Managing Depression

By Emily Pierson, M.Ed., Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Do you ever feel like the world seems grey even though the sun is shining? Like you’re stuck in a dreary mood, struggling to find joy? These lingering feelings may come in waves or may always be present, with just small glimpses of relief. Although these symptoms may not be outwardly visible, the feelings you are experiencing are real.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), almost 20% of adults in the United States experienced some form of depression symptoms in 2019 over a two-week period of time (1).   While severity (mild, moderate or severe) in these cases varied, symptoms were most common in adults aged 18-29, and were more likely to occur in women than men (1).  Considering the fact that one in five American adults experience depressive symptoms at some point in their lives, it is safe to say that you are not alone in the way you are feeling.

Classic depression, includes feeling sad, hopeless, or empty. It may involve a lack of interest or motivation in tasks or activities you used to enjoy. It can also include having a general lack of energy and difficulty concentrating. For a more in-depth discussion about the symptoms, causes, and types of depression, visit our blog and check out our other article about depression (2).

Is Depression Manageable?

The short answer to this question is a resounding YES! Depression is treatable, and can be managed with a number of different remedies and treatments, both medical and otherwise. There may be some days when depression seems never-ending. Like the feeling of ‘lowness’ will never go away. However, there are ways to manage depression and help improve your symptoms.

Non-medical Treatments for Depression: While modern medicine can offer significant help to managing depression, there are also natural remedies that do not require a visit to a therapist or doctor’s office (3, 4).

  • Focus on Your Health: When we feel poorly, sometimes the last thing we want to do, is take care of ourselves physically. The couch can be so comfy and safe and junk food can be very appealing during these times. However, exercising and moving your body have proven time and again to release endorphins (aka: the ‘happy hormones’). Easy movement like walking, stretching or easy yoga can have the same effect as a more strenuous exercise. Similarly, while it may be easier to eat junk food and drink soda, eating healthier and drinking water can help you feel better in general. Making an effort to get a healthy amount of sleep may be hugely beneficial as well.
  • Take Control of Your Day: In some cases of depression, decision making becomes difficult. In others a lack of motivation leads to a funk. These problems can spiral out of control, and lead to other consequences. For example, you don’t get out of bed, you could miss school or work. Try to avoid this by getting into a routine. Make an effort to set a daily schedule and create lists of tasks that need to be completed. Set daily, weekly or monthly goals. These may need to be small at first. For example, you could do the dishes once a day, do the laundry once a week, and clean the house once per month. These goals can be whatever you want, just make them reasonable. Stay involved with your responsibilities. It will help you find some success as well as a sense of accomplishment.
  • Stay Involved: As with other areas of life, social interactions tend to take a back seat when depression sets in. Still, try to stay involved. See a friend for lunch. Go to a girl’s night. Watch the game with the guys. Have friends over to your house for a game night. Make an effort to spend time with family members and loved ones. Make an effort to avoid isolation, by going to the gym, volunteer in the community, join a book club. Interaction with others can help to improve your mood and gain a sense of belonging.

Use Healthy Coping Skills: Sometimes, the easiest, simplest things can assist in alleviating depression symptoms.

  • Read reputable self-help books
  • Journal about your feelings
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate or use progressive muscle relaxation
  • Learn a new hobby
  • Paint, draw, or create other forms of art
  • Cook or bake
  • Garden
  • Go for a hike
  • Spend time with pets
  • Participate in a guided imagery
  • Reconnect with spirituality
  • Download an appropriate self-help app

These are just a few examples of simple, non-medicinal activities that can aid in alleviating depression symptoms. However, occasionally, no matter how hard you try, you may need more help, and that’s ok.

Therapy and Counseling: In recent years, more and more individuals are utilizing therapy or counseling. According to the CDC, almost 20% of adults received mental health services during 2019 (5). Not only are therapists available for you to talk and express your feelings to, they can also assist in:

  • Implementing boundaries to help form healthy relationships
  • Processing trauma and grief
  • Adjusting to a crisis
  • Identifying and changing negative beliefs
  • Recognizing thoughts and behaviors that contribute to mental illness
  • Setting healthy goals
  • Utilizing healthy coping skills

Some therapists can also help by performing different kinds of therapy such as substance abuse treatment, marriage and family therapy, or they can offer different theoretical approaches. Finding a clinician that fits you and your needs is important.

Telehealth: One benefit to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the expansion in the availability of telehealth services. Telehealth involves meeting with a therapist over a secure video platform, as opposed to going into their office for a face-to-face session. This style of therapy is becoming increasingly popular, and makes services convenient regardless of location. Since clients do not have to travel to an office or clinic for their appointment, it takes away the chances of running into others at the therapist’s office.  Therapy can be done from the comfort of your home.  While some treatment modalities cannot be done via telehealth, the majority of services can be performed and have been found to be just as effective as in person therapy.

Medical Assistance: While lifestyle changes, coping skills and therapy can make a significant impact on depression symptoms, sometimes more help is needed. Medications can be very helpful when it comes to making improvements when severe depression sets in (4). If you feel that you’ve tried ‘everything’ and aren’t making improvements, talk to your doctor about options that may be right for you. There are several medication options out there, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (4). As with any medication, side effects can occur, and can be severe. Only you and your doctor or psychiatrist can determine what is best for you. These medications can be very helpful in alleviating depression symptoms, but also come with some risks.

Sometimes finding a new medication that works for you can take time.  This will require some patience, as your body will need to adjust. If you are taking an antidepressant, be sure to also speak to your doctor before abruptly stopping the medicine, as doing so can lead to withdrawal like symptoms (4). Similarly, if you are pregnant, planning to be pregnant or nursing, speak to your doctor about appropriate medications to take as some can affect your unborn baby. Lastly, antidepressants can occasionally lead to an increase in suicidal ideation (4). Generally, medications are safe, but pay close attention to your symptoms and feelings, and always reach out if you begin to feel worse.

There Are Effective Treatments That Can Help

Unfortunately, depression does not have a ‘one size fits all’ method of treatment. It may take a combination of medication, therapy and personal coping skills to help alleviate symptoms entirely. However, there are effective treatments that can help you relieve your symptoms and get back to living a normal life. Although it can be difficult to remember what ‘normal’ is on very hard days, there are people who are willing to help. Lean on healthy relationships with family and friends. Talk to your doctor. Seek help from a professional therapist or counselor. Try new, healthy coping skills. Practice finding joy in something every day. Depression is very real and looks and feels different for everyone, but you don’t have to do it alone.

By Emily Pierson, M.Ed., Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Emily offers a holistic approach to mental health and wellness. In addition to prioritizing mental well-being, she uses a strengths-based perspective to improve relationships and physical health.  She is passionate about helping teens and adults set and meet realistic, achievable goals, while also meeting them where they are in their journey.

Emily was born and raised in Alaska, where she received her Master’s degree in counseling from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  After moving to the “Lower 48”, she has been working as a therapist for the past four years.

References/Resources

  1. Symptoms of Depression Among Adults: United States, 2019. Center for Disease Control. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db379.htm. Accessed September 4, 2021.
  2. Depression: What is the Dark Cloud? Wellness Matters Blog. Retrieved from: http://wellnessmattershealth.com/index.php/depression-what-is-the-dark-cloud/. Accessed September 4, 2021.
  3. 10 Natural Depression Treatments. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/natural-treatments. Accessed September 6, 2021.
  4. Depression (major depressive disorder). The Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20356013. Accessed September 6, 2021.
  5. Mental Health Treatment Among Adults: United States: 2019. Center for Disease Control. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db380.htm. Accessed September 9, 2021.