Depression is very crippling if you don’t know how to get a grip on it. Even if you do have a strategy for lowering your depressive symptoms it might not always work. I know how depression can take the enjoyment out of life because I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for over 18 years. I’ll be in a manic phase then “boom” will fall into depression for a few days. For some, the highs and lows can be extreme causing longer periods of instability. For me, depression is way more crippling because it sucks the life right out of me. It makes you question the reason for living and if you’ll ever get better.
Over the years, I have dedicated myself to helping others. I’ve taken time to find healthy ways to cope with depression and want to pass on what I’ve learned. You see, living with depression doesn’t need to be the end of the road because it can be the beginning of progress. Research shows there are effective strategies proven to work in treating depression. From my own personal experience of living with bipolar disorder for over 18 years, you can truly be happy by making a few changes to your lifestyle. That’s right, you need to make lifestyle changes to beat depression and live the joyous life you deserve.
So, here’s my own personal story and what I’ve learned about beating depression. These are things I do every day to cope with depression and remain happy and optimistic. Many are natural ways to cope with depression, except one where I discuss the importance of finding the right medication. This is included in the list because it does help and can be very important in laying the foundation for remaining depression free.
Let’s get started and please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
1. Always Talk to Someone
This is one of the best ways to get another opinion on what you’re thinking. During depressive thoughts, you’re thinking the worst possible scenario which isn’t reality. Our mind is playing a game creating false negative situations so it’s important to get another person’s opinion. For this reason, it’s important to speak to someone you trust and someone who will provide you with the best possible outcome. You want to speak to someone who knows you well and provides advice which protects you instead of creating further vulnerability.
The next time you feel depressed and are caught in a negative thought cycle, either visit or call someone you trust to speak to them. Be transparent about your feelings so they can provide you with the best possible advice. This works because it provides an alternative thought pattern to what you’re thinking. It gives you a chance to view your thoughts outside of the box. This is important to break the negative or depressive thought cycle.
The most natural way to beat depression because regular exercise will release endorphins into your blood. Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers and will elevate your mood. Research has proven this time again –
“Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.” – webmd.com
Doing a search on Google for “home cardio routines” will provide you with easy exercises to perform at home. Work them into your daily lifestyle 3-4 times per week. You don’t need to work out for hours because a simple 30-minutes cardio run is all you need. Just make sure you get your heart pumping and you break a sweat. 🙂
Here are some cardio machines that work well –
- Step Climber
- Exercise bike
3. Catch Yourself in Negative Self-Talk
Negative thoughts will consume your mind and energy. Negative self-talk has a way of constantly putting you down so you need to find a way to stop it. You are your greatest fan so being your own critic will put you in a tough place. You rely on yourself to get through tough situations so constant negative self-talk works against you. The term used by many these days is “Catch Yourself” and this is very important to stop the negative thought cycle. Your goal should be to automate your mind to snap out of negative self-talk within 10 seconds and replace those thoughts with positive ones. This is very challenging when you’re starting out so create some queues to help you out. For example, I bought a wristband to remind me to stay positive. Every time I find myself in negative self-talk the wristband reminds me to snap out of it. It’s important to note that I can see my wrists from every angle so the wristband is a constant reminder.
Find queues which work well for you and implement them into your daily lifestyle. Maybe buy a wristband, leave a note on your desk or change the wallpaper on your phone adding the words – “Stay Positive”. Once you catch yourself in negative self-talk, it’s important to answer the following questions to help you put things into perspective –
- What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
- Are my thoughts factual, or are they just my interpretations?
- Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
- How can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?
4. Consume A Healthy Diet
By eating healthy foods, you can strengthen the brain and develop new stronger pathways across the brain.
“The brain uses nutrients to produce brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, a protein that’s essential to the central nervous system.”
“Some research suggests that BDNF could support neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to adapt, rewire itself and grow. This would be especially beneficial in recovery from trauma and mental illness.” – precisionnutrition.com
Try to implement the following into your diet if you haven’t already –
a) Omega-3 Fatty Acids – these are known to be the building blocks for healthy brain development.
b) Vitamin B12 – studies have shown a deficiency in vitamin B12 has been linked to depression. Check out this study from the British Journal of Psychiatry.
c) Vitamin D – Research has shown mixed results in fighting depression, but Vitamin D is associated with healthy brain development and function.
Check out this post for a complete list – 10 Foods I Eat and Avoid Because I’m Bipolar
5. Get Enough Sleep
The connection between sleep and bipolar disorder has been mentioned several times. Getting enough sleep is a natural way to level mood swings and cure depressive symptoms. Sleep does regulate the neurotransmitters – noradrenaline (norepinephrine), serotonin, and dopamine which are responsible for regulating mood in individuals.
“Three brain chemicals — noradrenaline (norepinephrine), serotonin, and dopamine — are involved in both brain and bodily functions. Noradrenaline and serotonin have been consistently linked to psychiatric mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.” – webmd.com
It`s important to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep a night. Not only that, but you need to make sure you are in bed around the same time because this will help you build a positive sleeping habit. If you have problems getting to sleep at night then try avoiding caffeine and external light sources (computer and television).
To learn more about the connection between sleep and depression, read – The Connection Between Bipolar Disorder and Sleep. It discusses how a managed sleeping schedule will cure both manic and depressive symptoms.
6. Complete Small Goals Every Day
It’s human nature to feel disappointed when you don’t achieve something but, on the other hand, achieving your goals is great motivation. Therefore, it’s so important to set small goals for yourself every day. These goals can be to read 5 pages of a book, clean your room or apply to a specific job every day. Your goal should be to create a list of items you want to complete every day, then check them off one by one. Here’s what happens in the brain when you set goals –
Each time you complete one goal, your brain will release dopamine giving you that instant gratification feeling.
“Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.” – Lifehack.org
Dopamine is a reward often achieved by accomplishing something important. Create small goals every day which makes you a better person. One goal can be to help someone every day or to learn something new every day. The point is you want to accomplish something helping you progress further NOT backward.
7. Group Therapy Works
Group therapy is a great place to connect with others who are NOT family or friends. It’s also an awesome place to learn depression coping skills because you get input from others who have been living with depression for several years. Depression awareness is at an all-time high with millions of dollars being invested in research. This has allowed governments to fund depression group therapy sessions. Sometimes the onset of depression can be attributed to not having anyone to talk to. Group therapy is a direct solution to this problem providing you with people 24/7.
These sessions help you find your own voice by identifying feelings and thoughts holding you back. It’s a place for you to finally express them and get help for them. Here’s something I read on Psychcentral.com –
“Many people don’t know how they are feeling when they are interacting with other people, because it can be challenging to be self-connected when connecting with others. This is one of the things I focus on most in my groups.”
8. Happily Ever Laughter
Laughter helps reduce stress levels and will increase endorphins in your body. Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers and fight off the stress hormone cortisol. Some experts suggest laughing with people and/or in a group reduces feelings of loneliness and increases those of belonging. From experience, many of my depressive thoughts would include those of being alone and not being good enough. Having that feeling of belonging definitely helped build confidence and enlightened my mood.
At home, you should try laughter yoga which is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. It only takes a few minutes and has proven to dramatically improve both your physical and physiological state. If you’re not ready for laughter yoga, then create a collection of funny TV shows you love to watch. Put one on the next time you feel depressed.
9. Gratitude (Look at What You Have)
When depressed, we often wish things were different and ask questions like: why don’t I have this? Or I will be happier if things were like this?
Since we are asking questions based on what we don’t have, you are attracting negative energy to yourself. This will push you into a more negative state. Remember, asking questions on what we don’t have will NOT get us the things we want. But, being grateful for what we already have in life is a great to stop those negative thoughts. Sometimes we need a good kick in the ass to realize that we are very lucky. Sometimes we need direction to understand how things could have been worse. By appreciating what you have you’ll notice that you have a great support system, awesome friends, food, money, and a roof over your head.
You shouldn’t be asking questions, but making bold loud statements. Tell yourself – I shouldn’t be depressed because I have all these wonderful things to be grateful about. Your very lucky so act like it. 🙂
10. Medication Helps
Depression is very complex and research shows it’s caused by a chemical imbalance. Even though we are talking about natural ways to cope with depression, it helps to know that medication is a viable solution. Medication helps restore the chemical imbalance in your brain helping you cope with depression. You can take medication to provide a foundation for yourself and then apply these natural alternatives mentioned here. Medication is extremely important to get a handle on depression when dealing with severe cases.
“Antidepressants work by balancing chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions. These depression medicines can help improve your mood, help you sleep better, and increase your appetite and concentration.” – webmd.com
11. Journaling and/or Writing Your Thoughts
This is one of the most natural ways to cope with depression. A strategy based on your own internal thoughts where you are projecting your feelings on paper. It’s a natural way to observe your thoughts and how unrealistic some of them are. Journaling is amazing because it allows you to see a destructive pattern holding you back and allows you to take clear action. It’s cost effective and can be done virtually anywhere. Download an app on your mobile phone to quickly write down your thoughts as they happen.
You can write a few lines or even 4-5 pages to vent whatever is on your mind. You don’t even need to re-read what you wrote down if it makes you feel like you’re going backward. Journaling allows you to get negative energy out of your head which also helps if you’re struggling with anger.
12. Music Therapy
With this type of therapy, music is used to as per individual basis to address physical, emotional, and the social needs of the person. Listening to music allows the person to express themselves in non-verbal ways and the melodies in music help stimulate senses like slowing heart rate and breathing. Music combined with other natural remedies like talk therapy has been shown to boost the levels of dopamine, which plays a role in the reward-motivation behavior.
Music keeps your mind busy and motivates you to get things done. Your mind keeping busy means you’re not focusing on destructive negative thoughts. Music gets people moving and people engaging with the physical participation averting depression.
13. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
This approach assumes a person’s mood is directly related to their environment. CBT works at controlling the way someone who is depressed defines their environment. For example, two people in the same situation can view what’s happening around them differently. How they view the environment is defined through previous experiences, conditioning, and engrained judgment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works at lowering depression by targeting those negative thought patterns or triggers found in the environment around you. For example, if you get depressed at school than helping you eliminate a negative thought pattern by coming up with alternative positive ones would be the goal of CBT. Essentially, its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behaviors that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.
CBT has been proven to be very effective in treating depression, but it does take time. You need to follow a program and first learn to identify those thoughts causing depression. You can start feeling better after 10-20 sessions after you’ve identified those stressors or false perceptions causing depression. In the end, you’ll automate the process involved in blocking false perceptions and the amount you dwell on negative thought patterns.
Here are some resources for you to check out –
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Outline of Model
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy | CBT | Simply Psychology
- 25 CBT Techniques and Worksheets for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
14. Prayer with Meditation
Meditation has always been a great way to lower your stress and clear your mind. It’s more effective now because of the resources available online. A simple search in Google or YouTube will provide you with meditation strategies to perform at home. When meditating, you are relaxing your mind or clearing it focusing on the present. The assumption is you get depressed because you dwell on the past. But, living in the present removes dwelling on the past helping you cope with depression. The more you meditate, the more you’ll gain control of your thought patterns. This leads to better focusing with less time spent thinking about false perceptions.
Here’s a – Five Minute Miracle – Daily Guided Meditation
The word mindfulness is very broad so let me define in a way I understand it –
Mindfulness is being fully aware of the present tense. It’s living in the moment completely so your mind cannot travel into false perceptions, and negative thinking holding back your progress. I’ve been trying hard to practice mindfulness every day and have become better at it. I can catch myself when my mind starts to drift into negative thoughts like – “I keep making mistakes”, “no one likes me”, “I made a mistake and no one will like me after”, and “why am I worthless”.
William Marchand, M.D author of – Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Your Guide to Recovery, said the following –
“Focusing on the here and now helps individuals become aware of their negative thoughts, acknowledge them without judgment and realize they’re not accurate reflections of reality”
So, how can you practice mindfulness? When I first started, I needed something to remind me to snap out of my negative thinking whenever my mind started to drift. I have a band around my wrist so I can remind myself to always live in the present. It became easier for me to snap out of negative thinking because all I had to do was look at my wrist as a reminder. I recommend hanging something around your neck or tying something around your wrist to serve as a queue whenever your mind starts to drift. After a week of practicing mindfulness, you’ll have an easier time snapping out of distorted false thoughts. Right now, I don’t dwell for more than 10 seconds on a negative thought because I’ve practiced enough to automate the process. Another great way is to try – The 10 Day Mental Challenge.
16. Playing Games (Distraction)
A natural way to cope with depression from almost anywhere in the world. I never thought of this strategy until a blog reader posted it on my Facebook wall. I would like to take this time to thank him. 🙂
A natural way to cope with depression from almost anywhere in the world. I never thought of this strategy until a blog reader posted it on my Facebook wall. I would like to take this time to thank him. 🙂
Playing cards is a great way to keep your mind busy, especially, if you’re playing games which are endless i.e. Panda. I want to add simulation video games like SimCity too. When playing the Panda card game, you have a simple goal which is to collect the most adorable Pandas. The instructions will tell you which Pandas are the most adorable, and various panda powers will let you trade, steal, hide, and reveal pandas to outwit your opponents.
The strategic video game SimCity gives you complete control of a city. You have missions where your city needs to earn money, build residential, commercial, and industrial structures. As you move up the latter, you will be given special monuments to add to your city. However, you are faced with natural disasters and poor relationships with neighboring cities can lower city income.
Both are awesome games to keep your mind busy focusing on the present not distorted thoughts. The goal when choosing games is to create a distraction doing something you enjoy.
17. Counting Your Blessings (Even the Smallest Ones)
I believe counting your blessings every day is one of the best ways to be grateful for what you have “not” what you don’t. Negativity is what brings you down and overtime this negative thinking for prolong periods lead to depression. Here’s something from powerofpositivity.com –
“Stress from negative thinking creates changes in the brain that may affect your likelihood of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and mood disorders.”
From my own personal experience constant, negative thinking made me feel worse about myself. Even though I was so blessed I always wanted more. I was never happy and this fed my depression triggering mood swings. However, once I started counting my blessings, I realized how lucky I was. Here are some ways to count your blessings –
- Enjoy the smallest thing in life because others don’t even get to experience them. You’re lucky you do!
- Do everything with your full attention. Whatever you’re doing always live in the present. Focus on the task at hand and the pleasures that come from it.
- Make time for others. Being around others help keep your mind busy and get a positive point of view from them.
- Don’t waste your time sitting on your ass. Time is the most important commodity because you never get it back. Keep yourself busy and finish the things on your daily list (create one if you don’t have one)
- Know each day is a blessing because you don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring.
Lisa Weber from my Facebook page said the following –
“Counting your blessings even the smallest ones…I woke up today healthy my family is good etc. It gives you some positivity”
18. Opposite Action
A type of Dialectical Behavior Therapy which works by helping you change the response to different emotional states. With this type of therapy, you’re not suppressing your emotion but changing the action you take when that emotion is felt. With depression, for example, when we are feeling low we often get consumed with negative thoughts i.e. no one wants us around, I’d be better off staying in bed, etc. A way to act opposite to these emotions is to get ourselves up and doing something (go for a walk, go to the grocery store, visit a friend, go to therapy, etc.). We are not denying our emotion, but we are challenging it by acting opposite to it.
“Opposite action” has become a popular therapy method with a lot of resources online. I haven’t tried this therapy, but studies have shown it to be very effective. Check out these resources –
- Mindfulness Muse
- Opposite Action – DBT Self Help
- Opposite to Emotion Action: A DBT Skill to Reduce Problem Behaviors
19. Books Are Very Helpful
I love reading, as a matter of fact, many of the depression coping skills I’ve learned come from blogs, books, and audible. There’s a book recommended by my blog reader called – You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. It’s available on Amazon and is rated 4.5/5 (2,251 reviews). I recommend all of you should purchase this book and read it because it changed my life. In short, this book suggests whatever we think about ourselves become the truth and that we are responsible for the identity we have given to ourselves. Buy it and read it. 🙂
There’s a lot of free information available online if you want to start by reading blogs. If you don’t like reading period, then buy an Audible subscription which costs no more than $14.00 a month. Personally, reading changed my life because it provided an alternative place for my mind to go whenever I would be thinking negative. Over time, reading provided me with coping strategies to deal with my negative energy by showing me alternative positive strategies and mindfulness techniques.
20. CBD (Cannabidiol)
To be honest, I never tried this strategy or even heard about it until it was mentioned on my Bipolar Facebook page. I can’t shed light on how effective CBD’s are in lowering depression. Below, I’ve posted a few paragraphs on what I’ve read and the studies on CBD’s. –
“In 2014, a study conducted with animal models showed the potential of CBD as an anti-depressant and anxiolytic-like compound. The animal models went through a number of scenarios, including swim tests, conflict tests, and a maze. When treated with CBD, the subjects showed to have fewer instances of depression and anxiety.”
“To further support our discussion of the endocannabinoid system in regards to mood and mental health disorders, a study conducted in 2009 shows the need to address this system in pharmacology. Perhaps, researchers should turn to CBD!”
21. Effectively Communicate
Communication is about clearing your mind and letting those around you know when you need help. Many people living with depression keep their feelings bottled up inside so are left to deal with their distorted thoughts on their own. Often those depressed will be stuck in a cycle of negative thinking not being able to break free because they can’t find an alternative positive thought process. Therefore, communication is very important and it must be done effectively. For example, it’s one thing to talk about 20% of your problems, but it’s another thing to have someone in your life to be completely transparent with. To find effective relief to your depression, you need to be 100% truthful in your thoughts and feelings. Get it?
Communication has two important ingredients – someone who talks (you) and someone who listens (a close friend, family member, and/or doctor). You need both so should have someone in your life willing to listen. Take time to find someone you can depend on and ask them to help when you need them. I let my close friend and a family member know what I was going through and asked them to be my support column. They both agreed. Take time now to find someone who you are comfortable opening up to 100%, not 20%.
22. Don’t Drink Alcohol
Alcohol is a temporary solution to your negative feelings. It de-sensitizes you from your painful feelings for a short period, but once alcohol wear’s off you’ll be left in a withdrawal state of mind. Once alcohol wears off all your problems will return which can make your depression worse. Recently, I published an in-depth article on – Bipolar and Alcohol, please take time to read it.
23. Wall of Positive Affirmations
A great way to get your mind off negative thinking and live in the moment. I’ve created a list of positive affirmations, quotes, and a collection of pictures that make me feel happy. They are all over my room so each time I lift my head, I see them. I suggest you do the same and paste them on the wall wherever you spend most of your time. For example, bedroom, office, and living room are all great options. Here are some to practice every day and to add to your list –
- I live in the present and am confident of the future.
- I feel joy and contentment in this moment right now.
- I awaken in the morning feeling happy and enthusiastic about life.
- I know exactly what I need to do to achieve success.
- I feel powerful, capable, confident, energetic, and on top of the world.
- I expect to be successful in all of my endeavors. Success is my natural state.
- When I breathe, I inhale confidence and exhale timidity.
- I am energetic and enthusiastic. Confidence is my second nature.
24. Watch Oprah’s Master Class Show
You can read about it here. You can sign-in with your TV provider to watch full episodes. If you have the OWN channel, you’ll find them there too.
I didn’t know how powerful this series was until I started watching it. I found it when skimming through the channels one day. The series is about successful people and their struggles throughout life. Some episodes are very deep because you hear stories about how some people lived in their car, struggled with depression, and fought rejection before finding success. It’s very inspiring. But, here’s the true lesson I gained from this series –
Each person provides you with powerful lessons on how to overcome struggle. These lessons are very powerful in helping everyone especially those living with depression. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m not alone in my struggle. Many people before me live or have lived with depression. But, they used the skills they learned and were relentless in making their dreams come true. You can do the same but you need a reminder sometimes. This is a great show full of inspirational stories to change your current mindset.
25. Answer the “Question(s)” Holding You Back
Our distorted thoughts are full of unanswered questions. Some thoughts are misconceptions about ourselves, but some come from how we think someone else perceives us. For example, depression can be caused because you think your best friend doesn’t think you’re good enough. If this thought is holding you back then force yourself to find an answer to it. I know depression is sometimes caused by various negative thoughts which require a lot more effort. But, find answers to those questions you control right now. So, if you feel depressed because you have a preconceived notion that your friend doesn’t respect you, then do this –
a) Know you have nothing to lose by calling them and letting them know what’s on your mind. It’s about knowing that mentally you can only gain from getting an answer.
b) When you call them, it’s important to let them know why you feel the way you do. Be calm, gentle, and explain why you’re asking them this question. What’s the worst that can happen? Your friend will tell you they doesn’t respect you for whatever reason. At least now you know how they feel. You can adjust if you feel they have a valid point. This will only make you better and stronger.
By simply asking the right questions, you’ll get answers to questions on your mind. This is very powerful because it will help reduce a negative circle of thoughts in your mind. With less negative thoughts, the fewer holding you back from happiness.
I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for 17+ years and have learned a lot throughout my struggle. Bipolar is a disorder splitting your mood between highs (mania) and lows (depression). Medication does help to strengthen your foundation, but you need to keep building on it. You need to find healthy ways to cope with depression through trial and error. For example, some methods work better than others because everyone is different. You will be comfortable using some methods over others because they come more naturally to you i.e. reading, meditation, group therapy, and not drinking. But, some of you might prefer other methods.
Personally, 90% of the strategies are amazing and the other 10% I’m not sure about because I haven’t used them. Either way, I’ve included them in the list above because of how effective they’ve been in helping others. I encourage you to go through the list and implement them into your life. Hopefully, they will be effective in helping you cope with depression. It’s all about trial and error. To close, I want to say the following –
Be relentless, be focused, and never give up in your search for a calm and happier life. Happiness is in your hands so take time to learn more about yourself and what strategies help you feel better.