Many people deal with the persistent and disruptive symptoms of depression at some point in their lifetime. It is an affliction that affects more than 250 million people of all ages, globally. Depression isn’t just “feeling blue“. It’s a mood disorder that typically lasts two weeks or longer, which can cause negative feelings like sadness, hopelessness, and loss of self-esteem. When depression strikes, people may be reluctant to seek help, initially. Our first thought may be to attempt to handle the situation by learning how to deal with depression alone.
Everybody copes with depression a little differently. The way we perceive and handle depression is very much a function of our individual personality and specific circumstances in life. This guide is a good resource for self-evaluation and contains all the basic information you require to begin your journey to a happier and healthier life.
“Should I Attempt To Deal With Depression Alone?”
If you are asking yourself this question then you have found the best starting point in your self-evaluation process! The short answer is that it depends on things like your level of severity of depression, past experience and resultant success with self-diagnosis & treatment, as well as the quality and availability of your social support system.
If you are currently having, or have ever had, thoughts of hurting or killing yourself (suicidal ideation) or a past suicide attempt then you should skip to the section below on Severity Of Symptoms And When To Seek Professional Help and read the part on severe depression. I am saying this because, at this point, your personal safety is my primary concern!
However, if you feel confident that you can attempt to manage depression on your own then let’s begin with some of the common symptoms, types, and levels of severity before discussing helpful self-treatment strategies.
Symptoms Of Depression
Symptoms of depression may not be easy to recognize, initially. In the beginning, you may simply notice that you do not feel like your usual self and this may require self-monitoring. Keeping a daily log of how you feel may be helpful in spotting any developing changes in your thinking or physical well-being. If you have a past history of depression or know a family member or friend that has depression then you will probably be able to recognize symptoms quickly.
Symptoms can be behavioral, physical, or most commonly a combination of both. Often-times behavioral symptoms can lead to physical symptoms or vice-versa. Here is a list of common symptoms that may indicate signs of depression.
- Pessimistic outlook
- A feeling of low self-esteem
- Isolating yourself from people or refusing to leave your home
- Crying frequently
- Refusing to get out of bed
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Frustration or anger
- Loss of attention to good personal hygiene
- Refusing to eat regularly
- Excessive overeating
- Loss of interest in the things you enjoy doing (anhedonia)
- Thoughts of hurting or killing yourself (skip to When To Seek Professional Help)
- Inability to fall asleep (insomnia) -see: Natural Ways To Help With Sleep – Feeling Refreshed Every Morning!
- Waking up frequently in the early morning hours
- Sleeping excessively
- Excessive weight gain or weight loss
- Decreased level of body comfort or pain intolerance
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
- Developing new ailment symptoms without a definable cause (psychosomatic illness) like muscle or joint pain, diarrhea, & constipation
It is important to note that these symptoms may be due to another underlying cause, so you also need to look for other explanations. For example, weight loss could be caused by an overactive thyroid or the progression of an undiscovered cancerous condition.
Here is a TEDEd video by Helen M. Farrell. Click on the image below to see a brief overview of depression:
Things That Can Worsen Your Symptoms
Once you have decided that you have symptoms of depression then try to discover things that can bring it out or make it worse. A good approach is to start by examining the most recent events in your life and work you way backward.
If you have a family history of depression do not automatically assume that this is the primary underlying cause. Although your depression may have a genetic component, it is important to realize that your depression can fall into a specific category (see the next section).
Here are some common contributing factors that can bring about or worsen depressive symptoms:
- Severe ongoing pressure or stress
- Failure to reach important goals, leading to a loss in confidence or a low self-esteem
- Unemployment and financial problems
- New or chronic serious illness
- Death of a Family Member or Friend
- Trauma due to physical or psychological abuse
- Prescribed medications
- Having a baby (postpartum depression)
- Alcohol or drug abuse
Types Of Depression
There are many types of depression. Having a rudimentary understanding of their classification and the psychiatric syndromes that can be associated with depression can be helpful. For a more complete listing see the Wikipedia article on depression.
Here is a basic overview:
- Mood Disorders (Mood Affective Disorders) – Depression that is primarily due to a disturbance in a person’s mood.
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – Commonly characterized by two or more weeks of mood disturbance that significantly affects a person’s thoughts and performance. This can be a very severe and chronic depression associated with suicidal ideation (SI) as well as suicidal gestures and attempts. If you have SI then skip to When To Seek Professional Help.
- Dysthymia (Persistent Depressive Disorder or PPD) – A chronic mood disorder that may be associated with other cognitive and physical conditions.
- Bipolar Disorder (also known as “manic depression”) – A disorder characterized by periods of depressed and elevated mood.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – A disorder that is commonly present in certain times of the year in people with a typically normal mood. It is most often seen in the winter.
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder or EUPD- A chronic disorder characterized by strong emotional reactions with a distorted sense of self-worth and unstable relationships.
- Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood (AjD) – A mood disorder characterized by a problem adjusting to one or more psychosocial stressors. The person typically exhibits normal underlying emotional behavior.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – A disorder that is precipitated by an associated traumatic event that can cause depression, such as physical or psychological abuse.
- Non-Psychiatric Depression – Depression caused by things like medical conditions, medications, substance abuse, or pregnancy (postpartum depression).
Severity Of Symptoms And When To Seek Professional Help
You are most likely reading this article because you would like to attempt to treat depression on your own terms. You may or may not have experience with treating your symptoms in the past. My number one recommendation to you is to begin by evaluating the severity of your depression. There are many resources available to assist you in this process. One approach is to use a Patient Health Questionnaire.
Here are some general guidelines, which are not to be used in place of seeking help or continuing treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
Mild Symptoms – Mild depressive symptoms are typically more amenable to a self-treatment approach. Simply feeling “depressed” about the outcome of an event, such as your favorite football team losing the Superbowl, is NOT the same as having clinical depression. Depression with mild symptoms is an actual illness that won’t just go away simply because things start to go your way.
These symptoms can be typically characterized by:
- Sad thoughts – but more than just”Feeling Blue”, Anxiety, and irritability
- Crying intermittently for short periods of time
- Daily feelings of despair that seem stable and resolvable over time
Moderate Symptoms – Depressive symptoms of moderate severity may be a progression of unimproved mild symptoms or they may begin spontaneously. These symptoms are usually more difficult to deal with and may or may not respond to a self-treatment approach. It is vital that you frequently and objectively try to evaluate your progress. If you feel that your symptoms are not improving or progressing to a more severe level then consider acquiring professional help.
Typical symptoms can include:
- Crying on a more frequent basis
- Difficulty sleeping, with or without mild sleep deprivation
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Loss of interest in the things you typically enjoy doing (anhedonia)
Severe Symptoms – This level of depression is a serious business! If you think you are moving from a moderate to a more severe level or a negative “life-changing” event has caused you to suddenly develop severe-level symptoms then I unequivocally advise you to see professional help immediately – see: An Important Message Regarding Your Health And Well Being.
Symptoms can include, but are NOT limited to:
- Crying on a daily basis or several times a day
- Refusing to eat, with resultant significant weight loss
- Overeating continually, with resultant significant weight gain
- Waking up in the early morning hours crying or with a panic attack
- Inability to sleep with symptoms of sleep deprivation
- Poor personal hygiene
- Isolating yourself from family and friends
- Poor self-esteem and self-image
- Thoughts or attempts at hurting yourself – Do NOT make an appointment to seek professional help at a future date. Call 911 or the DBSA hotline at (800) 273-TALK (800-273-8255), or call another crisis hotline of your own choosing. If you have ingested any toxic substances or medications in overdose then go to your local emergency room and bring them with you.
Ten Ways To Deal With Depression Alone
There are a variety of resources, strategies, techniques, and support systems available to deal with the symptoms of depression. Start with something that you feel confident with since there is no universal approach that will work best for everyone. Work with it diligently and give it adequate time to begin to produce results, a minimum of one week but preferably a month. Don’t get discouraged and keep a positive attitude.
You may ultimately require a combination of several approaches to improve your symptoms. If you have treated your own symptoms in the past then begin with what you know works best. Most important of all, don’t be afraid to reach out for help along the way. I sincerely hope that one or more of these approaches allows you to find more peace and happiness in your life.
1. Family, Friends, And Support Groups
As an alternative to dealing with your symptoms of depression completely on your own, consider enlisting the assistance of a family member or friend. Sometimes it helps just to be able to talk with someone about things like personal or financial problems you may be having in your life.
You may know someone that has successfully overcome their symptoms or has assisted others with their depression. This could provide you with a fresh or unbiased point of view that can help you re-directionalize your approach. Interacting with others may help with feelings of helplessness and loneliness. Seeking support from others is also a good way to help avoid the tendency to physically isolate yourself, which can worsen your symptoms. If you have ties to a religious resource or organization then consider contacting a clergy member for spiritual support.
Support groups can provide a more organized way to address your symptoms of depression and give you the option of direct group participation or acting as a passive observer to compare the experiences of others to your own. One advantage of belonging to a support group is the feeling of being in a “less judgmental” environment, which can make active participation a less stressful or emotional experience. A good resource for finding a support group in the United States is the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
2. Self-Help Books, Videos, And Audio Materials
Self-help materials are another option that can be an excellent resource for evaluating and treating your depression. These materials are widely available on-line, for which there are many free ebooks and videos.
Another online option is to join a depression forum (which is different from an online support group), where both general and personal information can be exchanged with other members. The local public library can be an excellent option for those who do not have on-line access. These types of information resources can be a particularly good starting point for those who are suffering from depression for the first time. Some state agencies have websites for dealing with depression or can send you helpful brochures. You can call your local department of health for more information.
3. Diet And Exercise
Establishing a proper diet and preventing nutritional imbalances can improve or even prevent depressive symptoms. It is important to eat three nutritionally balanced and calorically regulated meals at approximately the same time each day.
If your caloric intake is too low then this can lower your energy level and make your symptoms worse. Likewise, a diet with too much sugar or caffeine can worsen any underlying feelings of anxiety.
A dietitian can work with you to identify appropriate food choices and problems with your eating habits. Don’t underestimate the value of a proper diet in the treatment and prevention of the symptoms of depression.
Here are some things that can commonly bring on or worsen depressive symptoms:
- Excess sugar consumption, especially sucrose, eat complex carbs instead
- Frequent consumption of alcohol and caffeine
- Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine withdrawal
- Vitamin, mineral, and amino acid deficiencies
- Food allergies
Here are some tips on how to manage your diet if you are depressed:
- Eat “Three A Day” – Make sure you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner during normal eating times. This will help you maintain a basic sense of structure during the day, which can help stabilize depressive symptoms.
- Stay Focused – Monitor your eating patterns and daily caloric intake. Depression can cause people to over-eat or under-eat. The guilt associated with abnormal eating patterns can further worsen your symptoms.
- Look At The Bigger Picture – If you have a history of anorexia or bulimia then seriously consider consulting a qualified healthcare provider.
- Keep Watch – Monitor your weight on a daily basis. Keep a log or weight diary to ensure that it is stable and adjust your caloric intake accordingly.
- Minimize Eating Stress – Avoid weight-loss diets. If you are overweight this is not the time to add the stress of losing weight to your symptoms of depression. This will, most likely, only make things worse.
- Don’t Binge – Avoid binge eating. If you enjoy eating then have planned snacks throughout the day. If you binge-eat before bedtime it may cause or worsen insomnia.
- Eat Smart – Eat foods that are rich in antioxidants. Chronic depression can negatively affect your immune system and decrease your body’s ability to fight disease. Antioxidants can help reverse this process. To learn more see Foods High In Antioxidant – Eating Smart For Better Health.
- Plan Ahead – If you have a problem managing your diet when you are depressed then make a list before you do your grocery shopping. This will help you buy just what you need and eat right. People who are depressed have a tendency to over-shop or under-shop.
Add exercise to your daily routine. It is one of the best ways to keep yourself mentally and physically fit. Learn to be flexible about how, where, and for how long you exercise.
Find exercises that you enjoy doing and look forward to. Reward yourself for exercising regularly by following it up with doing one of your favorite things. This will help make the experience positive and reinforce the behavior.
Here are some tips to help you find an exercise regimen that will work well for you:
- Embrace Variety – Develop a few exercise routines that can be completed quickly and in various locations like at home and at work. This will make it easier to exercise every day and especially during times when you are feeling symptoms of depression or anxiety.
- Find What Works Best – Develop an understanding of what exercises work best for improving your mood. Exercises that burn energy, like aerobics, may help improve depressive symptoms. Exercises that are relaxing, like stretching, may help improve for periods of anxiety.
- Set The Mood – Consider adding sensory stimulants to your exercise that will enhance your overall experience, like music or aromas. Be creative. This will allow you to get the most out of each attempt.
- Pick The Place – Find an exercise environment that works best for you. Use a quiet room in your home when you need to be alone and focus. Go to the gym when you would like the company of others. Exercise outdoors when a change of scenery or a sunny environment would be most beneficial.
- Be Organized And Resourceful – Plan your day around opportunities to exercise. With a little practice, you will quickly learn to find ways to exercise in conjunction with a busy schedule by grouping similar tasks together.
- Exercise As A Team – Exercising with family and friends is another way to keep yourself focused. It can help improve family dynamics and build new relationships as well as strengthen old ones.
- Mix it up – Combine your exercise routine with meditative disciplines such as yoga or Tai Chi. This will give you the best of both worlds, in terms of combining mind with body.
- Tire Yourself Out – Routine exercise can be an excellent way to consume “nervous energy“. Any type of physical work is one of the best ways to improve insomnia.
Here is an exercise regimen that can help you burn calories and lose weight: Fast Weight Loss Exercises – 5 Easy Ways To Lose Fat Quickly!
Note: If you do not need to lose weight then be sure to increase your caloric intake accordingly.
4. Dietary Supplements And Natural Medicines
There are a variety of herbs and dietary supplements that may be beneficial in treating the symptoms of depression. If you have severe depressive symptoms or a history of medical conditions then it is important to speak with your healthcare provider before considering starting this type of treatment regimen.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Found in flax seeds, walnuts, soybeans, spinach, broccoli, fish, & olive oil. They can decrease phsopholipid turnover in brain cells.
- Vitamin D – Found in milk and fish, especially salmon and tuna. Vitamin D can increase serotonin levels in the brain and may be especially useful in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- B Complex Vitamins – Found in milk and other dairy products, nuts, legumes, broccoli, rice, fish, apricots, & bananas. These vitamins work by maintaining the integrity and function of brain cells to improve cognition and protect it from the harmful effects of aging. The B complex vitamins assist in nerve cell repair and help stabilize electrical conduction.
- Magnesium – Found in fish, beans, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, & nuts. Magnesium improves calcium channel function and efficiency in the brain.
- Zinc – Found in meat, shellfish, dairy, seeds & legumes, whole grains, & nuts. It can help depression by modulating the brain’s response to stress.
Medicinal Agents And Supplements
- St John’s Wort – This plant improves the symptoms of depression by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, dopamine, & norepinephrine in the brain.
- Ginkgo Biloba – The leaves of this tree contain an extract that improves blood circulation to the brain, which might be responsible for its medicinal effect on mood disorders.
- SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) – This nutritional supplement increases the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
- Siberian Ginseng – This plant can decrease cortisol levels. Additionally, it can act as a central nervous system L-Dopa antagonist.
- 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) – 5-HTP is an amino acid that helps in the production of serotonin and the metabolism of tryptophan.
5. Aromatherapy Massage
Aromatherapy massage is the practice of rubbing essential oils into the skin. It has been used for centuries to treat the symptoms of depression, as well as a variety of other medical conditions. These oils can enter the bloodstream through the skin and by inhalation. Massage therapists commonly offer massage aromatherapy. Aromatherapy can also be used without massage, which may be more conducive to a self-treatment approach.
Although there are no research studies that show an objectively beneficial effect of aromatherapy on the symptoms of depression, it may offer short-term relief, especially when combined with other treatment modalities. Some of the more common essential oils used in aromatherapy include Lavender, Sandalwood, Basil, Geranium, and Patchouli. Concentrated (undiluted) oils can have an irritant effect on the skin.
Phototherapy uses bright light (about 10,000 lux) exposure for about 15 to 30 minutes a day that mimics being outside in the sun. It can be used to treat the symptoms of a variety of different types of depression. It has been shown to be particularly effective for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), especially during the Fall or Winter months.
Some studies have shown that it may stimulate the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. When used during the first waking hours, it can help synchronize your sleep-wake cycle, in conjunction with the melatonin produced in your brain. This can improve sluggishness and help you achieve a more productive day.
Light therapy boxes or lamps are widely available and many are reasonably priced for home use. Start with short time exposures and increase slowly until you begin to notice an improvement in your symptoms.
Phototherapy is definitely one of the most effective ways to improve depression and a variety of other mood disorders.
The number one light therapy box I recommend is the Miroco LED Bright White Light Therapy Lamp.
It has three brightness levels with a built-in timer and is easy to use. This unit is an Amazon Best Seller with over 4,000 customer ratings and very nicely priced. It meets the recommended 10,000 LUX brightness and is compact enough to use anywhere.
Its small size makes it easy to take on trips to prevent jet lag. The Miroco Lamp provides a 100% ultraviolet-free lighting experience, so it won’t damage your eyes, even on the brightest setting.
This short video will give you a quick overview of the Miroco therapy Lamp:
7. Meditation, Mind Relaxation, Tai Chi, And Yoga
Meditation, mind relaxation, Tai Chi, and yoga can help you focus on positive thoughts and improve the muscle tension produced by anxiety. Meditation and mind relaxation may be particularly useful in preventing the development of symptoms that don’t have an actual underlying medical cause (psychosomatic symptoms).
Incorporating these meditative modalities into each day can help you achieve the discipline necessary to acknowledge any negative thoughts while knowing that you don’t have to act on them. Any of these methods can help you to get back in touch with the healing power of your inner spirit. If you are anticipating an upcoming potentially negative situation then they can help you prepare for it and circumvent any unhealthy emotions in the meantime. Used regularly, they can help you maintain a state of “mental wellness” and avoid a relapse of the symptoms of depression. For more information see Mind Relaxation Techniques – A Healthy Escape From Reality.
8. Pet Therapy
Pet therapy is an ideal way to help treat the symptoms of mild depression, especially in people who naturally tend to isolate themselves. Pets can offer a continuous and nonjudgmental companionship, which may help stabilize feelings of insecurity and loneliness. Interacting with pets regularly has also been shown to increase self-esteem, sense of well-being, and speed of recovery.
Having a pet to care for can distract you from negative thoughts that you may be perseverating on. Depending on your specific needs, purchasing or adopting a pet may be adequate. To obtain a more psychologically integrated experience consider scheduling sessions with a pet therapist, who can help you choose a pet that complements your personality and monitor your improvement.
9. Music Therapy
Music therapy is another modality that has been shown to be beneficial in treating the symptoms of depression. You can benefit from this form of therapy by listening to music (a passive approach) or playing an instrument (a more active approach). Playing an instrument has been shown to stimulate more areas of the brain, which may accelerate the overall response to treatment.
Therapy can be done with or without the aid of a music therapist, who can assist you in selecting music to best fit your personal taste and mood, as well as evaluate your response to the treatment.
Vary your musical selection to compliment your particular needs. Music that is psychologically and spiritually uplifting generally tends to be a good overall choice. Music that is more dynamic, lighthearted, and makes you feel like dancing, can help elevate your mood. Music that is more subdued can help lower anxiety and organize your thoughts. Try to select a listening environment that is ideally suited for you. A comfortable, quiet, and relaxing space can improve your musical focus and enhance your overall enjoyment.
10. Leaving It All Behind
Sometimes it’s easy to get in a rut doing the same old thing in the same old place again and again. The tedious and monotonous routines of everyday life can wear you down. If this is a contributor to your depressive symptoms then it may be time to make your therapeutic getaway.
Plan a trip within your budget that involves something that you have been looking forward to doing that will make you happy. It can be a modest excursion or something on your bucket list. Sometimes revisiting a place that will bring back happy memories is a good strategy. Consider taking a family member or significant other, if that will make it a more positive experience. Even if you cannot begin your vacation immediately, planning it and looking forward to the departure date can be therapeutic, in and of itself.
Many people, at some time in their life, are affected by symptoms that could be a form of depression. These symptoms are distinctly different from just “feeling blue or down in the dumps” for a short period of time. Depression is an actual medical condition that involves a type of mood disorder. There are many types of depression that happen for a variety of reasons.
You should begin by trying to identify the type of depression you have and it’s associated symptoms. This will help you determine the best treatment modality, which may involve just one or a combination of approaches. Begin with one of the ten treatment suggestions and add others if necessary, including anything that has worked well for you in the past. Many symptoms of depression can be adequately self-treated. People with mild symptoms and prior experience with depression usually have the most successful self-treatment outcome.
It is important to always evaluate the severity of your symptoms to determine if you require professional help with possible crisis intervention or if you can attempt to treat the symptoms on your own. If you have severe depression then professional help is most likely your best alternative. If you are currently having suicidal thoughts or have a history of suicidal ideation or suicide attempts then seek crisis intervention immediately!
Tell Us What You Think
Please let us know what’s on your mind in the comment section.
- Do you have any additional tips or suggestions?
- If you treated your own symptoms of depression, what approach did you find most helpful?
- What do you do to prevent yourself from “feeling down”?