Being prescribed antidepressants that may or may not work for your depression is almost a slap in the face. When your doctor does not offer any practical advice for helping your depression and dismisses it with trial and error medical treatments, it can leave you feeling worse off than you were before. You already don’t have hope; now, it seems like the external world is validating that concern.
You are not told that depression does not have to be insufferable for the rest of your life. You don’t have to accept medication that alters your brain chemistry as your reality. Instead, there are many coping skills for depression you can gain and practice throughout your journey for improved mental health.
Each skill aims to provide solutions to depression. This list offers practical solutions for depression that can be used as preventative measures or during the height of a depressive episode.
Be open-minded and understand that taking action sparks reaction. Be kind and patient with yourself.
Depression in the Brain
In order to get the most value out of the tips listed below, it is fundamental to understand how depression works on the brain.
Depression and the biochemistry associated with it are incredibly complex. Many factors contribute to the effects of depression in the behaviors and the mental dialogue of people. For starters, inflammation in the brain can create symptoms of depression.
Another factor that can contribute to depression is neurotransmitters not functioning correctly.
It’s believed in the scientific community that a lack of neurotransmitters is the problem, though the emphasis should be on regenerating brain cells and receptors. The connections between brain neuronal pathways are essential for the brain to be able to communicate mood regulation.
These connections work by neural circuits communicating through released neurotransmitters. Unfortunately, in a depressed person, the communication is severed, and mood-regulating connections cannot be made.
Doing things that reduce brain inflammation and rekindle these connections made in the brain allows the mood to shift positively.
Coping Skills for Depression
The following tips aim to bridge these connections in the brain and holistically heal those suffering from depression. Some tips provide immediate relief, while others take time. When depression is a life-long condition, the time and effort put into relieving symptoms is well worth it.
1. Get Moving
The body was not designed for an inactive lifestyle. So while it’s not new information that exercising is good for the body and mind, it deserves recognition because the effects are substantial.
Starting the habit of aerobic and anaerobic exercise is probably not what a depressed person wants to hear. Depression creates low energy levels, so mustering up the courage and energy to perform physical activity can seem impossible.
But, the practice works like a ripple effect, and once you take the initial step, momentum gathers, and you’ll gain more energy from working out that translates further into your daily life.
Plus, mentally, it feels good to take care of the body and treat it well. Even after a small workout, a yoga session, or walk, a small amount of self-love is gained from performing a positive activity.
Another cliche tip, but one that has been effective since ancient times, is meditation. Meditation is a form of training the mind to be more aware, alert, and calm. It teaches you that you can let go of your thoughts, and your identity does not have to be rooted in what you think and feel.
Choosing which type of meditation works best takes time but is rewarding. You might like something such as Transcendental Meditation or Kundalini meditation, where you repeat mantras to clear the mind of unwanted ruminations. Another approach where you focus on your breath or practice body scans might work better.
The effects of meditation will subtly manifest themselves in your life until you begin to look forward to meditating, no matter which form you choose.
The best advice I heard about meditation is from Hugh Jackman. He said one doesn’t complain about taking a shower or brushing one’s teeth each day; it simply gets done. Looking at meditation with a similar mindset eases its way into your routine, as the benefits of mental hygiene are too important to dismiss.
Benefits of meditating include:
a more profound sense of interconnectedness
reduction in anxious and negative thought patterns
expanded consciousness and awareness
feelings of self-discovery
3. Connect with Nature
Ground yourself, literally. Walk barefoot in the grass and picture yourself as rooted in the earth as the trees. Do this long enough, and you’ll realize how severed your relationship with mother nature has been. Rekindle this connection.
Whatever your favorite outdoor activity is, do that. Invite friends or go alone.
Even if it feels uncomfortable, daily sunlight is necessary for human beings to function optimally. Almost 50% of adults in the United States are vitamin D deficient. While you could artificially supplement it, it isn’t as bioavailable or natural as stepping outside and basking in the sun.
The elements procure childlike behavior. Embrace this. Let yourself feel like a child as you swim in a lake, nap in the grass, or take a hike.
A key component in combating depression is making sure your body is full of nourishment. Since inflammation is a common cause of depressive symptoms, eliminating pro-inflammatory foods from your diet is vital.
Pro-inflammatory foods like sugar, gluten, and PUFAs from seed oils are prevalent in the standard American diet. Reducing or eliminating these types of foods from your diet will alleviate symptoms immediately, resulting in clarified thinking, a boost of energy, and more stable moods.
The connection between gut health and the brain is highly prevalent. The gut is considered the body’s second brain as it contains 200 million cells in the gastrointestinal tract. This second brain comprises the enteric nervous system (ENS).
Evidence is showing that instead of depression causing gastrointestinal issues, it’s actually the other way around. The ENS sends signals to the central nervous system (CNS). When the ENS is inflamed, it alters a shift in mood. Having a healthy micro-biome allows for the ENS to send positive signals to the CNS.
A happy gut is a happy brain.
To achieve a healthier gut, focus on a less processed diet. Add whole foods that nourish the body. Eating probiotics in fermented foods will heal the gut.
Thought dumping into a journal is a beautiful way of releasing pent-up energy, emotions, and thoughts fueling your depression. When we have trauma or unaccessible feelings stored in the body, they cause energy blockages. These blockages need to be released somehow.
Journaling is a great way to let your mind free itself of anything, causing it not to think clearly. Thought-dumping, or writing whatever comes to mind with no concern for what it will sound like, allows you to let go of thoughts that no longer serve you.
There are a few practices that will give you results. Journaling as soon as you wake up gives you the chance to start the day with a clean slate.
Letting the words flow out in a minimum of three pages forces you to write even when you otherwise stop. Taking the extra minute to either; think about what is genuinely on your mind or letting it flow naturally relieves the mind of unnecessary and unimportant stress.
Sure, subliminal subconscious programming sounds a little Mk-ultra-like.
But, when done with sound, purposeful intentions originating from within your control, it’s called autosuggestion.
The mind is programmable. We think similar thoughts to information we take in from the media we consume. If we are constantly around negative people, involving ourselves in toxic relationships, or consuming violent, negative media, our subconscious mind soaks up that information like a sponge and reacts negatively.
Avoid media that is damaging to the spirit. If that means you have to stop reading or watching the news, so be it.
Autosuggestion comes into play by reprogramming these negative thought patterns we have grown to believe. There is subliminal thought programming for thousands of reasons that can be found on youtube or in podcasts. You could even have fun with recording your own.
Subliminal messages work by repeatedly feeding information to the subconscious mind so that it absorbs positive affirmations.
Repeating affirmations aloud or writing them down and reading them everyday work to change your mindset to believe what you are saying or writing.
Some examples are:
I am in touch with my emotions.
I am more than my emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
All stressors are eliminated by my ability to see the big picture and know things happen for a reason.
I distance myself from concerns that are outside of my control, accepting the natural ebb and flow of life.
Writing affirmation in the present versus as future statements trick the mind into thinking these statements are already true. The subconscious mind doesn’t use deductive reasoning, so it accepts these statements as factual. Saying ‘I will’ makes the mind think that these things are not currently true and will only confirm an intangible future.
7. Protecting Your Energy
Protecting your energy goes along with watching what kind of media you are consuming. If you constantly surround yourself in harmful and toxic situations or with friends and family that don’t have your best interest at heart damages the spirit. If you believe that there are people in your life that influence you negatively, trust your intuition.
If you are in a situation where you simply cannot get away from toxic family members, work to stay non-reactive. You cannot change the way other people are, but you do have the power to change your reactions.
When you find yourself feeling drained, take time to recharge. Grounding yourself can look like many different things. A self-care night, time in nature or meditation can all be effective ways to rid yourself of other people’s energy and center yourself again.
Often we find ourselves thinking, feeling, and acting like the people around us. Knowing where another person ends and we begin is vital in understanding our own values and desires.
8. Getting Creative and Having Grace
It is human nature to be creative.
Nowadays, everything has become so competitive. It seems that someone can’t genuinely enjoy a hobby without needing to capitalize it or show it off on social media. Feeding into this pressure can cause unnecessary turmoil and be detrimental to the psyche.
Having grace is a skill that needs to be built upon, like any other skill. Practicing being lenient with yourself helps you feel more comfortable. Grace is usually missing in people with depression, who tend to be so hard on themselves.
Try creating and doing something you love with zero pressure. Having no expectations is healthy when it comes to doing relaxing hobbies.
Drawing, embroidery, painting, playing a musical instrument, and so much more activities are great for activating the right side of the brain. The left side of the brain is associated with logic and analytics, which is where we spend more of our time.
Creative endeavors help to switch the brain over to the right side. The right side of the brain dims the constant thoughts associated with anxiety and depression.
Some of the most noticeable effects of depression are on the sleep cycle. Depression can cause people to oversleep or have insomnia. Sometimes, it’s a combination of both – sleeping all day, staying up all night.
Natural detox mechanisms occur during sleep; that is why it is vital to our bodies’ health to establish a restorative sleep cycle.
10. Minimize Technology
Our phones do this lovely thing where we see how much screen time we used for the week. It can be scary when we see it’s more than 4 hours.
Realistically, that’s so much time spent on technology. It isn’t even mentioning other screens we use, such as laptops or television.
The reality is blue light is harsh on the body. It isn’t natural to be constantly plugged in. Disciplining yourself by not allowing yourself to check social media, watch tv, or whatever it may be all day long helps you find other things to fill your time that are more meaningful.
Bringing in meaningful activities to fill your time with is more fulfilling than wasting a day on the screen. That is not to say a day spent binge-watching your favorite show is necessary from time to time.
Small habits like leaving your phone at home when you go for a walk or not checking your phone when in line to get coffee helps to reduce the amount of time you’re spending online. You’ll find your mind feeling clearer when it isn’t constantly stimulated. Your next great idea might come while you’re standing in silence for a few minutes versus scrolling Instagram.
11. Declutter Your Space
The external world is a reflection of our inner world. Living in a space that is cluttered, messy, and unclean leaves us feeling depleted, depressed, and anxious.
Deep clean your closet, furniture, and anything else you’ve been neglecting to cleanout. Getting rid of old stuff that no longer suits your needs makes the spirit feel relieved.
I know what it’s like to have cups of mold and old food containers in the bedroom from the deepest pits of depression. Mold contributes to depression and other health problems, so getting rid of stuffy, old dishes and trash in your space will not cure you – but will alleviate symptoms right away. Plus, you can feel accomplished after cleaning.
Finding the motivation to clean might not come easy.
The thing about motivating yourself to do something is, motivation doesn’t just occur. You have to make yourself do something, and with each small stride you take, the more likely you will be to take more considerable strides.
12. The Power of Magnesium
Magnesium is responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of biological processes. It aids sleep quality, mood regulation, and is an anti-inflammatory, to name a few benefits. Magnesium directly helps in coping with depression.
Most people are magnesium deficient because it used to be more prevalent in the soil; it no longer is. Foods grown in soil depleted of magnesium are less nutritious.
Magnesium is also depleted by pretty much everything. Exercise, sex, eating, drinking alcohol are all among things that deplete magnesium.
Missing magnesium in the diet lowers mood, lowers energy, causes fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
Magnesium is well tolerated. Starting with a 1/4 of a teaspoon dissolved in water daily and working your way up as your body takes it will show results.
Practicing non-attachment helps to alleviate some of the negative spiraling involved in depressive moods. When we let go of our expectations of what we think life should look like and embrace the unknown, we have the opportunity to overcome obstacles more easily.
Non-attachment doesn’t mean eliminating emotions entirely. Emotions are healthy. Non-attachment means feeling the emotions in the present moment but not letting them linger too long.
Letting the past drive our expectations prevents us from living out a better future. On the other side, worrying too much about the destination prevents us from enjoying the journey.
Non-attachment is living in the present moment, appreciating the journey. Each emotion, the grand, joyous ones, and grand depressive ones, are all a part of the human life experience. Learning to love each feeling no matter how uncomfortable while letting go of expectations leads to a happier lifestyle.
Talk to a therapist when self-help isn’t enough.
Many types of therapy help you transition into different stages of your life and your depression.
I’ve found that consistently seeing a therapist even when depression is not at its height works to improve mindset. Seeing your life through the lens of someone else can also be validating. Having your voice heard by a third party provides additional insight where you may not have thought about before.
If traditional talk therapy isn’t your thing, there are many other forms of therapy you can try out. Psychoanalytical therapy, art therapy, holistic therapy are all therapies that have been found to work for people who don’t respond to talk therapy.
When self-help, medication, and therapy aren’t working, TMS is a great resource. If you have never heard of TMS before, it stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation.
TMS is non-invasive and targets the affected areas of the brain dealing with depression. Magnetic pulses target these areas of the brain by stimulating them through an electric coil. TMS is effective because the brain makes connections via electric fields.
Neurotransmitters that depleted, causing depression, can be released through this brain stimulation. It bridges the gap of neural connections that are responsible for mood regulation.
TMS is FDA approved, covered by many insurances, and offers long-lasting relief for depression.
For answers to frequently asked questions about transcranial magnetic stimulation, explore here.
You Are Not Helpless
When the thoughts of depression become overwhelming, these tips affirm that there are always solutions to depression. For an illness that affects the brain into thinking there is no hope, there is hope.
The effects of depression are drastic and dramatic. Taking action allows for relief in symptoms and opportunities for improving mental health.
Though depression takes its toll on motivation and energy, take initiation for your mental health. Slowly work on building these habits that you can use for the rest of your life to help cope with depression.