How Do You Cope With Depression During Stressful Times?
Living with depression is never easy and that’s especially true during times of stress. At the moment, we’re all coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Although the quarantine is beginning to be lifted in some areas, the virus remains a threat and the economic impact has been huge. However, it doesn’t take a global pandemic to cause a personal crisis.
We all go through stressful times and whether it’s buying a house, getting a divorce, or being quarantined at home, stress can trigger a depressive episode, especially if you have a history of depression. If you have struggled with depression in the past, or are struggling with it now, here are some tips for keeping it together during stressful times.
Stick to Your Treatment Regimen
First of all, if you are already on a treatment regimen for depression, keep it up. Keep taking your medication, if that applies to you, keep doing your writing exercises, keep meditating, and keep exercising. If you’re seeing a therapist, keep seeing them, even if you have to see them remotely. If you haven’t been seeing your therapist lately, now is probably a pretty good time to resume. Reach out either through the phone or email and see if they can fit you in.
Set a Strict Limit on Media
This especially applies to news and social media. While it’s understandable that you want to stay informed, it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of divisiveness and negativity that is the 24-hour news cycle. Set a strict daily limit on how much time you spend consuming news. Try to remember that in a week, 90 percent of it won’t matter anyway.
The same is true of social media. When you don’t have anything else to do, it may be especially tempting to endlessly scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and so on. A number of studies have found that excessive social media use is terrible for your mental health, mainly because it promotes comparisons and fragments your attention.
One study found that participants who limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day for three weeks reported significantly lower levels of depression and loneliness by the end of the three-week study.
Try to Follow a Routine
Sometimes, when you’re feeling depressed and overwhelmed, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other. Having something like a regular routine can help you get through the day in several ways. First, a regular routine reduces anxiety because you feel more in control and less uncertain about what’s ahead. Second, a routine breaks your day into manageable chunks.
The whole day might be too much to think about all at once but maybe you can think about just taking your shower, then just having breakfast, and so on. Your regular activities can serve as signposts throughout your day.
Get Some Exercise
Getting a bit of exercise is one of the most important things you can do if you feel depressed or if you want to avoid feeling depressed. Exercise helps improve your mood and it improves your stress tolerance. Many studies have found that exercise improves mental health outcomes overall. Of course, when you’re depressed, summoning the energy to do anything, much less exercise, is a big ask. Whatever you can do, even if it’s just a five-minute walk, will make you feel a little better.
There are now quite a few studies showing that diet has a significant effect on depression and depression risk. A number of studies have shown that dietary interventions can even improve depressive symptoms. The most beneficial diets typically include mostly whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and fish. They are also low in processed meats, refined flour, sugar, and fried foods. It may be that such a diet helps reduce inflammation, which recent research suggests may be a significant factor in some forms of depression.
Look for Ways to Help Other
Part of the trouble with depression--especially during the current pandemic--is that it too often leads to isolation. You end up sitting alone feeling awful and even feeling awful about feeling awful. You may feel like you have very little control over the situation or anything else in your life. One way to fight both of these feelings is to look for ways to help other people.
For example, in the current crisis, just staying home helps, but you may also be able to do other things, like check on neighbors and relatives, donate to food banks, or sew masks. This helps take your mind off your own problems and allows you to contribute in some way, which boosts your sense of self-efficacy.
Try to Stay Present
As noted above, operating on a short time horizon can help you get through your day. The more you can stay in the present moment, the better you will feel in general. It’s too easy to get swept up in ruminations about past mistakes or worries about the future. The more you can stay present, the less you will fall into either of these traps. This is easier said than done.
It may help to practice mindfulness meditation, which is essentially just training yourself to be present for 20 or 30 minutes a day. In a pinch, you can also use grounding techniques, such as closing your eyes and paying attention to all the sounds around you or feeling sensations such as your breath or your weight in your chair. These things help you connect to the present moment and worry less about the past or future.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, this one is obvious, but if you feel depressed, trying to cope with it using drugs or alcohol is a huge red flag. Depression significantly increases your risk of developing a substance use disorder. One study found that among people with mood disorders such as major depression or bipolar disorder, 32 percent also had substance use disorders--nearly four times the risk than in the general population.
Men are especially prone to self-medicating depression with drugs and alcohol. Even if you don’t have a substance use issue, drugs and alcohol are likely to worsen depression. If you quit drinking, for example, you’re likely to feel better pretty quickly. If you can’t quit drinking, reach out for help, whether it’s to a therapist, a 12-Step group, or an addiction treatment program. If you have substance use issues and depression, you will need a program that can treat both.
At The Foundry, we know that substance use disorders are usually accompanied by other mental health challenges, such as trauma, anxiety, and depression. We use a variety of proven methods, including dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, and mindfulness meditation to help our clients heal and sustain their recovery long term. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
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