Controversial opinion: I don’t think depression is a disease that can be “cured.” Instead, I view it as a chronic illness that requires constant management.
If you don’t stick to your self-care routine, depression can creep back into your life and rear its ugly head again. That’s why I’m sharing seven things that improved my depression.
While I don’t think you can magically “cure” your depression, I do think you can actively work to manage it and keep it at bay. Of course, that takes work — which is why you should work these seven things into your routine (or as many of them as serves you!).
I went to group therapy.
If you follow me on Instagram or read my blog regularly, you know I was in an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for my depression and anxiety. A big part of IOP is regular group therapy sessions. At first, I was afraid to speak in front of other people about my deep personal issues — but after awhile, I became more open to the idea of group therapy. Once I was willing to give it a fighting chance, I got a lot out of it. I think a big reason why is the idea of social support: when you’re fighting depression, you tend to isolate. Group therapy forces you out of your bubble. Before you know it, you’ll be giggling along to each other’s jokes and making plans to go to brunch.
I learned not to believe everything I think.
When you have depression, your thoughts go a little bit like this: “My friend cancelled on me. She must not like me. I have no real friends. No one loves me. I don’t deserve love. I’m worthless.” If you believe everything you think, of course you’re going to feel like sh*t — your brain is straight-up bullying you! When you’re at the mercy of your thoughts, you naturally feel out of control. But once you learn to reframe your thoughts in a more positive way (and not to believe everything you think), you wind up back in the driver’s seat of your own brain. To get started with challenging your unhelpful thoughts, check out this helpful worksheet from TherapistAid.
I cut out emotional vampires.
Have you heard of the term “emotional vampire?” Like a bloodsucker, emotional vampires drain all your energy, leaving little left for yourself. They take the form of demanding “frenemies” who constantly gossip about others behind their backs, bosses with unreasonably high expectations and family members who feel the need to exert control over you. In the middle of a depressive episode, you can feel stuck dealing with people like this — but once you reclaim your power, you realize that you do have the power to change. Break up with that abusive partner. Say goodbye to bad friends. Set boundaries with family members who suck you (emotionally) dry. These types of choices can feel impossible in the throngs of depression, but don’t forget that they are real, viable options.
I stopped binge drinking.
I’ll clarify this point by saying that I’ve never had a drinking problem or felt dependent on alcohol. However, this point still stands for people like me who don’t identify as someone with a substance abuse issue. Back in college, I would go out drinking maybe once a month — but when I did go, I would drink four or five drinks until the details of the night started to get fuzzy. The problem? The next day, I suffered from much worse than a hangover: my depression would get worse, too. That’s because alcohol is a depressant. So, if you’re going to use alcohol while depressed, use it sparingly — don’t make yourself vulnerable to emotional distress by binge drinking. Better yet, only drink when you’re in a good mood, because when you start at a higher point while using a depressant, your lows can’t get as low.
I started dance classes.
Moving your body is so important. I say “moving your body” versus “exercising” intentionally, because I don’t believe you have to go to a gym and pump iron to reap the benefits of movement. Instead of forcing yourself to work out, you should find something you love to do that doesn’t feel like a workout. For me, that’s dance. I’ve been a dancer since I was in elementary school, so going to dance class just feels natural. Growing up, it was my safe place — and I still get that feeling when I walk into a ballet studio today. So, find the type of movement that makes you feel that way, too. Those endorphins are a natural high that even the strongest antidepressant can’t replace!
I found my purpose.
Stuck in the “rat race?” If you’re stuck in a job you hate, take this as your sign to leave and start doing something more meaningful. As someone who quit her job to start her own business, I can truthfully say that finding your purpose can change your life. I used to dread going to work every day — and now that I work for myself, I officially never feel that way anymore. Now, I look forward to waking up and working on my projects, because I know that helping people improve their mental health (whether that’s through marketing therapy or studying to become a therapist myself) is what I was put on this earth to do. Once you figure out what you’re meant to do, change your life and start working towards that. I know it can be difficult to find enough motivation to take a leap of faith, but taking that leap might just be what gets you out of that depressive funk.
I got dressed.
This seems so simple, yet it’s so transformative: try getting dressed in the morning. And by that I mean, try putting on an outfit that makes you feel good about yourself, instead of the sweats and hoodie you feel like wearing. If you’re feeling ambitious, maybe even put on some mascara and throw your hair up in a cute messy bun. It’s not that I’m vain, although seeing your reflection in the mirror will certainly put some pep in your step, but rather, it’s the fact that forcing yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing will make you feel damn good. Once you see yourself looking good, you’ll realize that you can do anything if you simply put your mind to it. The skill is called “opposite action,” and it’s something I learned in my DBT group that’s worked wonders on me.