I have personally suffered from depression and anxiety most of my life. In fact, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel their presence. I spent a lot of time denying their existence. I think I hoped by ignoring the symptoms they would just disappear, but instead, they consumed me.
After a particularly bad depressive episode I experienced a few years ago, I decided enough was enough. I realised I needed to dedicate more time to develop strategies for coping with my mental ill-health, in particular, my depression.
So I reached out for help. I also spent a lot of time reading, learning about forgiveness, self-compassion, and other coping techniques. I dedicated time each day to practice mindfulness meditation in an attempt to learn more about myself and my relationship with depression.
I would like to share with you some of the things I discovered about myself and the ways I learned to cope with the days when I’m consumed with self-loathing and self-doubt. Through these simple strategies, I learned to accept the person I am when I’m depressed, and I even found a way to love myself again. Maybe some of these will help you as well.
10 things that have helped me cope with my depression:
1. Communicate with your loved ones about how you are feeling.
This was one of the first things I learned but probably the hardest to execute. For a long time, I resisted reaching out to loved ones and admitting I wasn’t coping well. Communicating the dark thoughts that were circling in my mind was a scary prospect. But being honest with those around me was the best thing I did for my mental well-being.
I believe it’s important to speak to someone you trust when you are feeling low, sometimes just talking about how you feel can help ease your pain. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can make you feel less alone. Also, depression is an effective liar, talking to a trusted friend or loved one can give us much needed perspective.
2. Back away from stressful situations and cancel non-urgent commitments.
Stressful situations often tip me over the edge, as I find stress harder to deal with when I’m depressed. I also don’t think straight when I’m depressed, and this leads to further frustration and anxiety. Eventually, I learned it was ok and beneficial for my mental health to back away from stressful situations and cancel commitments when needed.
It’s okay to cancel plans when your mental health is bad. Please don’t ever feel guilty about it. Cancelling plans is better than doing something that is only going to stress you out and make you feel worse. Try focusing on what’s going to help YOU instead of trying to please other people. Your health and well-being are more important.
3. Allow yourself to rest and sleep.
I was fighting so hard every day; I was exhausted. Instead of tirelessly fighting my personal battle with depression, I allowed myself to take a step back and rest. I wrongly thought that if I stopped fighting and took a break, I would let the depression to consume me, but the opposite was actually true. Resting allowed me to press my reset button and gave me the energy to cope with my depression more constructively.
Resting gives our body and mind time to repair. We often underestimate the importance of rest and the difference a few minutes of calm can make in restoring balance. Depression is exhausting, and it’s much harder to cope when we are tired. Also, please don’t beat yourself up if you need to sleep more.
4. Allow yourself to cry.
When I’m depressed, I have an overwhelming need to cry. I used to fight this feeling—I saw tears as a sign of weakness, but I’ve learned it’s important to let my feelings out. Bottling them up only leads to further pain or an explosion of another emotion, like anger.
When we are depressed, our feelings are amplified tenfold. Rather than trying to suppress these emotions, allow yourself to feel them. Your feelings are valid and need to be acknowledged.
5. Write a Journal.
At a time when I felt emotionally stronger, I compiled a list of reasons to live and positive thoughts about myself. I wrote them in a pretty journal along with photos of loved ones and images to stimulate happier thoughts. I look at this journal whenever I’m depressed and have suicidal thoughts. Having a visual tool to help me through my bad mental health days has been hugely beneficial.
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This one takes a bit of time and preparation but is worth the effort. When we are depressed, we often don’t think clearly. By focusing on the reasons we have to live and positive affirmations about ourselves, we can break the cycle of negative thoughts. You could ask your loved ones to write you messages of encouragement and include them in your journal.
I also find that writing about my feelings and emotions while experiencing them, gives me some much-needed perspective, and by writing them down, I find it takes away some of their power.
6. Find positive distractions.
When I’m feeling very low, I become consumed by the destructive thoughts in my head. Practising distraction techniques can be a useful tool in breaking this circle. When I’m depressed, I try doing an activity I enjoy, even if it takes a bit more effort than usual. For me, this is reading, writing, and listening to music.
Giving yourself a break from depressive and negative thoughts can help, even if it’s for a short time. Try doing what makes you smile, whether that’s sitting in your PJs all day and listening to music, or taking a long hot bath, or binge-watching your favourite TV show.
7. Practice mindfulness meditation
I find mindfulness meditation a useful tool when I’m depressed. I use it as a way to escape my negative and destructive thoughts, or as a means to confront and challenge them in a controlled, safe environment. Mindfulness has been more beneficial for my mental well-being than anything else I have tried.
You can use meditation as a way to create your “safe place,” a place in your imagination that you can return to again and again, when the real world becomes too much to bear. On days when my mind is a jumbled mess of self-loathing and negativity, I practice simple mindful breathing techniques. When I need a bit more structure, I use guided meditation apps.
8. Practice self-care, self-compassion, and forgiveness.
When depression hits, I’m filled with self-doubt and self-loathing. Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising myself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, I try to show myself kindness and understanding when confronted with personal failings—after all, whoever said I was supposed to be perfect?
Try cutting yourself some slack – you are worthy of love and compassion. We all make mistakes—try to forgive yourself and move on. If you struggle to fight past the destructive voice inside your head, try writing down a list of your positive attributes on one of your “good days,” or ask a friend to do this for you.
Please remember: You are not a burden, and you haven’t done anything wrong. Try to remove blame and judgmental thinking and stop blaming yourself for what is out of your control.
9. Take a break from social media.
We only see carefully edited highlights of people’s lives on social media, but it can often appear to us that other people’s lives are perfect. This can add to our insecurities and feelings of inadequacy, which often amplify our feelings of failure. No matter how much we try to avoid it, social media is also an open market for drama, stress, trolls, and judgmental thinkers.
Although social media can give us a valuable connection to the outside world, it can also add to our stress levels, and we don’t need that when we are already struggling with self-worth. Try taking a break from social media and see if it helps your mood.
10. Just breathe.
I often feel overwhelmed because I experience a whole multitude of feelings, emotions, and fears all at once. But I came to the realisation that I didn’t have to tackle all of these problems at that exact moment.
All the problems you are facing that seem insurmountable don’t have to be solved right now. You don’t have to have everything worked out immediately. Rather than worrying about all the problems running circles in your mind, try just to breathe. There will be plenty of time to confront these problems another day.
Jo Moss is a 43 year old ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Mental health awareness campaigner. She has battled with poor health all her life but has learnt a lot along the way. She uses her blog ‘A Journey through the Fog’ to try to help others who are also suffering and to raise awareness of invisible illnesses. She writes about all aspects of her health and aims to give practical advice about coping with a chronic illness, based on her own experiences. You can follow Jo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.