You Can Get Unstuck
Use these strategies to feel like yourself again.
The Essential Elements of Managing Depression
Symptoms of depression can be seen in our thoughts, emotions, and daily activities. Whether you've been diagnosed with depression or are just feeling down, you're getting treatment for your depression or are simply seeking self-care tools, learning how to address each of these areas is the key to getting unstuck.
Where Would You Like to Begin?
- Understand Depression
- Learn Your Triggers
- Create a Mood-Boosting Routine
- Shift Your Perspective
- Resources for Depression
Counselor Tip: You don't need to do this alone. Reaching out to people you trust or getting professional help can be an important part of supporting your mental health.
Sadness is a normal part of being human, but when those feelings persist and cause significant distress and interference, it could be depression.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression is a mental health condition characterized by:
- persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
- agitation or restlessness
- changes in sleep, appetite, eating, and weight
- loss of motivation
- low energy or feeling lethargic
- social withdrawal or isolation
- worry, guilt, and hopelessness
- difficulty thinking or concentrating
- thoughts of death or suicide
Causes of Depression
Depression is a complex condition with risk factors or causes that can vary from person to person. Here are a few of the common factors linked with depression:
- Biology: genetics, brain chemistry, and hormonal imbalances
- Life events: trauma, loss, chronic stress, and major transitions
- Psychological: thinking style, self-perception, perfectionism, and mental health history
- Social and environmental: isolation, lack of social support, financial difficulties, discrimination, stigma, and oppression
Often, a combination of these factors interacts in unique ways, contributing to the onset and progression of depressive symptoms.
Treatment for Depression
Treating and managing depression often involves a combination of approaches tailored to an individual's needs:
- Therapy can provide useful insights and coping skills.
- Medication can help regulate mood and manage symptoms.
- Self-care like exercise, nutrition, and sleep plays a crucial role in improving mood.
- Additional supports like groups and workshops, meditation, yoga, and resources that address life stressors can complement treatments.
While depression is a complex condition, often involving a combination of factors like genetics, brain chemistry, and life experiences, aspects of daily life can trigger symptoms of depression or make them worse. Getting to know your triggers can help you create a sustainable routine and self-care plan that helps manage symptoms.
Counselor Tip: Do your best to stay focused on solutions, not setbacks, as you learn your triggers. Each time you notice something new, ask yourself, How can I use this information to help myself feel better?
Common Triggers for Depression
- changes in your daily routine and self-care
- stress and worry
- social isolation, loneliness, or interpersonal conflict
- lifestyle factors like schedule, self-care, and substance use
- life transitions
- seasonal changes
- hormonal changes
Ways to Learn Your Triggers
- keep a short mood journal to help track patterns
- pay attention to shifts in your mood during the day
- use a mood-tracking app
- notice the coping skills that work for you
- make small, concrete changes in your day and notice how they impact your mood
Create a routine that supports your wellbeing. Start small with a regular morning and evening routine, and build on that by including time for regular meals, physical activity, school, and fun.
Here are a few things to consider including in your routine:
- consistent daily sleep schedule
- hygiene and self-care rituals that make you feel good
- nutritious meals
- meditation, journaling, or other activities that set a positive tone for the day
- activities that give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment
- short breaks throughout the day to stretch, release pent-up energy, or de-stress.
- physical activities that you enjoy
- social interaction
- relaxing or enjoyable activities like reading, listening to music, or hobbies
- time to wind down before bed
Self-Care Ideas for Depression
- keep a consistent wake-up time
- listen to uplifting or empowering music
- practice deep breathing
- practice guided meditation or visualization
- start a gratitude journal
- start a mood log
- spend a few minutes planning your day
- eat nutritious meals
- stay hydrated
- pack meals and snacks for your day
- take a refreshing shower
- start a feel-good grooming routine
- read for fun
- watch a short animal video
- watch a comedy sketch
- spend a few minutes coloring or doing something creative
- take short breaks during the day
- take a stretch break
- connect with friends, family, clubs, or study groups
- allocate time for school and study
- establish a bedtime routine that helps you sleep
- make a list of anything you accomplish during the day, big or small
- set a personal goal that's just for fun
- schedule enjoyable activities for the week ahead
- start a fun photo-a-day project
- make plans outside of your living space
- spend time outside
- play with a pet
Depression can change the way we think by casting our perspective of ourselves and the world around us in a negative light. You don’t need to take a giant leap into positive thinking to get the benefits of shifting your perspective. Just make the consistent, conscious decision to notice your thoughts and ask yourself if there’s another way to look at the situation.
Counselor Tip: Learning your thinking patterns can make it easier to shift your perpective. Mindfulness, journaling, noticing the physical cues of negative thoughts, asking yourself questions about your thoughts, and getting professional help are all ways to build awareness of the way you're thinking. Whatever thoughts you notice, it's important to remain open-minded, curious, and most of all, compassionate with yourself.
Negative Thinking Patterns to Notice
- viewing everything as all good or all bad
- dwelling on the negatives
- selective attention to negative information
- helplessness or hopelessness
- calling yourself names
- blaming yourself
- jumping to conclusions
Healthy Thinking Patterns to Try
- focusing on your strengths
- noticing the good things
- focusing on solutions vs. problems
- being kind to yourself
- reminding yourself that you can handle challenges
- looking for positive opportunities and possibilities
- accepting yourself and situations
- giving thanks
Try These Perspective-Shifting Activities
Make an Optimism Jar
Find a jar and designate it as your "Optimism Jar." Decorate it if you like and keep small pieces of paper or sticky notes and a pen close by. Throughout the day or at the end of the day, whenever you experience a positive or uplifting moment, write it down on a piece of paper and place it in the jar.
Once a week or whenever you feel like you need it, empty the jar and read your collection of notes. Reflect on those moments and how you feel when you remember them. Celebrate the positive moments you've collected, your ability to feel positive, and the ways you’ve helped positive things happen in your life.
Make a Gratitude Box
Find a shoebox, decorative box, or another container you like and designate it as your "Gratitude Box." You can decorate your box if you like. Take a moment to think about the things, people, experiences, or moments you’re grateful for and collect small items that represent them. These could be photographs, small trinkets, notes, quotes, or any items that hold meaning to you. Consider adding small notes or labels to the items inside the box, indicating why they're significant or what they represent in terms of gratitude.
Keep your box someplace that’s visible and easily accessible. Whenever you feel like you need it, open your box and reflect on the items inside. Allow yourself to feel appreciation for each represented aspect of your life. If you feel comfortable, you can also share your gratitude box and its contents with someone close to you.
Decorate Inspiration Notes
- smooth, flat stones, patches of fabric, index cards, or any object you’d like to decorate
- permanent markers, paint pens, or other decorative items
Think of positive affirmations or empowering statements that resonate with you. Examples include I am strong, I am enough, Breathe, Let It Be, or any statement that uplifts you. Decorate your objects with your affirmations or illustrations that symbolize those affirmations to you, taking a moment to reflect on the meaning of each as you do. Once they’re ready, strategically place your decorated items in areas where you'll see them often, like a desk, bedside table, or any space where you spend time. You can also carry one with you in your car or bag.
Whenever you see or touch your items, take a moment to read and embrace the message. Consider how the message applies to your life at that moment.
Rotate your items or periodically find new places to keep them. If you’re comfortable, share these affirmations with friends or family or invite them to join you in making their own.