Some quick tools to ease the symptoms of a depressive episode.
Depression can be as unpredictable as it is insidious. It can sneak up on you at almost any time… even when everything seems to be going well, and even when things are “great.”
In trying to reconcile this, you may ask yourself, “How can I feel so bad when I have so much to be grateful for?” Or worse, “I have no right to feel depressed.” Such thoughts are not helpful. They only perpetuate feelings of guilt—depression’s closest friend and ally.
Clinical depression can seep into your relationships, your work, and your overall sense of self. It can pack quite a punch. Fortunately, there are tools available that can help you fight back.
Most important, of course, is preventative care (therapy, a positive support system, getting enough sleep and exercise, etc.). However, if you find yourself in the midst of a depressive episode, below are some on-the-spot, immediate actions you can take. None of these “tools” will cure depression, but at the very least, they may lift the clouds a bit.
1. Move your body. The most immediate way to fight depressive symptoms in the moment is by moving your body. Of course, when you are depressed, exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing. However, it does not have to be strenuous and can be any type of physical activity.
Something as simple as 20 jumping jacks or simply shaking your body for a minute or longer can make a difference. Our bodies and minds are interconnected; if we let our bodies lead, the mind is likely to follow.
2. Pick up the phone. Call someone. A friend. A family member. Any type of social connection can be incredibly healing… with one caveat. Be sure the person with whom you are connecting is someone who nourishes you rather than depletes you and is a positive support.
Even texting someone if you are unable to call can provide a sense of connection. If you do not have anyone to call or text, go online and find one of the hundreds of support forums or chat rooms and connect with others who are going through the same thing as you. Human connection is a powerful healer.
3. Identify potential triggers. Although a depressive episode can seem to come out of nowhere and for no “good reason,” more often than not, there is an external trigger. Whether it is an unpleasant conversation or event that you have not yet processed or—much harder to detect—a self-defeating thought.
This may lead you to say, “But nothing happened, and I wasn’t even thinking about anything at the moment.” The latter is not possible. We are always in thought. Whether we are pondering the meaning of life or deciding what shoes to wear, our thoughts persist.
Negative thoughts can become background noise. Like the sirens that you hear so often, you no longer notice them. In the worst cases, these negative thoughts can morph into deeply held self-beliefs. For example, if you failed a test or lost your job, some distorted, negative thoughts that may come up can include: “I failed because I’m not smart enough,” or “I’ll never find another job again.” Just because you think it—and feel it—does not make it true. Our job is to catch these thoughts before they take over and then to defy them.
4. Defy the triggering thought. One of depression’s greatest strengths is telling lies. Do not believe them.
Once you have identified the negative thought, challenge its validity. For example, when you tell yourself, “I’ll never find another job again,” ask yourself: How do you know that? You cannot predict the future. Or to, “I’m not smart enough,” you can respond by identifying evidence against this, such as all of the times you did well or listing all of your achievements thus far.
Also, be careful about generalizing. Just because you lost one job, or you failed one test, does not translate to never getting any job, or failing every test you ever take. No matter what depression tells you!
5. Come back to the present. When depression has you in its powerful grip, rational thought can be a challenge. Often, the emotional part of the brain (the limbic system) can take over the more evolved part (the prefrontal cortex) that controls cognitive functions such as rational thought.
Here is where mindfulness comes in. This does not mean you have to sit and meditate for 20 minutes (although practicing meditation is one of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness). It can be as simple as catching a negative thought and immediately shifting the focus to something physical in the present, such as your breath or the sounds or smells around you. More than just a buzzword, mindfulness is something that will serve you throughout your life.
6. Get lost in a good movie. Every once in a while, we all need to get out of our heads. In a non-destructive way, of course. Watching a good movie is one of those ways. Choose a comedy or at least an uplifting film—no tearjerkers. Below I have included just a few examples of funny and/or lighthearted movies that you can add to your toolbox for fighting depression:
A Fish Called Wanda
When Harry Met Sally
Crazy Rich Asians
There’s Something About Mary
Meet the Parents
Waiting for Guffman
The King of Comedy
All of Me
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK(8255). Crisis counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This article was originally published on Psychology Today.