Earlier this week, I wrote about some healthy ways to cope with anxiety, and I dove into the relationship between coping strategies and what we’re mentally dealing with. I thought that I’d continue that today by talking about healthy ways to cope with depression. Just like earlier in the week, it’s not just about the specific coping strategies we use, but our relationships with those strategies, too – and making sure that unhealthy strategies don’t turn into habits.
At first glance, the ways we cope with depression might be the same as the ways we cope with anxiety. In fact, they often are. But treating depression and anxiety as the same thing isn’t always helpful. In fact, it’s been easier for me to live with depression and anxiety by treating them as two different diagnoses, rather than one diagnosis that seemed like a hill I couldn’t climb.
However, the two things I pointed out about coping strategies for anxiety also apply to depression – but how they manifest is different. Just like anxiety, the difference between coping strategies for dealing with depression and long-term strategies toward living with depression are different. And just like anxiety (and other mental health disorders), not every coping strategy for depression is healthy – even if it feels effective at the time.
There are plenty of unique sources of depression, and we need to keep that in mind when using certain coping strategies. For instance, since my depression is defined as clinical, I know the symptoms I often exhibit (lack of energy and self-worth and crying spells are two symptoms), and I have coping strategies for how to work through those symptoms in a healthy way. But it also took long-term strategies like therapy, research and meditation to learn those were the main symptoms of my depression.
For many years, I thought that any ‘effective’ coping strategy for my depression was fine. An ‘effective’ coping strategy only meant one that would help me get to the next day, the next hour, the next minute, the next moment – good for short-term survival, but very hard to keep up in the long-term. Some of my readers might be familiar with that mindset – it ain’t fun, and it’s not sustainable. Things needed to change.
I had to change my approach, and change what my coping strategies were. I had to already be aware of what I would do if something happened: spiraling, a manic/depressive episode, a crying spell, you name it. Knowing what coping strategies to try before I’m in that situation have saved me more times than I can count. Here are a few coping strategies I have ready for when I am going through a rough bout of depression:
- Focusing on measured breathing
- Focusing on getting out of bed (if I can’t)
- Constructive distraction (video games and quizzes are my go-to)
- Acknowledging, not accepting, negative thoughts (this takes a lot mentally, but it helps if it’s possible)
- Talking to someone
Most of my own coping strategies are ways to occupy my mind, and that’s on purpose. My depression manifests itself in shutting down and going to a negative space in my head, so if I can keep my brain a little less occupied, I can work to overcome what I’m dealing with. And while I hope this is helpful, I hope everyone understands that depression can look different for everyone, and that we should act accordingly.