By Cailin Loesch
When you are suffering from depression, whether short or long-term, learning coping skills and practicing them every day can help you on the path to recovery, says Bryan Bushman, PhD.
Bushman, who is a licensed clinical psychologist at McKay-Dee Behavioral Health, writes that even in those suffering from major depression, it’s sometimes the little things that we do to take care of ourselves, like exercise and mindfulness, that makes a big difference.
“It’s important to know you probably won’t be motivated to do any of them at first because depression frequently saps motivation,” he writes. “In other words, know that it’s normal to feel unmotivated until you’re halfway done.”
1. Find Meaning
Finding meaning in your day-to-day can be as simple as finding small ways to be of service to others, says Bushman. It doesn’t have to be big to count, but the idea that going out of our way to help others makes us happy is a concept that’s actually backed by research.
2. Set Workable Goals
The key word here is workable. Goal-setting can be overwhelming, which Bushman says is often because we tend to set “unreasonable or unworkable” goals, then feel guilty when we are unable to achieve them. Bushman defines a workable goal as one that is:
- Something you can control (i.e., it doesn’t depend on others)
- Manageable (i.e., not overwhelming)
- Realistic for you (not for someone else)
- Measurable (i.e., you know whether or not it is done or getting done)
When we set workable goals and follow through, we get a sense of satisfaction that can boost our mood. Bushman emphasizes that even when we are not able to meet our goals, we need to adopt a “what can I learn from this?” attitude versus one that places judgment on ourselves and crushes our confidence. He also reminds us that it is unfair — and usually not accurate — to compare our biggest weaknesses with another person’s biggest strengths.
3. Schedule Pleasant Events
Sometimes, when we are depressed, we lose interest in or energy for activities or events that would once bring us joy. But Bushman says that you shouldn’t wait for yourself to be “in the mood”
– set aside at least 30 minutes every day to do something fun or relaxing. Call a friend, take a bath, play a game, or treat yourself to a nice dinner. If you plan to do it ahead of time, you will be giving yourself something to look forward to, even if it’s small.
In addition, remember to practice gratitude — take notice of what goes well each day, not just what goes wrong. Keep in mind that counting your blessings doesn’t mean you have to dismiss your problems.
4. Engagement: Stay in the Present
Practice mindfulness by trying to get out of your head with negative self-talk throughout the day. No matter what you are doing, focus on the task at hand. It’s easier said than done, but you can practice self-compassion by gently bringing yourself back to the present when you find your mind wandering with negative thoughts.
5. Exercise and Eat Right
Even getting moderate exercise 30 minutes a day, five times a week can dramatically improve your mood, Bushman says. How can you tell what’s considered moderate exercise? If it’s difficult to sing from your diaphragm while you’re doing it!
Also, take note of how you feel after eating different foods. Consume carbs, junk food, and energy drinks in moderation.
6. Relationships: Focus on People Who Lift You Up
Try to keep yourself surrounded by people who lift you up, even when depression makes you want to isolate yourself. Even just a few minutes with someone who cares about you and makes you laugh is time well spent.
7. Sleep Regularly
Poor sleep has been linked to depression, but the number of hours of shut-eye isn’t the only sleep factor that could play a role in depression. Research shows that it’s also important to keep yourself on a regular sleep schedule. Staying up late and then sleeping in excessively the next morning might contribute to mood problems.
Following the above tips may not be a definite cure for depression for all people, but they can help. Never hesitate to seek help for issues relating to mental health. For more information, visit www.psychiatry.org.