A few different times in my life I’ve been hit with debilitating depression. There’s a big difference between feeling sad for a couple of days and getting “over it” versus not knowing where you’re going to find the strength to live another day.
I’ve typically experienced the latter when I’m resisting change or holding on to things I need to let go. Some people have a harder time with change than others, and it took me a while to learn there’s no shame in that. I’m only human, and just trying to live my life the best way I know how.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to be on a reality TV weight-loss show. During production we were given every tool necessary to help us be successful with our weight-loss. The most useful tool to me was Dr. Grodner, the show’s resident psychologist. I’d seen therapists in the past, but none ever helped me as much as she did. One of the things I’ll never forget was how she suggested I make an “action plan” for the moments when I’m feeling weakest. I turn to my “action plan” as needed to help me remember who I am when I’m feeling lost or misdirected. I’ve compiled the most useful tools from it into a list for you.
They may sound like common sense to someone who’s never experienced crippling sadness, but for those of us who know what it feels like to be hanging on by a thread, hopefully my list can help you heal the way it’s helped me.
1. Make a list of things that make you happy. - When I’m not depressed, I naturally participate in activities that make my soul feel good, like writing, making people laugh and volunteering. When I’m depressed, it’s easy to forget some of the simple joys in life that make it worth living. Even if you aren’t depressed right now, make your list anyway so you’ll have it ready when you might need it in the future. If you are currently depressed, stop reading right now and write down at least five things that make you happy. You’ll be surprised how happy it makes you just to think about things that make your soul sing.
2. Eat a healthy breakfast. - I’ve never had the type of the depression where I lose my appetite. I’m more of the “eat all of my feelings” type. When I start my day with a healthy breakfast, it’s a small gesture of self-love that helps set myself up to make healthy choices the rest of the day. A couple of my favorite go-tos are oatmeal and protein pancakes. You can create so many different recipes with these two items as a base so you won’t get bored of eating them.
3. Practice good hygiene. - This one may seem the most obvious to some, but when you are feeling numb and apathetic to life it’s easier said than done. Take a shower. Brush your hair and brush your teeth. Even if you don’t feel dirty! These small tasks will remind you that you are alive and living. When you wash the dirt from your body, you can help cleanse the dirt from your mind. I do some of my best thinking in the shower and usually come out with creative ideas and a renewed energy for my personal projects.
4. Be kind. Always. - More often than I’d like to admit I’ve caught myself projecting my pain onto others. We are all guilty of it at times, but that doesn’t make it ok. It is much more important to be kind than to be validated. Let the small things go. I am super grateful for my handsome honey who continues to love me even after I’ve used him as a verbal punching bag, but I know it would be much better for both of us if I could skip this entirely.
5. Start your day with a smile. - Even when I’m not depressed I don’t always remember to do this, but setting intentions for your day can make all the difference. If you need to, hang up a sign where you’ll see it first thing in the morning. It could be full of inspirational quotes, or a simple note that reads “SMILE!” Then spend a minute or two thinking about how great the day ahead of you is going to be. Repeat it to yourself until you believe it.
6. Be nice to yourself. - Probably the biggest issue with depression is the slippery slope of self-loathing. It’s really easy to get caught up in a pity party when nothing seems to be going your way, or you don’t even know who you are anymore. It’s counter-productive to kick yourself when you’re already down. Make a list of all of the positive qualities you possess and reread them when you have those moments of feeling worthless.
7. Get dressed everyday, even if you don’t have anywhere to go. - It’s a lot easier to be lazy and unmotivated in your pajamas than it is in a fancy outfit. Sometimes I throw on cocktail dresses to write just because it makes me laugh. Being a stay at home mom on a mission to lose the baby weight, I’m practically living in workout clothes these days, but every now and then, I make myself put on “regular” clothes to remind me of how well I can clean up. If you’re already dressed, you’re also more likely to get out of the house to run errands or meet up with friends, two things that can seem impossible when you’re in the thick of depression.
8. Write, write, and write some more. - You may be thinking, “but I’m not a writer.” That’s just not true. Everyone is. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or put you in the running for Pulitzer, but writing is therapeutic. One of my favorite writing exercises is to just ramble on paper, then throw it out. No-one is going to see it, and if you are worried they are, buy a shredder or leave it nameless and dispose of it in public. It’s also helpful to write angry letters, that you don’t plan on sending, just to get the emotions out. A lot of clarity can be found with putting your feelings on paper.
9. Don’t be afraid of good things happening to you. - When I’m depressed and something positive happens in my life, I often want to dismiss it or discount the blessing. Remember, you are worthy of greatness and that you deserve to live a happy life with happy results. When you are able to accept your blessings, more will come your way and eventually you can crawl out of the abyss that weighed you down to begin with.
10. Believe in yourself. - No one person on this earth is greater than the next. We are all unique individuals with talents and gifts to offer the world. It’s hard to remember this when you’re sad, but I promise you it’s true. Everything you need to live a happy life is inside of you. You can’t fill feelings of emptiness with material items, so remember how great you are. Remind yourself of a time when you thought you couldn’t achieve something but you did, despite all circumstances. I promise you are capable of doing it again, but the power has to come from within.
11. Take time for yourself. - This was probably the hardest one for me to implement with this past bout of depression because I’m no longer the only person in my life I’m responsible for. Sometimes my partner would have to demand he was taking our daughter for the day so I would be forced to take time for me. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day to go on a quiet walk, or do the writing mentioned above. You are worth it, and you deserve to take care of your needs. If you don’t make time to take care of yourself now, you’ll have to make time in the future to seek professional medical help if you’re too far gone. You matter. Make sure you let the people around you know that too so they can help you find the time you need to heal.
It won’t happen overnight, or within in a week. It may even take a month, or two, to really find your footing, but I promise you, if you take time each day to do the things on this list, you will get better. You will feel happier, healthier and more energized. Eventually, you may not even remember what you were so sad about to begin with. And if you feel yourself spiraling into a depression again in the future, just bust out this list and get back to work!
You can do it! I believe in you!
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.