goes “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The bigger picture may be overwhelming, but I find if I take things one step at a time (trust me, sometimes they are VERY small steps – like just getting out of bed), eventually I get into a rhythm and begin ticking things off of my to-do lists.
I find even for larger goals, if I try to break it up into smaller stages or steps…it makes accomplishing the larger task (especially ones that seem daunting) just a bit easier. It also helps if you’re as impatient as I am, as I find accomplishing the smaller tasks tends to ease my mind, reinforcing the fact that I am making progress.
Take a break.
I am a firm believer in the mental health day. When I was working in IT full-time, one of our running jokes (even if the issue had nothing to do with the computer) was to ask the client if they’d tried unplugging it and plugging it back in. Sometimes, our bodies and minds need that reset…even if it means getting away for a period of time. Even if you can’t afford to take a full day off, even making time to get away from that desk or computer screen can help.
When you do take that break, though…it’s important not to use it as a form of avoidance, and equally important not to neglect yourself. The idea is you want to use your breaks to get better. If you’re exhausted, use it to rest and recuperate. If you’ve been neglecting something physical or medical that’s been bothering you, use it for that doctor’s appointment. If you’ve been meaning to start working out, now’s the perfect time to go to the gym or try that yoga class you saw being advertised.
I personally make it a point to improve my self-care on my days off, and I highly recommend it. Brush your teeth, take that extra shower, try that new skin care product you bought…whatever it takes to get you going and feeling like a better you.
Finally, when you’ve exhausted all of your other options…my final point can be very helpful.
Many of us tend to want to deal with our problems on our own, regardless of what the problem is. Unfortunately, that can mean keeping the worst to ourselves and suffering alone. On the bright side, there’s simply no rule book and nothing set in stone that will say you have to.
The easiest way is to talk to someone you know who has or is going through something similar, as support is so invaluable. Even if you never discuss the topic directly, sometimes just having a bit of company is enough to get you through a rough patch. If you don’t have someone like that close by or available to you, there are a number of support groups out there. You may choose to attend the ones that offer support in-person, or simply call in or join an online group. Reading or talking to someone about their story can help put things into perspective for you. You’ll likely find that more people than you think go through similar struggles everyday, and you’re never alone unless you want to be.
Finally, speaking from experience, professional help can be a life saver. If you’ve been feeling like you’ve tried everything else and nothing is working, I really recommend it. I used my work’s employee assistance program, which may also work for you. Your doctor may also have similar resources.
As always, thanks for reading, hope even the smallest thing here helps, and feel free to reach out if you’ve got any comments or questions. Until the next post, don’t give up!