Why is it difficult to cope with depression?
Coping with depression seems impossible, but with a few tips and tricks you’ll see result soon. People who are depressed lack the energy to do even the most basic things, such as getting out of bed. Depressed people lost their drive to make something out of the day, or to enjoy things they used to do. The lack of energy, hope and joy makes coping with depression so difficult. Coping with depression, however, is easier if you start with small steps and get your inner drive back. This page tells you exactly how coping with depression is done effectively.
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Quick jump-to menu:
1. Coping with depression: Setting goals.
Depressed people usually don’t feel like doing anything. Staying in bed and wishing for tomorrow to come as soon as possible is all they want. Coping with depression often seems too difficult of a task. But why? Why do depressed people feel so hopeless and empty and where is their drive? Almost all of my depressed patients tell me they have no (realistic) short-term or long-term goals. And when I ask them to close their eyes and think of something they would love to have achieved one day, I see a smile on their faces. When they start telling me about their dream/fantasy they seem to feel alive again. Chasing a dream or a fantasy may seem impossible when you’re depressed, but if you set your goals realistically, things suddenly get easier. Setting realistic goals increases the chance of experiencing success and success brings back the drive and joy in your life. Be aware that setting unrealistic goals may make it more difficult to achieve them. Not achieving goals may increase your depression symptoms. If you have the feeling that this step is too difficult for you, then please contact me and let’s do this together. You’ll see that coping with depression is easier when we do it together.
Coping with depression starts with setting realistic goals. This is how it works.
- Close your eyes and try to picture yourself in a few years (5 or 10) from now.
- Think of what you would like to have achieved by then.
- Try to picture this event in as many details as possible.
- Open your eyes and write them down. (Not: I want to have 3 children and a full time job. But: I want to have 3 children (Jane, Isaac and Jordi). They have blond hair and green eyes. They are social, lively etc. Their mother is my wife, she is…. and so on. We live in an apartment/house in Amsterdam/Dubai and I work as a … and I have good contact with my colleagues).
- Reread what you’ve written down and add the details you forgot so far.
- Repeat this process for at least 2 more times so you get 3 different long-term goals.
- Take one long-term goal and answer the following question to yourself: What do I need to do to get there?
- Write down the process. For example: If you want to become a lawyer, you need to finish your study. Then again answer the question: What do I need to do to get there?
- Write down the process. In this example you need to pass exams and you need to attend classes, write papers and so on. These are all short-term goals.
- Repeat this process for the other long-term goals.
Note: for some people it’s more difficult to figure out what they want to do in 10 years from now. For them surviving this year is already a struggle. In this case: try to figure out what you want to have achieved by the end of the year and don’t set your goals unrealistically. Create small goals so that the chances of achieving them are high and you experience success! Success makes you feel good.
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2. Coping with depression starts with a healthy routine.
Staying in bed all day long is a routine, but it’s not the routine you want. People need a healthy routine. A routine makes people feel good, comfortable and takes away stress, anxiety and feelings of uncertainty. Maintaining a routine is difficult if you have nothing to look forward to. And that’s why we started with step 1. Use step 1 or the goals you’ve written down in step 1 as a motivator for your routine.
Having a routine makes coping with depression easier and these are the guidelines I strongly recommend:
- Sleep approximately 8 hours in the evening. Sleeping more or less hours may significantly affect your mood in a negative way. To make this step easier: use your bed for sleeping only. Your body needs to start associating your bed with sleep. Turn off all electronic devices, such as computers, laptops, smart phones and televisions one hour before you go to bed. These electronic devices send out too much to process right before you go to bed. Develop a bed routine so your body unconsciously prepares for bedtime. Think of brushing teeth, taking a bath/shower, reading a book for 10 minutes.
- Do some home chores in the morning. By doing some home chores in the morning you give yourself a kick start. Finishing with some home chores makes you feel good and generates more energy (even though it may be tiring). Coping with depression is not so much about being active, but about doing things that give you a good feeling (achieving goals, keeping up with paper work and so on).
- Fill your day with activities. When you occupy yourself you don’t feel sad, tired and hopeless. It’s important to keep yourself busy throughout the day, even though you may not enjoy it that much. Visit family or friends, Go to the supermarket each day, in stead of once a week. Prepare dinner each day, and so on.
- Make yourself a compliment. Whenever you achieved a small goal or finished with a home chore, make yourself a compliment. Tell yourself you did a great job. It’s important to appreciate the things you do.
- Eat regularly. Having 3 important meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) a day is important while coping with depression. It gives you the necessary vitamins, minerals and of course energy to survive the rest of the day. If you want to feel better then consider eating food rich in carbohydrate (baked potatoes and pasta), because they boost your mood in only 20 minutes of time (due to the production of serotonin).
- Try to keep your stress levels low. Stress makes depression symptoms get worse and prolongs depression. It’s important to identify what stresses you out and to deal with them adequately. For more information read: dealing with stress.
- Get enough sunlight. Even though you may not feel like it, going out during the day is very important. Research shows that exposing yourself to sunlight (or an artificial sun lamp) reduces symptoms of depression and makes you feel better. If sunlight is not available in your area, then purchasing an artificial sun lamp will do the trick as well. If this is not possible either, then eating fish (rich in Vitamin D) will do the trick as well.
3. Eating healthy is important when it comes to coping with depression.
Healthy food directly affects the way you feel. If you eat a lot of sugars (candy, cake, chocolate) you’ll feel bad afterwards. Next to eating every 3 or 4 hours, it’s also important to pay attention to What you’re eating in order to cope with depression effectively.
- Avoid feel-good food. French fries, cakes, pies and snacks are delicious and may seem like a mood boosting type of food. But the satisfaction feel-good food brings you lasts only a short while and soon makes you feel guilty, fat and bad. It may make you feel even more depressed than you already were and therefore coping with depression and feel-good food are no match. The best thing to do is to avoid food that contains sugar and refined carbs. These foods boost your mood and make coping with depression easier.
- Eat carbohydrate rich food. Food rich in carbohydrates (baked potatoes, whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread) stimulate the production of serotonin and therefore boost your mood in only 20 minutes of time.
- Eat Omega 3 fatty acid food. Although there is still a lot of debate going on, some studies recommend eating Omega 3 fatty acid foods, because it boosts your mood. Other studies, however, don’t find a relation between omega 3 fatty acid food and mood. A few studies report that it doesn’t work when someone has severe depression. Examples of omega 3 fatty acid food: fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseed or fish oil, radish seeds, nuts, basil, oregano, spinach.
- Eat unsweetened dark chocolate. Eating chocolate is considered feel-good food and should therefore be avoided if you are depressed. Unsweetened dark chocolate, however, has a positive effect on people. Eating a little bit of unsweetened dark chocolate (60% cacao) increases attention span, makes you more alert and improves blood pressure. So if have the feeling that it is more difficult to focus after a while, try to eat a little bit of this type of chocolate; you’ll see a positive mood change immediately.
- Eat food rich in iron. Low iron levels may make coping with depression more difficult, because it causes fatigue, difficulty concentrating and decreases your mental awareness. Examples of food rich in iron: cow meat, lamb meat, fish, green beans, broccoli and whole wheat bread.
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4. Coping with depression – Exercise, or not?
Almost every counselor, general practitioner and psychiatrist says you need to exercise when you are depressed. But does it really help you? Does it make you feel better overall? In general: it does. However, the evidence is not that strong yet. So far studies show that physical exercise not only occupies your mind, improves your stamina, but it also makes you feel good about yourself. Let’s have a closer look to see how coping with depression and exercise may go hand in hand.
- For people diagnosed with severe depression exercise is beneficial next to the traditional treatments: psychotherapy and medication.*
- For people with mild/moderate depression exercise is as efficient as psychotherapy or medication.* So you don’t necessarily benefit more from therapy And exercise compared to just exercise or therapy.
- Exercise therapy improves physical health (metabolic syndrome), body image, stress coping skills and quality of life.* People experience less stress and have more energy.
- Exercise therapy is more efficient than doing nothing. In fact, doing nothing is associated with the development of certain mental disorders, such as: anxiety disorders and mood disorders.
What kind of exercise?
For coping with depression exercising for about 20 to 30 minutes a day should be enough to reduce symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. If you can’t exercise daily, then 75 minutes a week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes a week of intense exercise should do the trick. But where and how to start?
The best thing to do is to build up slowly. If you never hiked or cycled, then it is not wise to hike or cycle for 20 to 30 minutes at once. This will only increase the chance of injuries. For some people having a walk outside may already be beneficial, whereas for others hiking 3 kilometers in 20-30 minutes has more effect. Unfortunately coping with depression has a trial-and-error factor: you may run too much and feel your muscles for the next days, or you may do too little and don’t feel anything. With a little persistence you’ll see what works best for you: how far, how fast, alone or in groups and which type of exercise. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll notice that you’ll feel more rested, have more energy, look forward to exercising again, experience less stress and have a better mood during the days.
5. Coping with depression – Challenge negative thinking.
Coping with depression is difficult for most people because depressed people experience a lot of negative thinking. Negative thinking is when you evaluate yourself, your behaviour, events, things around you in a negative way. Negative thinking makes everything look tougher, heavier, uglier, not exciting and literally drains your energy when you only think of it. By challenging negative thinking you are effectively coping with depression, if you do it right. But first things first:
- Lower your expectations: By lowering your expectations of yourself or others, you will experience less disappointment and failure. The higher you aim the bigger the chance to fail, it’s that simple. For now it’s important to start with a task and to finish it, rather than to worry about delivering the best product ever. By lowering your expectations you experience more success and success boosts your mood and self-esteem. If you have difficulty lowering your expectations, then contact a friend and ask them if you’re aiming too high for now. Coping with depression is all about being realistic.
- Stop punishing yourself: If you fail to finish something, if you can’t do certain home chores or cancel an appointment because you can’t get yourself out of bed, then don’t punish yourself for it. Realize that you are depressed right now and that it is difficult for you to do the things you used to do when you weren’t depressed. In stead, focus on the things you achieved! You started the task, you Made the appointment and there are other home chores you Managed to do.
How to challenge negative thinking?
- Write down when and where you are starting to thinking negative about yourself or your behaviour. For example: At 5PM when I was at home I got a text from Walter. He invited me for a drink.
- Write down what you thought. Try to be as accurate as possible. For example: Oh no, I can’t. I am such a loser, I can’t get a job and I am very boring company. I always make a fool of myself around Walter.
- Write down for every single thought you had how much you think this thought is true (0-100%). I am such a loser (true: 100%), I can’t get a job (80%), I am very boring company (75%). etc.
- Write down evidence to proof that this thought is actually true. For example: Arguments for: “I am such a loser”: I think I will never get a job, I have no friends, I can’t get a girlfriend, I have debts.
- Write down evidence to proof that this thought is actually not true. For example: Arguments against: “I am such a loser”: I’ve had a job for 15 years. People invite me for bbq’s or drinks. I’ve had 3 long relationships in the past. I have a Bachelor in Economy etc.
- Compare the arguments for and against and try to eliminate everything you can’t use as hard evidence. So erase: “I think I will never get a job” and “I can’t get a girlfriend” <– these are not true (see Arguments against). I have no friends is open for debate since people are still inviting you over. And so on… Eventually you’ll see that your feelings/thoughts are far too negative.
- Find a more balanced thought: In stead of “I am such a loser” you could use: “At the moment I feel down”. Do this for every thought.
Note: please do this exercise with a professional therapist/counselor. This exercise is much tougher alone than with professional help.
Avoid common thinking errors:
- Black and white thinking: everything is perfect, beautiful, wonderful etc. or everything is horrible, ugly, a disaster etc. Black and white thinking (or all or nothing thinking) is killing for people who are trying to cope with depression, because they evaluate most things negative, Extremely negative. Realize that there is a big grey area things, events and people can be in.
- Over-generalization: one experience is used as proof for other similar future experiences. If one partner cheated on you, then everyone will cheat on you (or: then he will always cheat). Coping with depression means you stick to facts and observations. Don’t overgeneralize, because you punish yourself without a proper reason (I failed once, I will fail again and again) and you don’t give others a chance (She made a stupid joke, thus she has no humor at all).
- Jumping into conclusions: it’s common for people who are coping with depression to jump into conclusions about themselves and others. This one looks like over-generalization, but is different: ‘He cheated on his girlfriend. He can’t be trusted at all. He is unreliable, he will never be a decent guy’. Or: ‘She got a speeding ticket. She is a horrible driver, she doesn’t know the rules and she will cause an accident soon’.
- Doom thinking: thinking that 1 bad thing will trigger more bad things and that everything will turn out to be a disaster. Coping with depression is difficult when you think like this, because one mistake easily takes away your drive, motivation, and self-esteem.
- Shoulds and should nots: thinking in terms of strict rules and punishing yourself if you can’t stick to them. I should do…. I should not do…. <— analyze who told you these things and ask yourself why it is bad to break/bend these strict rules. Coping with depression means you have to change certain habits and ways of thinking in order to say goodbye to your depression.
- Ignoring the positive: emphasizing the negative and ignoring the positive is a perfect way to get depressed. Whenever you emphasize the negative in someone or something, then try to find some arguments to tackle this negative evaluation… This may seem hard in the beginning, but practice makes perfect.
- Labeling: judging yourself or others based on 1 single event or stupidity. You failed a test; ‘I am such a failure’. By doing this consequently you will start to feel like a failure soon enough. Stop doing this and stick to facts: ‘I failed this test, but I know I get a new chance’.
- Diminishing the positive: highlighting the negative events and diminishing the positive events. Depressed people like to give credits for their good performance to the circumstances rather than themselves. And they tend to blame themselves for bad performances rather than looking at possible explanations.
- Using emotion as a judge: it’s easy to think you’re ugly if you don’t feel that pretty. In other words: you judge upon the way you feel about yourself or others. Especially when you are feeling depressed this way of judging is very bad, because depressed people in general feel negative about themselves.
6. Coping with depression – Spending time with friends.
Dragging yourself out of the house, or inviting friends over sometimes seems like a hell of a job… almost impossible to do. You don’t feel like socializing, getting dressed, interacting with others, listening to your friends success stories and so on. But this is a very powerful way of dragging yourself out of a depression. Forcing yourself to go out will make you move (getting exercise), get sunlight (Vitamin D), and get distracted (other people talking to you) which makes you temporarily forget about your own sadness. It will make you less isolated and you’ll see that others around you missed you, like it when you are around and so on. Coping with depression means you maintain the friendships you have and you force yourself to be among them.
If getting out of the house is too difficult at the moment, then call, chat with, Whatsapp or Viber a friend and focus a bit on your friend. This is the first step. Isolation will eventually make you more isolated and this is no good to anyone.
7. Coping with depression – Knowing when to get professional help.
If you have the feeling coping with depression is too difficult for you and the depression is getting worse and worse, then please reach out for professional help. Online therapy is ideal for those who can’t drag themselves out of bed, who can’t motivate them to go out or who simply prefer their own place to have treatment.
Treatment is also effective for those who feel like nothing can safe them anymore. Schedule an appointment now, go to: contact me.