Today was the first major snowfall of 2012, which had me remembering how difficult the winter can be for the people I see that have recurrent bouts of depression. In Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Depression, there are several areas of functioning that we always assess to help improve depression symptoms. These are the areas that normally help act as a “buffer” for stress, and help prevent depression symptoms. When people seek therapy for depression, finding ways to boost these areas often provide the most tangible, immediate results. Coping mechanisms for depression help keep it at bay, which can be harder in the winter months when our coping mechanisms take more effort. Here are 5 common areas that people can work to improve to help alleviate or prevent depression symptoms.
Get Active: Most of the major professional organizations in mental health now recognize the impact of exercise and activity on mood. There is a wealth of scientific research that demonstrates the efficacy of activity in treating depression. Depression tends to make us feel like withdrawing into our homes, and avoiding the things wen enjoy when we’re not depressed. Find something active you would likely enjoy, then commit yourself to participating whether or not you feel up to it (the depression itself will ensure that you won’t, which is why you should go participate regardless!)
Be Social: Depression causes us to disengage from our friends and social support. Many people that suffer from depression never had that support to begin with. I often suggest that people sign up for one of the websites that offer deals or discounts on events and classes, such as Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com. Using the frequent reminders from these sites can give you great ideas for places to go meet new people that share a common interest and begin to build up your social network. This is worth it’s weight in gold when battling depression.
Challenge Negative Assumptions: One very common strategy used in depression therapy is something known as a “thought log”. The basic principle entails watching for those moments that your feel a negative emotion in response to something you may have misinterpreted. If I run into a friend that is in a bad mood, I may initially assume I did something to upset them. It is equally as plausible that they may be upset about something unrelated to me. Try writing the thoughts that make you feel sad on an index card, then flipping them over and writing on the back what you would say to a friend to make them feel better if they had the same thought. Thinking objectively like that can help us realize alternative possibilities, and counter the negativity that the lens of depression often distorts.
Find Your Passion: A colleague of mine likes to ask new patients “what gets you out of bed in the morning?” I absolutely love that question. People who have great coping mechanisms for depression typically have several answers. When I see people who have fallen into a depression, they are often unsure how to answer this question. Go stroll through the activities sections of a local bookstore, or keep an eye on the events section of the local paper. Finding a new club, hobby, class or activity that fulfills you and makes you feel excited can act as a natural antidepressant (quite literally). These passions stimulate the release of the same neurochemicals that antidepressants do.
Talk With Someone: Never underestimate the power of an empathic ear. Pushing yourself to open up to a friend, trusted mentor or a therapist can have a very beneficial impact on mood. Having people listen, understand and validate the way we feel helps us feel legitimate, understood and supported. Depression often makes us feel isolated alone and helpless. Reach out to those you trust, or find someone to be that source of support for you.
As you think about these basic strategies for depression, you may also consider seeking depression therapy from a professional, particularly if your symptoms are interfering with your ability to live life normally. A trained therapist can help you determine if you can benefit from therapy for depression, medication or general guidance in building up your own coping mechanisms for depression. Often the skills you learn to improve depression help minimize the risk of future bouts of depression. If we can be of any help, click here to fill out our contact form and find out how we can help!