Learning how to cope with depression has been absolutely crucial for my mindset in recent years.
I’ve been dealing with depression since I was 11.
I remember because it started when I began secondary school (high school) – the same time as my anxiety. I was bullied intensely by different groups of people so perhaps this triggered something. I don’t know.
I felt isolated, alone, desperate and intensely sad more-or-less all the time. I’d find myself crying at everything and hiding in my room away from everyone… except my mum, to whom I suddenly became incredibly clingy.
Over the past two decades, my depression has been up and down. As it is with most people and most mental illnesses.
Now that I’m older, it tends to manifest itself as apathy and a lack of motivation. A general cloud of despair, rather than sadness. Although, sometimes I do sink down and become that same little girl who only wanted her mummy and for the boys at school to just leave me alone. Where all I can do is lay in bed all day staring at a TV or laptop screen, not really taking anything in.
I’ve experienced highs, anger and anxiety, and depressive episodes that have lasted months.
I’ve had therapy, taken medication, and practised self-care. And, by now, I think I have a pretty good handle on what my triggers are and how to cope with depression.
Signs of depression
Firstly, I want to go over what some signs of depression are.
If you suffer from any of these, please seek medical advice:
- Low mood (apathy, sadness, despair)
- Lacking interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- Lack of motivation
- Exhaustion (fatigue or body aches)
- Lack of appetite or loss of appetite
- Poor self esteem
- Problems concentrating
- Irritability or anger
- Suicidal thoughts
Physical signs of depression
If you start feeling tired and lethargic all the time, you might be depressed.
While you should definitely get blood work carried out by your doctor as you could also be suffering with a deficiency (having an iron deficiency is a bitch for exhaustion), depression can make you feel lethargic.
When your brain wants to give up and can’t find the motivation to get out of bed, so does your body.
Overthinking puts a huge amount of stress on your prefrontal cortex – your “thinking brain” – as you’re constantly having to reason with yourself and talk yourself out of irrational negative thought patterns.
While overthinking is usually linked with anxiety, it can also occur with depression.
Overworking your prefrontal cortex can be super-tiring.
The dangerous part? You might not even realise why’re doing it and why you’re tired all the time.
#2. Aching muscles
Our muscles tend to carry the stress we don’t realise we’re carrying and, as a result, ache.
Ever woken up feeling achy for no reason and attributed it with “coming down with something” only for that “something” to never show itself?
In fact, a 2017 study found direct links between depression and lower back pain.
Other studies have also shown that depression can lead to joint pain.
This is because the neurotransmitters serotonin (the hormone responsible for happiness and wellbeing) and norepinephrine (a stress hormone) both influence mood AND pain.
This is also why people who suffer with depression have been known to have a lower pain threshold.
It’s also thought that there’s a connection between depression and your body’s inflammatory response and inflammation has been known to disrupt brain signals.
#3. Tummy troubles
While a lot of us already know that a drastic change in appetite can be a sign of depression, or other mental health issue, the severity of the stomach issues that depression can actually cause are often under-reported.
This could partly be down to embarrassment but also partly because we simply don’t know that depression might be causing it!
But yeah, depression can cause numerous tummy troubles, from nausea and diarrhoea to unexplained stomach pains.
This is usually down to stress and worry but can also be down to the lifestyle changes that depression often triggers. For example, eating too little, exclusively eating foods that don’t make us feel so good, or drinking alcohol.
(Super Noodles are great and all but when you’re only eating them around the clock because you haven’t got the motivation or appetite to eat anything else… yeah… you’re going to get to know your toilet a little better over the next 24 hours.)
Also, did you know that your intestine produces serotonin? It’s not just your brain!
And serotonin – or an imbalance of – can have a huge impact on bowel function.
In turn, your gut health can have a huge affect on your mental health for so many reasons. (But that’s a post for another day…)
This is a physical symptom of depression that I wasn’t aware of until recently and it explains A LOT.
Now, these can be tension headaches, which studies show affect 80% of adults. However, depression headaches are a thing as well.
In fact, 11% of people who suffer with depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety are thought to get migraine attacks and headaches.
What’s more, people who already get migraines are 40% more likely to suffer with depression.
These headaches and migraines are thought to be caused by the lifestyle changes that depression triggers, such as alcohol consumption, stress, not eating properly, and not getting enough sleep.
#5. Problems with vision
That’s right: depression can cause problems with your vision.
Research shows that people with depression actually do see variations in colour and contrast.
Primarily, those who suffer with depression apparently see the world with a tinge of blue and grey.
And while it was initially thought this was all purely psychological, since, if depression was a colour, it would probably be blue or grey to most people, it’s apparently not!
Other surprising signs of depression
Other surprising symptoms of depression, which aren’t physical, include:
#6. Grouchiness and irritability
You might find your fuse shorter than normal or the slightest inconvenience setting you off.
A lot of this is down to anxiety and frustration, as well as depression itself.
#7. An urge to fall into negative coping mechanisms
You suddenly might start craving a bottle of wine after work more than usual or fall into other negative coping mechanisms without even realising it.
This is a sign that’s particularly personal to me.
Before I stopped drinking, I started to crave alcohol more and more without even realising that I was hurtling head-first into another depressive episode.
#8. Not keeping up with personal hygiene
Keeping up with a personal hygiene routine is crucial for our mental health.
And, just like my drinking, one of the first signs that I’m about to enter a depressive episode is when I stop taking care of myself and practising basic self-care, like showering and brushing my teeth.
It sounds gross but that’s what depression really is.
What causes depression?
Figuring out how to cope with depression is slightly easier when you have a rough idea of what’s caused it in the first place. (Although obviously not crucial in the slightest.)
It’s believed that depression is caused by a number of factors.
For some, depression can be down to a chemical imbalance in the brain. A lack of serotonin and dopamine can leave you feeling low, lethargic and lacking motivation.
This can be fixed with medication and lifestyle changes, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
However, there are also environmental and genetic factors.
For example, if depression runs in your family (my dad has it), you’re at higher risk of developing the mental illness yourself.
Your lifestyle, trauma and living situation can also trigger depression. For me, I do think being bullied had a huge part to play in me developing it at such a young age.
The cause of your depression, as well as how to cope with depression, is completely unique to you and it doesn’t matter whether you (with the help of your loved ones and a therapist) figure it out.
All that matters is knowing how to cope with depression now.
How to cope with depression
While I know how to cope with depression myself and want to help others, my advice shouldn’t be taken in place of a mental health professional’s.
These steps are just how I personally deal with depression.
#1. Practise self-care
Self-care means looking after your needs as a human; taking care of yourself.
It means keeping up with personal hygiene, eating regular meals. exercising, taking your medication on time, seeing a therapist and getting enough sleep.
Not only can keeping up with a self-care routine help prevent a depressive episode, it really helps when you’re going through one too.
Make your bed, even if you’re planning just to get back into it, and brush your teeth. This is the first step and will make you feel at least 1% better.
#2. Lay off the alcohol
Alcohol is one of the biggest loves of my life and it’s taken me a long old time to admit that.
And, for that reason, it’s also a problem for me and one of my biggest triggers.
For this reason, as well as others, I no longer drink.
Alcohol causes your brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation, feeling rewarded, and learning, which is why having a drink is dangerously good at making you feel calm and happy while you’re drinking it.
This is also one of the many reasons it becomes addictive to people who suffer from depression and anxiety. It becomes a way of coping; of relieving that pressure if only for a little while.
The problem is, as the saying goes: “Alcohol steals tomorrow’s happiness for today.”
The day after drinking, it’s not the physical hungover that got me, it’s the mental one.
My brain has been depleted of dopamine and you can’t even muster the motivation to get out of bed. So you drink again. And the cycle continues.
It takes your body 3-10 days to purge itself of alcohol. It takes my brain DAYS to return to normal.
#3. Prepare for rough patches
When you get to know yourself, your thought patterns, and what triggers you, you can usually predict a depressive episode and prepare.
For me, I know that I get super-depressed a few days before my period starts. So, I make sure to schedule in a day off or two in advance so that I can have a self-care day.
It works wonders.
Prepare yourself a depression kit. Even if it’s only a mental checklist.
For example, I have all my favourite funny films and TV series ready to go for when I can’t do anything but stare at a screen. I have my work done in advance. I have snacks and tea on standby. I let my boyfriend know how I’m feeling I have a hot water bottle to hand in case I get cramps.
If certain situations trigger you, mentally prepare yourself for it.
#4. Tell someone how you’re feeling
Always try to let someone you trust know how you’re feeling.
I know it can be so hard to muster the strength but a simple text message to let them know you’re not doing well is enough.
If you want to speak with a mental health professional, Betterhelp is an online counselling service that offers relatively affordable therapy remotely.
#5. Move your body
Exercise, like many of the points on this post, also falls under the topic of self-care, but I can’t emphasise just how important it is for your mental health.
I love yoga and, even though rest days are essential, when I have them, I can noticeably feel the change in my brain.
Exercise helps release endorphins and has numerous other health benefits. Even if it’s only a walk once a day, it’s one of my top tips for coping with depression.
#6. Eat healthy meals but also nourish your soul
A balanced diet isn’t just important for our physical health, it’s crucial for our mental health as well.
Try to eat regular, balanced, nutritious meals that you genuinely enjoy when you feel hungry. Fuel your body with yummy foods.
#7. Stick to a positive routine & start the day the right way
Human beings love routine and sticking to one is great for mental health.
Start your day off the right way by making your bed, getting dressed, drinking some water and brushing your teeth. If you really want to give yourself an early morning boost, throw some exercise in there as well.
I have a whole post on how to start a morning routine that increases positive thinking here.
#8. Practise positive thinking
Positive thinking feels impossible when you’re depressed but it IS possible.
Practise makes perfect and sometimes – sorry for throwing cliches at you – but you have to fake it ’til you make it.
When a negative thought pops into your head, acknowledge it but then challenge it and try to turn it around with rationalisation.
I have a whole post on positive thinking in negative situations here.
#9. Don’t fall into the toxic positivity trap
Positive thinking is excellent for our mindset and mental health.
However, pushing your feelings deep down inside of you and simply ignoring them can only make them worse long-term.
While it’s useful to practise gratitude and generally try to see the positive side, your emotions are valid and real. You shouldn’t ignore your problems and bury your head in the sand – that’s not going to help in the long run.
Instead, if you can, try to process your emotions in a healthy way. Channel them into art or poetry for example.
I personally speak to myself like I would a child. I’ll go over a mental checklist of self-care and try to observe where I’ve not met my needs, which could be causing me to feel low or anxious.
For example, I ask myself whether I’ve been getting enough sleep, moving my body enough, eating properly, maintaining proper boundaries.
It really helps.
Of course, sometimes we’re so low that we can’t be introspective. Sometimes we’re in situations that are so crap that it’s impossible to see the bright side. All we can do is concentrate on existing. And there’s absolutely no shame in that. You’re valid and your feelings are real. It’s sh*t and I’m really sorry you’re going through this.
Keep a journal of how you’re feeling. Use it to unpack your emotions. Even if you’re feeling numb – write that down.
It’s also massively helpful to practise gratitude. It not only encourages you to look at the positive, it let’s you reflect on it and stops you dwelling on the negative.
At first, you might feel like a bit of a fraud. Depression doesn’t just disappear because someone tells you to ‘cheer up’, even if that person is yourself.
But try to practise gratitude everyday, even when you’re feeling awesome, and it’ll become an excellent habit that helps you cope with depression.
Just a few minutes each day really adds up and can be invaluable for your mental health.