7 Emotional Skills that Beat Depression
Do you feel hopeless, worthless, or a deep sadness that never seems to go away?
If so, you could be clinically depressed—a common condition that can afflict anyone at any age no matter what their background, profession or social class.
In today’s article I am going to give you 8 tips that will help you build the emotional skills you need to beat the sadness. These techniques will give you some important (potentially life-saving) tools so you can live a more balanced, happier, healthier life.
However, I want to make one thing very clear before we go any further.
Depression is a potentially life-threatening psychological condition. It is not something you need to be ashamed about, but it IS something you should take seriously.
The good news is that in many cases depression is readily curable with the right interventions.
The tips I am going to share today will help you regain some balance, feel happier, and get back on track. But if you suspect you’re depressed—especially if you are showing serious signs like suicidal thoughts—I STRONGLY encourage you to get professional help as soon as possible. Seek out the advice of your medical practitioner or go to a certified therapist or psychologist to get the treatment you need.
With that said, let’s look a little closer at what depression is. Then I’ll give you some tips to help manage it.
What is Depression?
Clinical depression is different than just feeling a little sad or bummed out. Lots of people say they feel “depressed,” but it’s just a way of speaking. Most folks are able to get over these feelings in a few days or weeks.
Real depression occurs when you have significant difficulty coping with sadness, withdraw from others, feel hopeless or worthless, and these feelings or behaviors go on for weeks or months at a time.
Depression can range from a mild sadness to severe hopelessness. In its worst forms it can even lead to thoughts of suicide.
It’s important to realize that depression is an illness and NOT something to feel ashamed about. It is a common condition that can affect anyone—young or old, male or female—and people from every conceivable profession, background, or social class may have it.
And you may be afflicted for many reasons: stressful life events, a family history of mental illness, chemicals imbalances in the brain, and more can all lead to depression. Some people even experience depression without knowing what caused it.
But one thing it is not is a personal weakness or character flaw. So you don’t have to feel embarrassed if you’re depressed.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics report that about 11 percent of Americans over age 12 take an antidepressant drug, and about 14 percent of these have been taking the medication for over 10 years.
You may be depressed if you have been feeling unusually sad and hopeless for at least two weeks, or experienced any of the following:
- Change in weight (loss or gain)
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Constant tiredness
- Low self-esteem
- Difficulty focusing
- Memory problems
- Trouble making decisions
If this describes you, here are some tips you can start using today to rebalance your life and feel a little lighter.
Take care of yourself.
People often forget to take care of themselves when they are depressed. They may forget about making healthy food choices or not eat at all. Some others lose sleep or oversleep, while others engage in unhealthy lifestyles that involve smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or use of illicit drugs. All of these can make their symptoms worse and will not help beat depression. Instead, you must take care of yourself to overcome depression. This includes following a healthy lifestyle and adopting habits that will promote well-being of the mind and body, such as:
- Eating a healthy diet. Start your day right by eating a healthy breakfast to maintain your energy throughout the day. Eat nutritious meals to help your mind and body cope with stress.
- Exercising regularly. Keeping yourself active helps reduce stress and increases your energy levels. Be sure to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week by walking more, climbing stairs, doing chores, and avoiding long hours in front of the TV or computer.
- Avoiding “highs” from caffeine and sugar. These substances give you a temporary “high” that often ends in a crash in mood or energy. Reducing your intake of coffee, soda, chocolate, and other sugary snacks and beverages will make you feel more relaxed and help you sleep better.
- Getting enough sleep. Learn healthy sleep habits to get at least eight hours of sleep, which will help fuel your mind and body, reduce stress, and help you think more rationally.
- Avoiding cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. These substances may provide an easy, but temporary way to get away from stress. However, they only mask the issues at hand and harm your mind and body.
- Exposing yourself to sunlight every day. Studies show that a lack of sunlight makes symptoms of depression worse. Try to get at least 15 minutes of sunlight daily by taking a short walk, reading on a park bench, or doing some gardening. In winter, try using light therapy to improve your mood.
- Practicing relaxation techniques. To reduce stress, relieve symptoms of depression, and boost joyful moods, try deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation techniques.
- Caring for a pet. Pets often bring joy and friendship, which help people feel less isolated. They can make you feel needed, which is an antidote to depression.
Reach out to others.
People who lack emotional and social support are more likely to feel lonely, tired, overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. Having friends, family and community support can help improve your self-esteem and increase your ability to cope with problems on your own. You do not have to have a large network of family and friends, but being surrounded with supportive, caring, and positive people can help you build skills to beat depression. Here are some ways to reach out to others:
- Confide in a trusted friend or relative.
- Call, email, or get in touch with people you like through the telephone or on social media.
- Join a club of interest, such as a book readers’ club.
- Enroll in a gym class or flower arrangement course.
- Volunteer or participate in community projects, charity work, or school-related activities.
- Join a support group to meet people who are dealing with similar challenges.
- Go out with friends, neighbors, or co-workers who can contribute a positive influence in your life.
Challenge negative thoughts.
People who are depressed are often challenged with negative, self-defeating thoughts that are often unrealistic. They often jump to conclusions, focus on the negative, diminish the positive, beat themselves up, and believe that what they feel is the reality of the situation.
To break these habits, try challenging your negative self-talk by:
- Asking yourself if your thoughts are factual or true, rather than just your own interpretation of events – Is it true, or am I just thinking of it in a negative way?
- Looking for alternative explanations about the situation – Is there any other explanation for this?
- Putting situations in proper perspective – What is the worst/best thing that could happen?
- Using goal-oriented thinking rather than focusing on the past – Is there something I can learn from this situation?
- Thinking outside yourself – Would I say what I am thinking to another person if he were in my place?
- Being kinder to yourself – Am I being too strict/demanding to myself?
Maintain a balanced routine.
Time management involves prioritizing tasks and activities, controlling procrastination, and managing commitments. Failure in any of these elements results in poor time management, which can lead to stress and anxiety. People who are always looking busy, feeling harried and always rushing are usually stressed and do not find time for themselves or for others. At first they will feel irritable, forgetful, tired, and unable to concentrate. These can escalate to lack of sleep and physical disorders such as headaches and other vague symptoms, until they fall into chronic anxiety and depression. To prevent these, learn to manage your time by creating a balance in your routine:
- Try to wake up early each morning but do not rush to work. Get out of bed and take a few minutes to stretch and meditate, tell yourself that this day will be a good day.
- To make it easier to start your morning routines, make some preparations the night before. Think about what you will prepare for breakfast, what clothes you want to wear the next day, and the schedule you have for the next day.
- Always start the day with a good breakfast.
- Make a “To Do” list, prioritizing those things you have to do first in the morning and the less important tasks in the afternoon.
- Avoid interruptions or distractions when you are doing important tasks. These include reading emails, taking calls, or doing minor tasks that do not need your attention.
- Delegate tasks that do not need your personal attention. Learn to distinguish between tasks that you have to do right now and those that you do not have to do at all.
- Avoid clutter in your workspace and put everything in its right place. Clean up after work.
- Schedule short breaks within the day to stretch, take meals/snacks, and clear out your mind.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Learn good sleep habits.
People who develop the ability to face trauma, adversity and significant stress become resilient and are able to bounce back from their difficulties. Building resilience involves ordinary efforts, thoughts and behaviors combined with supportive relationships to stand in the face of loss, trauma or stress. To develop resilience, you must have the ability to make realistic plans, solve problems, communicate, manage yours emotions and have a positive view of yourself. Here are some ways to build resilience:
- Make good connections with family members, friends and other people. Accept their care and support and help others who are in need.
- Try to see crises as challenges, not as insurmountable problems. Although you may not be able to avoid or change some highly stressful events, you can modify how you respond to these situations.
- Know when to accept situations that cannot be changed as a part of life. Sometimes certain goals are no longer attainable, but you can focus on those things that you can alter.
- Develop realistic goals and take steps, no matter how small, to move toward achieving them.
- Avoid detaching yourself from your problems by engaging in unhealthy or unproductive actions.
- Find out how you can learn something about yourself and how you can grow as a result of your struggles. Sometimes, facing your difficulties may result in an increased appreciation for life, greater strength, better relationships, and heightened spirituality.
- Try to keep a proper perspective of the situation and focus on the long-term outlook with a hopeful viewpoint. Instead of concentrating on your worries and fears, try to visualize what you are hoping for in an optimistic way.
- Maintain a positive self-image by trusting your ability to make decisions and deal with problems.
Sometimes, all you need to get out of that depression is to have more fun in your life. No, that does not necessarily mean spending a lot of money to travel or shop, or getting into a new relationship. Think about carefree children who have fun riding a bicycle, families having a picnic, or seniors playing a game of cards. Sometimes it does not take much to have fun in your life – simply being more physically active, for example, can take away some of your depressive symptoms. Having lunch or coffee with old friends, starting a new hobby, and learning to play a new musical instrument are also some of the ways people cope with sadness. Other experts suggest keeping a gratitude journal to help you think about every positive event and count every blessing you receive. It will help you put things in perspective and see that the world is not coming down on you and that there are better things to look up to. Lastly, make it a habit to express gratitude to others. Thanking someone sincerely can help lift up their mood, which in turn will have a positive effect on you.
Get additional help.
How do you know if you are just suffering from a temporary sadness related to a difficult life event or you have a mental illness that needs professional help? Sometimes it is difficult to determine and even family members and friends are not able to tell if their loved one is in danger of breaking down. This is one reason why incidents of self-harm and suicide occur without sufficient warning, or why some people continue to live life isolated from others.
If you or your loved one has some or most of these symptoms of depression, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional:
- Prolonged sadness, irritability or depression lasting for at least two weeks
- Excessive fear, worry and anxiety
- Extreme feelings of highs and lows
- Confused thinking
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities previously associated with enjoyment
- Inappropriate reactions (such as inappropriate laughing or indifference)
- Sudden changes in personality
- Denial of problems
- Significant changes in eating/sleeping habits
- Intense anger
- Delusions (unshakeable beliefs of something that is not true)
- Hallucinations (perceptions involving the senses that appear to be real, but are not)
- Increasing inability to deal with daily problems and activities
- Unexplained physical symptoms and ailments
- Deterioration of hygiene
- Substance use
- Suicidal thoughts
It is important also to take note that in teenagers and older children, symptoms may also include the following:
- Tendency to defy authority
- Tendency for truancy, theft, or vandalism
- Deterioration in academic performance
- Decline in athletic performance
- Loss of interest/refusal to participate in activities previously enjoyed
- Intense fear of weight gain
- Poor appetite
- Excessive crying/Inability to cry
- Prolonged negative mood
- Thoughts of death
- Frequent outbursts of anger
Seek help from a mental health professional if you or your loved one has been experiencing symptoms of depression for a period of time (at least two weeks) or if your symptoms are not getting better with self-help remedies. A doctor may be able to evaluate and diagnose your condition and create an appropriate treatment plan for you. This may include certain medications, behavioral-cognitive therapies, family therapy, and other forms of therapy to get you on the road to recovery.
WebMD. Depression – Topic Overview. http://www.webmd.com/depression/tc/topic-overview-depression
HelpGuide.org. Dealing with Depression. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/dealing-with-depression.htm#yourself
HelpGuide.org. Stress Management. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm
PsychCentral. Antidepressant Use Up 400 Percent in US. http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/10/25/antidepressant-use-up-400-percent-in-us/30677.html
APA. Stress management: How to strengthen your social support network. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/emotional-support.aspx
PsychCentral. Challenging Negative Self-Talk. http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/0003196
TMS Neuro Health Centers. Depression And Your Morning Routine: 5 Steps to Avoid Stress. http://www.tmsneuro.com/depression/depression-and-your-morning-routine-5-steps-to-avoid-stress/
Free Management Library. Stress Management and Time Management. http://managementhelp.org/personalproductivity/time-stress-management.htm
APA. 10 Tips to Build Resilience. http://psychcentral.com/lib/10-tips-to-build-resilience/0001146
APA. The Road to Resilience. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
HelpGuide.org. Cultivating Happiness. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/cultivating-happiness.htm
CPC. How do I know if I need professional counseling? http://www.cpcwa.org/SeekingServices/needhelp.html