Wintertime (pandemic aside) can be a tough time for many. Considering layering year #2 of a global pandemic on top of that - woah. Lots of us have had to get used to seeing our loved ones less over the last little while - which for some may have been less-than-helpful when it comes to living with depression. Whether you deal with seasonal depression, relatively infrequent “down” days, or cope with a formal major depression diagnosis - we’ve got some tips to lean on next time you’re struggling.
Fact check your negative thoughts
A good way to think of depression is a voice in our heads that lies to us. Depression doesn’t speak the truth - instead, it runs a loop of our deepest fears, most sensitive insecurities, and past memories stripped of the positive parts. Start paying attention to the thought cycles that run on repeat through your head when you’re feeling depressed - and pause. Consciously and skeptically consider the thought you’re having (e.g. “I can’t do anything right,” “I’m always disappointing people,” “no one likes me, really,” “I’m not good enough to do …”). Fact check yourself - reflect on (any) evidence at all supporting that negative thought. Often, we struggle to come up with even one instance (depressed brains can be cruel to us in that way). Equally as often, though, we’re able to come up with much more data that is contrary to our negative thought (e.g. “Ok yes I still have a lot to learn, but I’m really good at ...)”.
Get in the habit of scrutinizing your negative thought spirals and remember that our thoughts can trigger our emotions. The more we prevent thoughts that are just not true from triggering an otherwise-unnecessary negative feeling, the better off we’ll be.
When you’re hours (or even days) deep in your couch or bed, frustrated and stuck but just unable to start moving, a seemingly normal and achievable task like showering, putting your dishes in the dishwasher, or returning a text message can seem absolutely unattainable. Whether you’re just having one of those days where you can’t seem to get your brain to communicate with your legs and get up, or are on day/week 6 of being one-with-the-cushions beneath you, we get it. It’s hard. During these times, set extremely small (read: achievable) goals to start. It may be “move from bed to couch” one day, “put 2 plates in dishwasher” the next, and “shower” the following day. Motivation grows from momentum, not sudden inspiration. The more small-ish goals you set and achieve, the more you’lll slowly get your motivation and agency back.
Finally, remember that your goals need only be respective to you: you are the only one you need to compare yourself to. If you’re doing one millimeter better than yesterday, that’s a big win, as far as we’re concerned. Celebrate your small wins - they will become the foundation of your bigger ones.
Take control of your time management (and procrastination)
The more we procrastinate, the longer our list of to-dos becomes and the heavier the weight on our shoulders begins to feel. Sometimes the best way to start lightening the load is to just start. Don’t think about what you need to do so much or whether you “feel like” doing it (often, you never will). As you start chipping away at your list, the weight will feel lighter, and you’ll be motivated to keep going. The moral of the story here: don’t overthink it (we know - easier said than done!).
Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance
Emotions are a part of life - the full spectrum of them, not just the positive ones. We are designed to feel all of them - and some aren’t ‘more valid’ than others. We are built to feel sorrow just as much as we’re built to feel joy and elation (and in fact, the more negative emotions help us to feel and enjoy the positive ones).
When you’re feeling down, remind yourself that you’re allowed to feel the way you do, right now, in this moment. Tell yourself it is temporary and it will always pass - because it will. The only way to go through life is to move through your emotions as they rise. Trying to shove them down, avoid them, or make them disappear only makes them harder to control and cope with down the road. Let your feelings come and go - notice instead of judge them. Journal or vent to a trusted friend if needed, but do not let them hijack your whole day or even week. Let them run their cycle and dissipate as they always will. Don’t give how you’re feeling during a dark moment more power than it deserves - don’t let it control your tomorrow, too.
Finally, remember: every moment counts - you can try again at any time
A day isn’t “ruined” if you don’t shower until 4pm. You get to decide your path in every single moment - what freedom that gives us! Depression is really, really tough sometimes but slowly we can dig ourselves out. As we trust the process, show ourselves patience, compassion, and acceptance, we can start chipping away at the hold depression can have on us.
We slowly start returning that loved one’s text, showing up again to weekly walks with a friend, responding to emails, finding joy once more in the small moments that used to light us up, and cooking healthy and delicious meals for ourselves. And then one day, one moment, often unexpectedly, we realize we feel better than we have in days, weeks, or months - and our hope and excitement for the future is restored.