So what to do if you feel depressed? Regardless of how your depression looks, there are some tactics that are always helpful.
First Things First – Is It Depression?
If you haven’t been depressed before, it’s important to be sure that your low moods are not a symptom of a physical issue such as taking a new medication, or a thyroid problem. So consider a health check with your GP.
Feel low, but under a lot of pressure and know what is making you feel overwhelmed? It might be stress. Stress has an exact cause, and practical choices to deal with its trigger can help. Depression, on the other hand, can be made worse by trying to take practical action, because it causes illogical choices.
It can seem a good solution at the time – to get ‘off your head’ so that you’ll feel better.
But substance abuse always backfires when it comes to mood management. Drugs and alcohol are actually depressants, meaning you’ll feel worse the next day. And if you are already depressed, you are more prone to do or say things you’ll regret when high or drunk. This, too, can leave you feeling worse.
A positive distraction looks like exercise, the company of a loved one, watching an inspiring documentary, or taking a few extra shifts at work to get you out the house.
It can help to identify your positive distractions that work for you when you are not depressed so you know to reach for them when you are.
3. Go for a walk. Now.
There is a story that goes around about a therapist who had a client in her office. He said he wanted to kill himself, and she agreed that was fine if he walked around the block ten times then came back. He obeyed, and when he got back he no longer wanted to.
You might want to consider getting out in nature for your walk, even if it’s just your local park. It has such a powerful affect on our wellbeing that a new branch of psychology, ecopsychology, focuses on just this.
4. Use a safe tool to process your emotions.
Even better than distraction is to process the repressed feelings behind your depression. Therapy is of course idea for this.
But self-help tools are a useful start. “Free journalling” can be effective. Promise yourself to rip up the pages after, then write down every single wild and crazy thought that comes out. Don’t judge yourself, just get it out. If you feel big emotions rise, it can feel good to punch some pillows or a mattress (be safe here).
Mindfulnessis another good technique here. Sitting down for at least ten minutes and fully experiencing instead of running from how you feel can be quite the experience. With enough practise you will notice emotions seem to move through you. You might feel rage then end up crying or even laughing. Read our free Guide to Mindfulness to get started.
5. Steer clear of the wrong people.
Maybe you know someone very exciting and distracting, or there is someone you have casual sexwith, and you find yourself reaching for the phone.
Keep this in mind- when we are depressed we have a skewered perspective and we are fragile. We say things we don’t mean, and are more susceptible to peer pressure. If it helps, think of it as being sick. Would you really want to be around that person if you had the flu? Then don’t be around them when you are depressed.
Depression leaves us lost in a fog and trapped in worst case scenario thoughts. Connecting with others is one of the best things for seeking enough of a space in the fog to question those thoughts.
Don’t let fear of letting people know you are depressed stop you from reaching out to others. It’s actually human contact that is important here, not what you talk about. You don’t have to share it if you aren’t ready to. Sometimes a phone chat about everyday things can help, connecting us back to normal life and briefly letting us be outside our own thoughts. Sometimes something as small as smiling to a stranger can help. Just get out and connect in any way you can manage.
7. Find proper support.
If your depression does not lift after several weeks, or if you are not new to depression but it has become a cycle, it is really, really important to get support.
It might be a good friend or family member you feel safe sharing your issues with at first.
But in the long term a counsellor or therapist is advised. They create a safe, impartial environment to get to the root of your mood swings, and to learn to change the behaviours that are causing your depression.