September 7, 2023/Mental Health

What To Do When You Feel Depressed

Learning your warning signs can help push back against an episode of depression

Person walking in park with ear buds and listening to smartphone.

If you’ve experienced depression, you know the feelings of helplessness or hopelessness that creep into your thoughts when an episode begins. The sensation of being depressed comes with a certain familiarity.

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That knowledge is power. And you can use it to your advantage.

“While you can’t necessarily stop or cure depression, you can reduce the severity of an episode using effective and readily identifiable coping tools,” says psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD.

Here are seven ways to push back against depression when you feel it coming on.

1. Learn your depression warning signs

What are your early signals of feeling depressed? Does your sleep pattern change? Do you suddenly start eating more or less? Do you become more irritable and withdraw from family and friends?

Learning your signs of depression offers you a chance to act early to head off an episode. “You can take some proactive steps to stop depression from advancing,” says Dr. Borland.

2. Reach out to your support network

Many people begin to isolate themselves when they start feeling depressed. Fight the urge to withdraw, as it’s almost guaranteed to make you feel worse.

Reach out to trusted family members, friends, coworkers or clergy and talk to them about how you’re feeling. If you’re not seeing a therapist, maybe use the situation as a reason to search one out.

3. Practice good sleep habits

Depression often disrupts sleeping patterns, either by keeping you in bed longer or reducing your ZZZs. Working to keep a consistent sleep schedule may help you feel better, notes Dr. Borland.

So, avoid the urge to nap during the day or lounge in bed long after you wake up. If you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep at night, try limiting your caffeine intake and reducing screen time before heading off to bed.

4. Focus on good food

Changes in appetite that often go with depression can make it difficult to keep healthy eating habits. But poor nutrition will only fuel your depression and heighten any negative feelings.

If you’re someone who stops eating when depressed, invest in easy-to-prepare soups, sandwiches and frozen meals that you enjoy and keep to your normal dining schedule.

Are you someone who eats more when depressed? Then, stock your kitchen with healthier snacks, fruits and veggies so healthy choices are available. Try cultivating coping skills that don’t involve food, too.

5. Limit alcohol intake

Depression and alcohol don’t mix.

As a depressant, alcohol will worsen your mood, warns Dr. Borland. Beer, wine and liquor also can wreak havoc on your sleep and bring other physical and emotional complications that won’t help your situation.

6. Exercise

Getting moving might help you move past being depressed. Research shows that exercise can be a powerful tool to boost your mood, improve energy levels and fill your nights with sound sleep.

You don’t have to drag yourself through a strenuous workout either. Just going on a 10-minute walk can make a difference.

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7. Engage in activities

One of the hallmarks of depression is losing interest in doing … well, much of anything. Try your best to keep to your regular schedule and routine even if you’re not motivated to take part in activities.

Better yet, try something different to create a spark. Maybe that means getting creative through writing, painting or playing music. Or visiting a nearby park or museum for the first time. Or volunteering to do good within your community.

Even if you think you’re only going through the motions, participating in something allows you to shift your focus and connect with others — which can help you feel less depressed.

Bottom line

There’s no surefire way to stop an episode of depression in its tracks. “But having a plan to address depression when it strikes can make it more manageable,” encourages Dr. Borland.

And that can help you to feel better much sooner.

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