I got sick of the hundreds of websites that list basic ways to treat only depression symptoms without showing a pathway to actually overcoming this awful affliction. Let’s change that. Sure, right now beating depression, or even learning to live more happily with it, might seem like a pipe dream. But it is possible to make drastic and permanent improvements – if you follow a plan and stick to it. I once thought I was stuck with depression forever, but after 36 years of suffering, I made a lot of changes and am finally seeing big improvements.
Do all the things below to help your depression and anxiety. With dedication, you can create a new life free from the shackles of depression.
Yes, strive to do them all. Don’t just do one or two and expect a “cure”. Overcoming depression requires consistent work and fundamental change in how you think and live.
Don’t feel overwhelmed. Start with the simplest of these changes, then build from there.
Remember that depression does not define you. Learn to love yourself – which includes going easy on yourself when you have a bad day. Even if it’s two steps forward and one step back, keep striving forward. You know the old pathway and how much it sucks.
Prioritize for happiness
It’s very simple:
- Creator (or whatever belief system you have).
It’s not selfish to prioritize like this. It’s the key to life. Meditate on it.
Get help and support
You need it. Need. Professional and social support are huge. Social support helps you cope better and professional support gives you strategies for recreating your life. Having a pet may also help with isolation.
Going it alone gives depression more power. Name one person who has overcome depression entirely on his/her own. I’ll bet you can’t.
And don’t believe that voice in your head that says you have nobody or that nobody cares. Every person who has said, “I’m here for you” or “Call me when you need someone” – take them up on it!
Talk to professionals
This is the biggest and best help that you need. When you’re sick, you need a doctor. When you’re depressed, you need a mental health professional.
If your first reaction is to say, “Oh, I went to one who was useless,” or “They’ll never understand me,” then your depression is talking you out of it. If you had a poor experience, try somebody else. Never give up. Just go. Depression is understood and can be helped.
Get up and make an appointment. Now. You’re worth it.
If you have thoughts of self-harm
Contact a professional or a help line and talk about it. Immediately. You can.
Drop the stigma
There’s nothing “wrong” or shameful about having depression. Nothing. It’s common. I have it and I’ll tell anyone as much. I’m not diminished by admitting it and it doesn’t define who I am.
Depression is not the problem
It’s a symptom. It’s a messenger. Treat the cause as well as the symptom. Don’t treat the symptom alone. Treat it all.
Remember that depression is a messenger
When your depression started, you had been hurt and you spent a long time in the grief process. In your grief, you developed a behaviour strategy to defend yourself from being hurt again. However, the longer you have clung to that defence strategy, the more it has kept unresolved feelings inside. Depression is a way of telling you that the defence strategy you created is no longer serving you. Celebrate it for what it did to help you survive the initial stages, but now it’s time let it go.
Act now – don’t wait until you’re “ready”
Just do it. Do one thing now to help your depression: make an appointment, call a supporter, eat better, drink water, go for a walk, whatever. Don’t wait until you’re “ready” because depression won’t let you feel ready.
Stop depression tricking you
When you feel like you can’t do anything, or everything is going against you and you can’t do anything about it, remember what Mel Robbins said: “Depression is lying to you… Depression does not rob you of the choice. It just tricks you into making the wrong one.”
Go deep to get to the cause
Addressing the cause is everything. Relieving symptoms is nice, temporarily. Go farther. Go deep.
You weren’t born with depression. Something happened that caused it to take root.
You might think you know what caused your depression. But you might be surprised that you assumed incorrectly. For decades I blamed one issue, only to learn something else was behind my depression and lack of self-worth. Many other people have struggled for years because they thought they knew the cause of their depression, only to find out it was something different.
Your mental health professional will guide you through how to identify the cause and how to release it. Keep working. It will take time and it will be challenging. Open your mind – especially to things that hurt or cause strong reactions, because those things need to be healed.
Take your medication
If you are prescribed medication, take it! Medication helps. It’s not a cure, so don’t expect that. Medication helps bring symptoms under control so you can then tackle the bigger issue – the cause of your depression. Medication is one piece of the great puzzle, one weapon in your arsenal.
If the medication is not ideal, make changes with your doctor.
Never be your own doctor. That cynical talk about “Big Pharma” is defeatist and feeds depression and isolation.
Have realistic expectations
Depression does not get “cured” overnight or in a couple of weeks. Expect to work on improving yourself and “reprogramming” your brain for a long time. Look forward to doing it!
Exercise / move
Science has shown that exercise helps mood and brain patterns. Depression wants you to be sedentary. The longer you be still and wallow in depressive thoughts, the stronger depression’s hold over you. So get up and do something. Anything. You don’t have to run a half marathon or do P90X. You can move. You can.
Poor nutrition, fast food, excessive sugar… they all reduce physical energy, wreak havoc on your bodily systems, and negatively affect mental patterns and mood.
Eat clean more often. Cook at home more, eat out less.
Consume less sugar
The link between excess sugar and mental health problems is very clear. Excess sugar disrupts the balance of brain chemicals and hormones. Sugar is included in almost everything in the western diet. Often it’s hidden in our foods. Simply have less of it.
Plain water. Stay hydrated. It’s that simple.
Ease off the booze and drugs
You only use these to mask or numb mental pain. They don’t help. They make depression worse. An occasional drink is no big deal, but avoid bingeing or using it as a crutch. And stay the hell away from drugs. That includes cannabis that can cause severe anxiety when it wears off, which can then exacerbate depression.
Participate in support groups
Just go. Strength in numbers. There are many styles of support groups, not one stereotype. It’s not just a big downer. Drop your expectations and go. You have nothing to lose, but you stand to gain the knowledge that others are going through the same things as you and have interesting ways of looking at them. Listen, learn, unburden, connect.
Withdrawing yourself all the time will never help your depression. If you don’t seek, you don’t find.
Get off your device
Nobody ever overcame depression online. There is a clear link between excessive online activity and depression. Your devices make you more isolated and alone. Yet they overstimulate the dopamine response in your brain and cause you to come back again and again. Stop scrolling aimlessly. Be in the real world and love yourself.
Ever notice people take a device break and love it? There’s a message there. Moderation. Balance.
Stay out of online arguments
Arguing online achieves nothing. Nobody changes. But your depression worsens because your arguing and “point scoring” is a way of acting out against who/what hurt you and caused your depression. You stay in a cycle of negativity. Break that cycle.
Turn off the news
Or at least filter it. 99% of it is bad news. You don’t need to absorb it. The cycle of bad news sustains your gloom.
Devices away before bed
Do NOT take your phone or tablet to bed. It has an atrocious effect on sleep and mental wellbeing.
Avoid negative, cynical people
Whatever satisfaction or agreement you might feel from hearing/reading people’s defeatist and cynical thoughts, you’re more likely feeding your depression.
Love – give and receive it
At the heart of almost everyone’s depression is the withdrawal of love in some way, shape, or form.
Love truly is the answer. Love for yourself comes first.
Giving and receiving love is exactly what you need to do. Putting up your protective defences might keep hurt out, but it also keeps all that hurt in. Allow love in and out.
Forgive – yourself and others
Not sure how? I certainly needed help. Try this. Repeat it dozens of times a day.
Forgiveness does not mean approving of what has happened. It means releasing its power over you.
Reprogram with mantras
Following from the point above, repeat affirming and encouraging words to yourself dozens of times every day. Your depression took hold due to negative thoughts repeating and repeating. You have to reprogram by sheer repetition.
Want to change
Q. How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.
This old joke has a ring of truth to it. You have to want to change. Long-term depression is the result of resisting important change. Make it happen.
It’s the way to feel centered again. Just clear your mind for 10 minutes a day. You don’t have to do anything fancy or follow a religious practice. Just quiet your mind.
Don’t know how? Free guided meditations here.
Gratitude is a powerful force in this universe. Every day keep a journal of three to five things that you’re grateful for. Then watch your situation change for the better.
Be open to receive
Receive help, advice, ideas, praise, compliments, gifts, favours, you name it. And receive them gratefully without putting yourself down or considering if you “deserve” them. You are worthy to receive goodness and love. Depression tricks you into thinking you aren’t. Receive every good thing without guilt. And be sure to celebrate the good things that come to you, both big and small.
Be in nature
Fresh air and moving around in the outdoors are huge for mental wellbeing. So is being in natural light.
Have a hobby
Something for you. Something you enjoy that breaks up your day, helps you feel creative and productive, and gives you more social contact.
Tidy up and be better organized
Clutter and mess are linked with anxiety and depression.
Accept your feelings
Feelings are OK and not to be ashamed about. There is no such thing as a “wrong” emotion. Once you accept them without shame or blame, you can make a plan to move forward. (Note that accepting is not the same as approving.)
Remember you’re not alone
Depression sends you into isolation, mentally and physically. You start to think that nobody understands you or gets it.
You are never alone. See mental health professionals. Tell your friends. Join support groups. Reach out. Ask for help. Ask and you will receive.
Learn from inspiring experts
Listen to them and read their materials. There are so many to choose from. Pick the ones whose style you like.
I recommend you listen to audiobooks by Mel Robbins. She’s AWESOME.
Discover your purpose
This is a more advanced activity to undertake when dealing with long-term depression. Finding your purpose and living it means never being imprisoned by depression.
This book is an absolute game-changer as it guides you to discovering your true self. I came across it by chance at my local library and loved it.
Settle in for the long haul. There is no quick fix for coming through the other side of depression. It’s a journey. It’s a new way of life. Stay with it.
I believe in you.
Pay it forward
No need to repay those who help you. There’s no obligation or guilt. They will be satisfied seeing you improve.
Instead, pass on what you learn to others who need it.