I wrote this post especially for ProHealth and it first appeared there on the 29th September 2018.
I have personally suffered from depression and anxiety most 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.
So, 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 developing 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.
10 things that have helped me cope with my depression
The following are some of the things that have helped me through the days when my depression takes hold and the world seems too much to bear. Maybe some of these will help you too.
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. I resisted reaching out to loved ones and admitting I wasn’t coping, for a long time. 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. So I learned it was ok, and beneficial for my mental health, to back away from stressful situations and even cancel commitments where needed.
It’s ok 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 wellbeing are more important.
3. Allow yourself to rest and sleep
I was fighting so hard everyday, I was exhausted. So, 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 allow 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 in a more constructive way.
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 with 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 any overwhelming need to cry. I used to fight this feeling as 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 suppressed 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.
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. So when I’m depressed I try doing an activity I enjoy, even if it takes a bit more effort than normal. I think of things I used to enjoy doing at times I didn’t feel so depressed. 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. So try doing what makes you smile. Whether that’s sitting in your PJs all day and listening 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 wellbeing 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, or 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, who ever 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.
You carry a heavy burden, you are not a burden, and you haven’t done anything wrong. Try to remove blame and judgemental thinking. Please try to 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 judgemental 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.
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 right now. Rather than worrying about all the problems running circles in your mind – try to just breathe. There will be plenty of time to confront these problems another day.
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