How to Manage Depression: 6 Simple Reminders
August 15, 2019 Kristance Harlow
Depression is not easy.
If depression is new to you, or coming back after a long absence, you need to give yourself time and patience to adjust to new ways of being. I’ve had depression most of my life, but I am learning to live differently than I once expected myself to. Even though it may feel strange and uncomfortable, try to be kind to yourself and give yourself space to take things slowly.
1. Dealing with Fatigue
I can see it begin to creep up on me. Depression, self-consciousness, low self-esteem, loneliness, tiptoeing towards me. I’m cornered and I don’t see an exit plan. At the moment, I’m still using fancy footwork to confuse and tire out those demons. Behind me, on the other side of the wall, is joy. I want to turn to that entirely, but a wall separates us. It’s exhausting.
A feeling of deep tiring sorrow is just one possible symptom you may experience with depression. For me, fatigue is a debilitating part of my daily life. It’s constant and powerful. Even when everything else is good on a particular day and my symptoms are minimal and I feel joyful, I will still be tired. My heavy fatigue makes everything more difficult to do.
Part of practicing self-care is that I don’t fight the fatigue; I accept it and adapt. Instead of trying to force myself to do what my body cannot, I adjust my tasks and expectations of myself to better suit my abilities.
2. Occupy Your Time
And now I’m stuck here, me and depression. I can’t look directly at it. But it senses my weakness and fear. My defenses are down. I want to go on the attack and Charlie’s Angels my way out of here. But fear keeps that thought bubbling just below the surface, it remains ideation and not action. I turn every which way, eyes darting here and there. Nothing stays in focus longer than a few seconds.
To deal with the short attention span, I find it helpful to occupy myself with a variety of distractions. Find things to do that can take up your time, whether that’s sleeping a bit more or watching television or playing a game on your phone. Maybe pick up a book, or work on something with your hands. Music can be very soothing. There are times when I’m experiencing sensory overload and have to stop completely, but usually even then if it has the right tempo and volume and no words, music can help.
Depression is growing bigger, having eaten Alice’s fantasies. It’s the demon in Spirited Away, gluttonous for pain. Now my head hurts and I can’t remember what I did in the past to get out of this corner. I sink to the floor, close my eyes and take several deliberate breaths. In and out, focusing only on that breath. When I open my eyes, I can see a sinister troll cackling behind Depression.
Depression’s troll tells me that I don’t know who the girl smiling in my photos is. That the joyful image I sometimes portray isn’t me. Depression tells me, “You don’t know where that joy is, what a facade. What a phony getup.”
When the anxiety that often accompanies depression rushes in, what helps me (even when it helps only a little) is to take a few seconds to just remember how to breathe. In and out, deep and slow. If I can close my eyes for those few seconds, even better; thinking just about the breath. Sometimes it helps a lot, sometimes it provides only those few seconds of relief; either way, it presses pause on everything else and lets my body relax for a moment.
4. Accept Yourself
When I get closer, not to examine but because I am no longer running away from it, I can see my depression for what it really is. It looks ridiculous, rubbing its hands together like a cartoon villain. I push myself up off the ground and walk up to Depression. I want to make it cower in terror, but when I stand up it shrinks down and the costume falls to the floor in a heap. I can see the air pump in the back that was blowing it up to such a size. Then I notice the heart of the facade is not a demon or a monster. It’s a sad little girl who looks just like me, maybe she is me. Her armor has been taken away and she is vulnerable. She looks at me with fear.
I swear one of the most common inspirational phrases in a Pinterest black hole is “Let it go.” When it comes to depression, I don’t know if letting go is as useful of a strategy as acceptance. They’re distinct routes to finding contentment. Moving on from a painful feeling or experience requires the ability to process memories and have healthy emotional control. Letting go implies that you can “get over it” and move forward. Someone who has depression cannot just “let it go.” Depression is a diagnosable medical condition. It affects many more aspects of life than just emotional. Some symptoms can severely impact quality of life.
Acceptance, on the other hand, is a powerful tool that people with depression can actually use. My negative feelings are recognized and the sad thoughts that come in are not to be trusted as the whole truth, they’re just there because I have this condition. Acceptance takes away some of depression’s power. Resisting depression is exhausting and doesn’t make it disappear. But practicing acceptance changes the lens through which we see our depression, making it more manageable.
5. Practice Self-Compassion
Should I destroy her, now that I’ve emerged the victor? No, I won’t do that. She needs love. I don’t embrace her in a hug, not yet, but I do walk up to her and bend down to her height. I want to tell her something, but no words come, so I just give her a small kind smile. We will get to know each other. She will see that everything will be okay, and I will see pain at its correct size, not in its monstrous manifestations.
Be compassionate with yourself. Without self-compassion we can spiral so quickly and we only prolong our own suffering. Self-compassion is a continual process that can be started over at any moment. It simply means being nice to yourself. Treat yourself with gentleness and forgiveness. With every negative thought about yourself, throw in a dose of self-love (even when you don’t believe it). Dis-identify from your thoughts.
Self-compassion can reduce the severity of anxiety disorders, depression, and improve success rates of sobriety. Researchers have found that self-compassion lowers how harshly we judge and criticize ourselves. Mindfulness inspired the notion that self-compassion may be an effective therapeutic tool and self-compassion is like a stepping stone for practicing mindfulness. This is critical for people who blame themselves for their own suffering, since a lack of self-compassion perpetuates an unhealthy cycle of self-hate and aversion to treatment (i.e.; why get treatment when you don’t think you deserve it?).
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