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When you’re living with depression, it’s easy to feel like you’re completely alone.
You may think you’re the only one in the world who feels like this. It can be isolating, even debilitating. Untreated, it can feel unwieldy — like you have no semblance of control over yourself and your feelings. You might feel like no one understands what you’re grappling with.
Or maybe you’re a caregiver watching a loved one struggle with depression. Maybe it’s your sibling, your parent, or your child. You might feel like you’re watching your loved one slip away from you.
Depression is more common than you may think. In fact, 264 million people worldwide live with depression. It’s also the leading cause of disability in the US among people ages 15-44. But depression is also much more complicated than simply feeling sad.
Whether you’re living with depression or supporting a struggling loved one, you’re not alone. It’s possible to have a fulfilling, healthy life while living with depression.
Depression, sometimes known as major depressive disorder, is a common yet serious mental health condition. It negatively impacts how you think, feel, and act. According to the American Psychiatry Association, depression can lead to mental, emotional, and physical health problems.
Much like the mental health spectrum, depression also operates on a scale ranging from severe to mild. However, there are common symptoms that those living with depression experience.
- Feelings of sadness (or feeling depressed) that don’t dissipate
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in activities you love
- Changes in appetite, especially in extremes (weight loss or weight gain unrelated to dieting)
- Trouble sleeping — or sleeping too much (insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Psychomotor delays
- Increased fatigue (or loss of energy)
- Increase in “busy” activities that are purposeless or not productive (i.e. inability to sit still, pacing around, restlessness, etc.)
- Feeling worthless
- Difficulty focusing, concentrating, or making decisions
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicide, or suicidal ideation
According to the DSM, folks living with depression need to be diagnosed with five of the above symptoms and experience them for two or more weeks at a time. Your doctor or trained mental health professional will be able to diagnose you or your loved one.
It’s important to note that depression just doesn’t show symptoms in your mind. You can notice symptoms of depression in your body, too:
- Physical aches and pains
- Feeling lethargic, tired, or fatigued
- Loss of sleep or inability to fall asleep (or stay asleep)
- Changes in appetite (weight gain or weight loss)
- Loss of energy
- Movement changes (less activity or agitated with activity)
- Suicidal thoughts or ideation
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Anger or irritability
- Self-sabotage (strong feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or self-loathing)
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
9 ways to manage living with depression
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, living a full life with depression is possible. Whether you’re struggling or you have a loved one who is struggling, there are healthy ways to cope.
Ready to learn how to manage depression? Here are 9 ways to manage living with depression:
- Feel your feelings
- Move your body
- Get into nature
- Try creating a simple daily routine
- Do something you enjoy
- Replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy coping mechanisms
- Be cognizant of your thoughts
- Educate yourself on depression
- Consider weekly therapy or other clinical treatment
1. Feel your feelings
If you’re living with depression, it might be tempting to avoid heavy feelings. Distractions and optimism can be helpful coping mechanisms. However, they’ll do more harm than good if you never pause to feel your feelings. Depression can be overwhelming. The fact is, sometimes you do need a day in bed or an hour to cry in the shower.
Here are a few ways to create space for your feelings:
- Schedule time for your feelings. It might sound funny, but sometimes, guaranteeing yourself the time to be sad can help. Tell yourself you have two hours this evening where you’re allowed to feel anything you want, and afterward, you’ll reward yourself with a fun distraction.
- Take a mental health day from work when you need it. Pushing yourself to work when you are having a particularly bad day can make you worse in the long run. Give yourself permission to take a sick day every once in a while. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
Track your feelings over time. By intentionally checking in with yourself daily, you can give respect and space to your emotions. That way, you’ll be less likely to have an unexpected breakdown in the middle of the week after ignoring your feelings.
2. Move your body
Physical health is important. Taking care of your body can help boost your mental health. In fact, exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. When you’re coping with depression, moving your body can make a big difference.
Ways to start moving your body today:
- Try a simple yoga flow or online yoga class each morning
- Stand up and walk around your house every couple of hours
- Take a break from work to stretch out your muscles
- Sign up for a workout class that sounds fun
- Try a new physical activity you’ve never done before
- Move your body in ways that feel good to you — like dancing to your favorite song
At BetterUp, we believe in the power of Inner Work®. Inner Work® is different for everyone but at its heart, it’s bettering ourselves by looking inward. Many people practice Inner Work® in physical ways. Consider how you can fit Inner Work® into your physical well-being plan.
3. Get into nature
If you’re living with depression, it can be tempting to spend all day indoors. But did you know nature is proven to help with depressive symptoms? Exposure to sunshine can also have an amazing impact on depression and cognitive functioning.
Here are a few ways to enjoy nature while living with depression:
- Go for a 30-minute walk in the park
- Plan a weekly hike with a friend
- Find a favorite spot at your local park, and try to visit it when you’re feeling down
- Spend a few minutes each day standing or sitting in the sun
- Enjoy your lunch outdoors, when the sun can make the most impact
4. Try a simple daily routine
What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Consistency can help you stay grounded when you’re depressed. Having a few daily activities that are predictable and controllable will reduce your stress. It gives you something to look forward to and depend on, even when your feelings seem out of control.
Here are a few simple habits to consider adding to your daily routine:
- Drink a glass of water each morning, as soon as you wake up.
- Take vitamins or doctor-approved supplements after breakfast each day — getting the right nutrients can help you manage your depression.
- Go on a walk every day at 12pm (and get the benefits of nature, exercise, and sunlight, too).
- Spend five minutes journaling before you go to sleep each night.
5. Do something you enjoy
Depression can steal your energy and your joy. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not up for a big weekend hike or a Friday night party. However, maybe there are some low-energy, fun activities you can do while you manage your depression. There are plenty of things to enjoy in life — you can even invite your friends to join you on these more accessible activities.
Here are some ideas:
- Listen to music. Maybe you can create a playlist specifically for fighting your depression. When you feel heavy emotions coming on, turn on your favorite songs — music is proven to help. You could also go to a concert for your favorite band.
- Get into painting. Purchase a paint-by-numbers kit (no, they’re not just for kids) and spend time creating something beautiful. You could be surprised by how much it helps you manage your emotions — art therapy is shown to help decrease the symptoms of various mood disorders.
- Watch a comedy. Laughter might be one of the best ways to manage depression. Turn on a hilarious movie with your friends or watch your favorite comedian online. You’re sure to feel a little better after laughing all night long.
6. Replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy coping mechanisms
Sometimes, we look to unhealthy behaviors to self-soothe. But with the right level of self-awareness, we can make lifestyle changes. It’s possible to swap out negative or unhealthy behaviors with positive ones.
Try these healthy coping mechanisms:
- Instead of getting lost in the social media spiral, go on a walk after work.
- Try swapping out that end-of-day glass of wine with your favorite comforting tea.
- Connect with friends or family members. Set small goals, like calling a loved one every week. How do those social connections make you feel?
- Practice self-care and self-compassion. Take a bath or hot shower. Sometimes, simple things like brushing your hair or putting on a nice outfit can make a difference in how we feel.
- Bad eating habits might be your go-to when depressive feelings hit. Maybe you can try a new comfort food that also makes you feel good, like your favorite fresh fruit.
7. Be cognizant of your thoughts
If you’re living with depression, you likely have some automatic, negative thoughts. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help in this department. But there are also ways you can address negative thoughts on your own.
Here are some ways to become more aware of your thoughts:
- Build mental fitness. What are small habits you can start to build into your mental fitness plan?
- Write down your thoughts. Then, examine them. Which ones do you know to be true? Which ones are unhelpful?
- Write down things you like about yourself.
- Practice self-awareness.
- Try meditating for 5 minutes.
8. Educate yourself on depression
Living with depression is a battle. Understanding where depression comes from and the science behind it can help you cope. For example, if you learn how exercise fights depression scientifically, you might push yourself to exercise more. Then, you would be able to gain the benefits of that exercise — which can be as effective as antidepressants in some cases.
Understanding the causes of depression can also help. Depression isn’t caused by a single life event or circumstance, but scientists have narrowed down several factors. Knowing what these causes are will help put you on the path to healing by showing you that depression isn’t your fault.
Here are the 5 most common causes of depression:
- Trauma — especially childhood trauma — can be a key factor in depression. When people experience a jarring, traumatic event, it’s natural for the brain to respond. But over long periods, this can change how the brain responds, which can lead to depression.
- Genetics can be a strong predictor of depression. If you're not sure of your family history, try to do some research. Share any concerns with your healthcare provider so they can offer you the right advice.
- Life circumstances can affect how you feel and potentially lead to depression. Divorce, COVID-19, work stress, the loss of a loved one, and financial hardships can all have a big impact on your emotions. Just keep in mind that there’s a difference between situational depression and clinical depression.
- Other medical conditions, like insomnia, can put you at a higher risk for depression. Certain medications, chronic pain, anxiety, and ADHD can also lead to symptoms of depression.
- Drug and alcohol abuse is reported in one-third of clinically depressed people. There’s also a genetic and neurological link between depression and substance abuse. While substances may seem to momentarily alleviate symptoms, it’s a dangerous spiral.
If any of these factors have led you to feel depressed for more than a couple of weeks, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
9. Consider professional treatment options like therapy
Living with depression is hard, whether it's you or your loved one. The good news? You don’t have to do it alone. Your mental health is just as important as your physical well-being, so taking the time to get a professional’s help will be well worth it.
That said, sometimes treatment options like therapy can seem out of reach due to time or financial constraints. Here are a few ideas for making mental health treatment more accessible:
- Check with your local government for free mental health support services.
- Look around for local hospitals or nonprofits that offer free support groups or counseling.
- See what your insurance covers. Therapy can be as cheap as $25 per session with some plans.
- Search for low-cost or sliding scale therapy clinics in your city. They should be able to help you find a fee that’s affordable based on your income and circumstances.
- Go to therapy only once or twice a month. That’s far better than never going at all.
- Use a mental health or wellness app. Often, they’re free or low-cost and can fit easily into your daily routine with a minimal time commitment.
Living with someone with depression
If you’re living with someone with depression, we know it’s not easy. You might see their depressive episodes first-hand. Whether you’re a caregiver, parent, or roommate, it’s heartbreaking to see someone struggle and not know how to help.
But you might not be as helpless as you feel. Try these three tactics with your loved one struggling with depression.
- Learn about depression. There are plenty of online resources to educate yourself on the topic. If your loved one is open to it, it might help to ask questions about their own experience with depression. Once you understand how they feel, you’ll be more equipped to help.
- Lead with empathy and kindness. Kindness goes a long way. When your loved one knows that you’re leading with empathy and come from a good place, they might be more likely to accept your support.
- Recognize it’s not an automatic fix. Some people may think depression goes away once you start antidepressants or start psychotherapy. While it may alleviate or help symptoms, it’s not an automatic fix. Take the time to understand that depression doesn’t have a “quick cure.” Also, recognize that treatment often comes with side effects.
At BetterUp, we’re big believers in feedback. If you’re not sure if you’re supporting your loved one well, ask them. Encourage open feedback on how you can better support their journey with depression.
It may feel uncomfortable, but it opens up a larger conversation around mental health and mental disorders. It can help reduce the stigma associated with depression. It also helps bring awareness to mental health. But it also signals to the person struggling that you care deeply about their well-being.
Get help managing depression
You don’t have to experience depression alone. There are resources and organizations that can help. Consider reaching out to a mental health provider to help.
- Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline: 800-950-NAMI or text “NAMI” to 741471
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8455 or dial 988
- Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline: 800-662-HELP (4537)
Look to support groups that specialize in depression support. There are plenty of support groups across the country — and worldwide — who may be able to help.
With the right support, treatment plans, and interventions, you can achieve a high quality of life. And no matter what type of depression you or a loved one may be grappling with, you can seek help.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.