Depression is no laughing matter. Contrary to some cliché, it’s not just about feeling a bit down or having a temporary life setback.
Unfortunately, depression is often a lot worse than that.
It can suck all the color out of life and make it feel like a tired routine with no zest or vitality and nothing to look forward to or enjoy.
It can literally sap your will to live or even get out of bed.
Just when you think you’ve got depression beat it creeps back around the corner and makes everything feel useless, hopeless and f*cking awful.
I know because I’ve struggled with it myself.
However, along with medication and professional help, I can recommend people to try the following approaches which have helped a lot in my journey to work past depression and live life fully once again.
Here are 26 things to do when you’re feeling depressed: whether you primarily want to combat depression, or also tackle anxiety, general stress and overall dissatisfaction with life, love and everything else, these exercises and tips will help.
1) Self-hate and self-blame won’t solve anything
Depression has a clinical and behavioral aspect. It can be triggered by trauma, genetic predisposition and many other factors including hormonal and chemical imbalance.
But regardless of its various causes, depression has common features: it leans towards self-blame and self-hate.
It can cause even the toughest person to sink into a pit of negative perceptions and thoughts in which they believe themselves to be a piece of garbage who is unworthy of love and won’t ever find hope or happiness in life.
The scary thing is that these negative thoughts and the confirmation bias of depression can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Imagine a song you absolutely hate playing over and over for years in your ears at top volume.
Depression is like that. And moving past depression and on to new things has to start with refusing to blame and hate yourself for being depressed.
You do not “deserve” to be depressed or feel alone and unworthy. These are lies. You must drown out the voice of depression and do anything – even small things – to begin once again to love yourself.
2) Do a self-healing guided meditation
Meditation has been proven to have numerous benefits and I know that for me, doing a self-healing guided meditation daily has been extremely beneficial.
Our bodies and minds have enormous power that many of us don’t tap into. Either we aren’t made aware of it or we turn to external sources for help.
We become convinced of our own powerlessness and begin to feel absolutely hopeless.
The great news is that your body and mind truly does have major restorative power, and things like the free self-healing guided meditation do make a big difference.
The shaman Rudá Iandê’s free self-healing meditation focuses on the power of breathing and rebooting our respiratory system. It really transformed the way I think about breathing and my ability to heal and integrate myself.
I encourage you to try it out and see for yourself.
3) Focus on the journey not the destination
Depression can be caused by frozen anger, sadness and disappointment as well as life traumas. It often affects sensitive people who don’t see a solution or improvement to their problems and begin to feel excluded, unwanted and hopeless.
The desire to succeed and get past depression as well as to get what we want, whether it be a partner, great career or even a better physique can be an endless wild goose chase.
So many times we chase things when actually it’s feelings that we want.
There’s a constant danger of placing happiness as some perfect ideal that’s outside ourselves and always just out of reach.
But by clinging to external sources for satisfaction and focusing on obtaining what we want as the “key” to our wellbeing we often perpetuate and worsen depression.
Focus on the journey, not the destination. If you are feeling overwhelmed and done with life, try to have one good day, even one good hour.
This is itself is an accomplishment. Don’t focus on feelings of inadequacy about your job or how things will stay sh*t until ten years from now if you can become CEO. Focus on what you can do right now in this moment.
4) The love you need is within your reach
Many struggles with depression, anxiety and feelings of unworthiness are created around feeling “not good enough.”
Childhood experiences, cultural expectations and inner insecurities lead us into the illusion that we won’t be complete or happy until someone rescues us or gives us the love and attention we need.
This leads into all sorts of heartbreak, codependency and broken searches for love.
We seek out love from friends, family and partners only to find that in the end it just isn’t quite enough. Our search to find true love and intimacy seems to constantly hit a dead-end.
The truth is that the love you need is within your reach.
It’s perfectly healthy and normal to desire company and a partner or to want romance, friendship and understanding.
But you must start by giving that love and care to yourself and truly respecting and valuing yourself.
5) Pay attention to your emotional state
Especially for men, emotions are often regarded as secondary or even “weak.” There is an abiding cultural attitude that paying too much attention to being stressed, sad, angry or fearful is indulgent or over-sensitive.
The truth is that repressing your emotions and disregarding your emotional state is genuinely dangerous.
Certainly this can go too far, and you don’t want to be the guy or gal who is constantly self-monitoring, complaining or being obsessed with minor emotional fluctuations.
But on the other hand you also don’t want to be the person shaking with anxiety on the subway home until you can down a bottle of whiskey and pretend everything is fine until two months later when you are rushed to hospital after a massive nervous breakdown.
Take your emotional states seriously. Severe depression, anxiety and stress issues can creep up on you and they specialize in coming at those who try to push them down or pretend they don’t exist.
6) Save comparisons for the produce section
My whole life I’ve been someone who was obsessed with comparing myself to others.
Even as a kid I would go into a tearful meltdown at other kids getting to eat candy or watch shows that I wasn’t allowed to watch.
I had the pervasive sense that other people were getting “things” and experiences that I was being deprived of by a cruel universe, over-protective parents or (insert thing to blame).
The truth is that comparing your own life to others or believing you have been uniquely victimized and deprived is a path to endless misery.
Right now someone is sitting in a perfect villa with a supermodel wife and enjoying an incredible bottle of champagne after having all their dreams come true.
Someone else is struggling in a dark mine in Sub-Saharan Africa to mine minerals for Apple cellphones in order to get enough money to buy rice tomorrow.
Chances are your life may not be either of these extremes.
But comparing it to others and setting conditions on life before it will be satisfactory to you inherently makes you a victim and disempowers you.
It places you in regret or sadness at the past for either being better than the present or being unsatisfactory and being blamed for the present, and it sets up either idealized notions of the future that make the present seem worse, or dark visions of the future that make you feel even more hopeless.
Other people may have better lives than you. They may have love, health, money and things you don’t have. Tomorrow they could be dead, or you could.
I’m not going to lie.
The fact is, however, that you don’t have control over other people’s actions or lives: you only have control over your own.
So stop believing in the comparisons and truly embrace your own journey for its crazy ups and downs.
That’s the only place that depression can begin to loosen its talons.
Save comparisons for judging how ripe watermelons are in the produce aisle. Your life is unique and it’s not accurate to judge it against anyone else’s.
7) Be honest: there’s a lot that’ s right about you
Think of depression as the worst critic who ever reviewed a theater production, restaurant dish or movie.
No matter how many good elements it had this negative, snarky asshole is going to find something wrong and drill down on that in detail.
Depression is similar: it will convince you that your good qualities are irrelevant or fake and harp on everything you’re not good enough at or lacking as if it is the end of the world.
The more you buy into that the more you will project this insecurity out into the world and let it poison your relationship with yourself and others.
If you’re like me then you have made real mistakes it life. You have treated people poorly, you have moved to places and taken jobs that were the wrong decision, you have failed important tests and ruined relationships.
But none of this erases the fact that you are also a person with kindness, intelligence and the power to act positively right now in this moment.
Be honest: there’s a lot that’s right about you, starting with the fact that you’re reading an article right now about how to respond positively to depression.
That’s a start, and it shows that you’re far from the useless hunk of junk that your depression wants to tell you that you are.
8) Embrace the power of laughter
When you’re depressed jokes often seem to fall flat. You feel pressured to laugh or know you “should” but you just don’t care.
Your friend tells you a joke and you maybe do a half-smile, or you see something that would have made non-depressed you choke with laughter and just manage a half shrug. Fuck the world, you think, what is there to laugh about anyway.
Well, actually, there’s a lot.
You don’t have to take it from me, but there’s a lot about life, each other and this chunk of rock we live on that is absolutely, hilariously ridiculous.
And letting yourself laugh at some of it doesn’t mean you aren’t depressed or that it’s not serious. It doesn’t mean anything except that you allow yourself to have a chuckle now and then.
Go through “funniest dog noises” on YouTube or watch karaoke fails. Check out a silly cartoon sometimes or let your friend hit your funny bone now and then.
Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not.
But let yourself be open to it.
Laughing in the face of chaos is powerful medicine, my friend.
9) Commit to a kickass morning routine
I know from my own experience that one of the hardest things about depression can just be getting out of bed in the morning.
When you don’t see the point to life anymore even the most basic things like putting your feet over the edge of the bed and getting your day started can seem completely useless.
That’s where a morning routine comes into play.
Start simple with stretching, doing a short meditation and making a cup of coffee and small breakfast and go from there.
Maybe add in a short poetry or inspirational verse.
Your morning routine is up to you: it can be short and sweet. Do it everyday and you’ll start reaping some benefits.
Your depression won’t necessarily vaporize overnight, but you’ll start to treasure this little pocket of morning motivation.
10) Structure your life
Depression flourishes in a vacuum. Wanting time alone and space can give time to recuperate, but too much isolation and open-ended days can lead down a dark path.
This is where structure becomes crucial.
Structure means scheduling. It means having specific times of the day when you do specific things.
Particularly during quarantine and virtual work environments it can be tempting to let things slide.
Sleep in a few hours, have a late lunch and then get caught up in Netflix.
But this going easy on yourself mentality can end up being very bad for depression in the long run.
Instead of giving in to anything goes, try out structure for a few weeks.
Set aside a day for cleaning your living space and structure daily work and meal preparation times and maybe times for socializing, relaxation, walking your dog and creative activities.
You should begin to notice small improvements in your mood and a growing sense of fulfillment and security.
11) Your diet can make a big difference
Everyone’s heard it, but it’s true: your diet can make a big difference to your mental health.
I’m not saying that a better diet will “cure” your depression, but it certainly won’t make it worse.
A cup of natural, fresh-squeezed juice on a hot day can leave you refreshed and rejuvenated, while a greasy burger after a day of Doritos and TV can leave you feeling like a splotch of gum on the pavement.
Your diet doesn’t only boost your physical wellbeing, it nourishes your mind, mood and overall wellness.
Making sure to get plenty of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients is a great thing to do if you are struggling with depression.
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12) Break out of the isolation
When I was depressed I actively avoided other people, social situations and communication of any kind.
Even an incoming phone call was like an intrusion into my world of misery.
Depression gets worse in isolation.
Even if you just go out for a drink with friends or a dinner with a colleague, do something small each week to break out of your bubble.
Even one or two events and social situations per week can boost your mental state and leave you in a state of greater emotional health.
Sometimes reaching out can be as simple as having an honest conversation with your mom or opening up to a friend about where you’re at.
Other times it can be going for a little walk with someone or trying some Thai food with your coworker.
Break out of that self-isolation even if it’s just a little.
13) Furry friends can be a lifesaver
Close relationships with pets have been shown to improve mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Spending time with your furry friend can be a great way to boost your mood and make you feel less alone.
Sometimes you just don’t want to be around others or go out to the party or talk on the phone. And in these cases it’s OK to just sit with your paw pal and enjoy a quiet night in front of a great movie with a cup of hot chocolate.
Cuddle time with your cat, canine or any other animal friend can be really healing and leave you feeling just a little bit better about your life and life in general.
Let the love flow.
14) Try looking at the past in a different way
Along with making us believe the worst about ourselves and focus on past disappointment and future fears, depression can spin crazy stories.
It can convince us of a narrative about our lives that’s genuinely hopeless.
It can take neutral events and make us the villain.
It can take a breakup and convince us that proves we will never find real love again or succeed in a relationship.
Depression knows how to hit where it hurts, and it comes out of insufficient self-love and being overly willing to believe the worst of ourselves.
Try reframing the past in a different way. Imagine you are a “life investigator” looking back and you are required to be completely objective.
Take a situation that often gets to you in the back of your head in your most depressed moments and then dissect that situation.
Were you really to blame? Could you really have reacted so differently or did you do the best you could?
Be objective and level some criticism if necessary. Nonetheless you’re going to notice that you haven’t done half as badly in life as you might think you have and that you’re actually a lot stronger than you realized …
15) Let go of professional pressure
If you have a high-powered job and major expectations in your career this may not always be an immediate option.
But in general, having a ton of pressure at work or outside expectations sitting on your shoulders is going to worsen feelings of depression and inadequacy.
In general, try to give yourself space to deal with emotions and focus on living a healthier life.
If work is pushing you to eat, sleep, communicate and feel in unhealthy ways then it can be a contributing factor to depression.
Make sure you are kind to yourself as much as possible and factor in how professional pressure could be contributing to the sensation of being overwhelmed.
16) Get moving or hit the gym
Exercise is one of the best counterweights to depression.
I know it’s done wonders for me and I’ve seen it help friends and colleagues on their healing journeys from depression and anxiety as well.
If you’re depressed you will be resistant to exercise. It’s like ripping off a bandaid and you’re not even going to want to do it at all.
This is where mind over matter comes in. Your mind will tell you exercise is useless, that your life is shit, that there’s no point.
Nod and say: “maybe so. Thanks for the advice.” Then go exercise anyway. Because you can.
I started attending bi-weekly fitness classes that greatly improved my mood and I also found biking and swimming to be major pick-me-ups.
Consider getting a gym membership, going for a hike or cross-country skiing if you’re in a snowier part of our wild world.
There’s a lot to enjoy in the great outdoors, and getting the endorphins and positive feedback system of your body flowing is one of the absolute best things you can do to stave off and respond to depression.
17) Work on your money mindset
I’m not Ludwig von Mises and my libertarian days are far in the rearview mirror (in fact I openly admit that capitalism has major issues), but I have to admit that your money mindset is crucial.
Your beliefs around money, wealth and how you value your own time and energy are enormously powerful.
If you begin to improve your relationship with money and prosperity, it can act as a beneficial healing agent for your depression as a whole, since in many cases depression is linked to a loss of personal power and feelings of helplessness and paralysis.
18) Let words and song touch your soul
Words and music have a lot of power.
Listen to poetry online or even go to a poetry reading or read some out loud to yourself or friends.
Read a passage from a book you love that inspires you.
Listen to music that soothes and fortifies you.
Sit down with a book that opens your mind with its words and perspectives.
Look out on a beautiful view and let a song that means a lot to you wash over you and touch deep inside you.
Sometimes you will prefer something that reflects your state of despair a little more.
In the depths of depression I often used to listen to the song “Drowning” by Love & Theft.
“Caught in a landslide with nowhere to hide
Chasing distraction, empty inside
I’m still waiting for salvation … “
Sometimes it helps just to realize others have been right where you are.
19) Do work you’re passionate about
At the same time as I warned against work pressure and obligations overwhelming you and tipping the scales of your stress to unmanageable levels, I also advise that finding work you’re passionate about and committing to it can really help depression.
Finding your intuitive expertise and entering the flow state is a healing experience.
Work is work, and not every moment will be “easy” and you will have gaps between jobs or contracts.
But if you find work you’re passionate about and commit to it you’re going to go a long way to beginning to heal your depression and move into a more proactive space.
Doing work you’re passionate about is powerful because it’s not just about you: when you share your gifts with the world you get outside of the focus on yourself and enter into a reciprocal and nourishing relationship with life around you.
20) Join a support group
Support groups can be a place to grow, heal and communicate.
Meeting others who are going through similar struggles can be uplifting and encouraging. You will realize fully that you’re not alone.
And you’ll also be in a welcoming environment where you can share your problems and progress and speak openly about your journey.
Going to a support group even once per week or several times a week can become something you look forward to and make part of your improved schedule and daily structure.
21) Make sure you get a healthy amount of sleep
Whether you sleep too much or too little, depression is often tied to sleep issues. There can be sleepless nights that seem to go on forever full of dark thoughts and despair and then endless afternoons spent flopped down on the bed and fast asleep.
Depression can wreak havoc with your hormonal system and your sleep schedule.
For this reason it’s a good idea to keep a brief sleep journal and note down how you’re sleeping. Write down what you eat and do before you sleep as well, as this can often be tied to the restfulness of your sleep.
Getting a healthy amount of restful sleep will definitely help in beginning to heal some of the depression symptoms you’re experiencing.
22) Look on the sunny side
What I mean here is literally go seek out sun: it has Vitamin D and all sorts of beneficial effects for your mental health and emotional (and physical) wellbeing.
Getting at least 15 minutes of sun a day while wearing sunscreen is highly advisable, and if you’re inside just open up the curtains or blinds and soak in some rays.
If you’re in a dark environment you can also consider using a light therapy box to get some rays.
Sunshine is nature’s magic remedy and it can end up having numerous beneficial impacts on those who are suffering from depression.
23) Watch out for black-and-white thinking
Black and white thinking is often a telltale sign of depressing. Life is either completely useless or great.
You’re either in love and on the right track or you’re now a closed case who’s going to be alone forever.
Depression traps you on the downside, but this kind of thinking in general characterizes the kind of people who often fall prey to depression.
It’s all part of that negative self-talk and inner dialog that tells you you’re not good enough and frames reality in a negative, self-defeating way.
Ignore the narrative and don’t buy into black-and-white thinking.
24) Acceptance can be a gamechanger
Before moving through your depression it’s vital that you accept it. Pinpointing the reasons that it’s happening and how you can address it can make a big difference – as can the other items on the list- but it’s also key to not repress or deny it.
Pretending to be happy, ignoring your emotions or trying to “convince” yourself that you should be happy.
You don’t have to force yourself to be happy or push down your depression, and there is a dark side to positive thinking.
Overcoming depression is not about repressing or denying it.
Before you move past your depression and re-embrace life you must accept it is a valid experience you are going through in this moment and then you can begin to process and conquer it.
25) Help yourself by helping others
One of the best ways to approach depression is to try to help others.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, depression often gets worse the more we focus on trying to “fix” it or analyze it, and sometimes the best thing to do is reorient ourselves.
This does not mean ignoring yourself or repressing down your emotions: you should be fully accepting that you are struggling with depression and it is real.
However if possible and you can in any way help others – from an hour of tutoring online a week to helping an old lady across the street – you should go for it.
The benefits are real.
26) Give it time
At the end of the day depression isn’t like a light switch. It comes and goes in waves and even if you have overcome it in many ways it can often sneak back in certain ways.
One of the most important things in dealing with depression is to give it time.
Some days are going to be better than others.
Nobody wants to be miserable for years, that’s for sure, but if you’re hitting yourself for not feeling better sooner it’s time to take a step back and love yourself.
The experiences you are going through are deeply painful, but healing can take time.
Depression is a serious problem and the experience of being depressed can be deeply disturbing and a huge interruption in your life.
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