Things To Do When Depressed
If you’re struggling with depression I totally feel you. I had untreated clinical depression for ten years before I decided to do something about it and get help. For years my depression held me back in every area of my life. It was so bad for so long I couldn’t even remember a time where I didn’t feel depressed and every day just felt like it was getting harder and hard. My recovery and personal development journey has been a long one but I wanted to create this guide of things to do when depressed to share with you everything I have tried that has actually worked for me. If you follow me on Instagram you know that I still do most of these things every single day to manage my mental health and keep my level of functioning high.
One of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place is because there is so much stigma and shame around mental health. For years I always felt like I had to pretend that everything was fine. I am pretty high functioning even when I am depressed and for years no one knew I was battling clinical depression. I would write about the struggles and pain I felt at night in my journals and then make sure my journals were well hidden so no one could ever find them. I finally broke down to a friend of mine and told her how much I was struggling. She was very supportive and understanding and I was surprised to learn that she had been fighting her own battle with anxiety. For years I kept my mental health a secret and felt ashamed of how hard I was struggling inside. The truth is, depression is very common. The National Insititute for Mental Health estimates that 16.2 million adults have struggled with depression in the United States. If you don’t have a friend to talk to or if you just want to connect with other women who understand what you’re going through come and join my free mental health support Facebook group (for ladies).
Do Things You Used To Enjoy
If you’re depressed I know you don’t feel like doing anything right now. However, one of the best things I did to start to recover was to make myself spend time doing things I used to enjoy. I spent time with friends, went on long bike rides and took my dog on walks even though I didn’t want to. What I felt like doing was staying in bed for weeks on end and giving up. Fighting against my depression just felt so hard and I felt almost completely hopeless. However, I knew the only way to ever get better was to get up and do things and staying in bed would only make it worse. I made the decision to make myself do some activities every single week and I slowly started to add more and more to my calendar. I really tried to add activities that I thought I would enjoy if I wasn’t depressed. I started channeling my alter ego and I would ask myself “if I wasn’t depressed what would I do?”. Acting how I would act if I had already recovered from depression helped me think of other things to do besides just giving up and staying in bed. If you want some ideas of things you could do check out my list of free self-care activities.
There are TONS of affordable resources available to you (thank you internet!). I am a huge believer in books, podcasts, blogs and courses. Pick an area of your life that you want to improve and get resources to help you make those changes. You could create an amazing morning routine, start a journaling practice, study positive thinking, get information about healthy relationships or declutter your whole freaking house. No matter what you want to learn there is a course or book that can help guide you through the process. I am a huge self-help nerd so I love getting new books, taking courses and trying new systems that can help my mental health. If you’re looking for mental health-related resources come and check out my Mental Health Mastermind. I’m put new training’s up every single month to help the members improve different areas of their mental health.
Get a Therapist
If you’ve followed me for any length of time you knew this was coming. I talk about therapy all of the time because therapy changed my life. My therapist taught me that my depression is treatable and I could learn how to manage the symptoms. Years of therapy helped me let go of past trauma and start to take steps towards building the life that I wanted to live. Without it I think I would have stayed stuck and locked in my depression forever. A good therapist can help you start to work your way through depression when you can’t even imagine a way out. I recommend finding someone that specializes in whatever it is that you need to work on. My first therapist specialized in helping people that were struggling with severe clinical depression. She had even done her dissertation about the best ways to support someone who was extremely low functioning. That was what I needed to work on but try to find someone that specializes in working on what you think you need help with. There are amazing counselors that focus on everything from grief to childhood trauma. Once my depression was more manageable I started using BetterHelp and talking to a therapist over Skype because I travel a lot and it became more and more difficult to see someone in person every week. I am a huge advocate for BetterHelp because they assign you to a therapist that you can communicate with over email, video chat or on the phone. If going to talk to someone in person feels too scary maybe just start with email and phone calls. I still think there is a lot of value in talking to someone in person but if you’re looking for a more flexible and affordable option I use and recommend BetterHelp.
Work On Your Mindset
Working on my mindset has been a game-changer for me. I’m not someone that believes you can cure depression with positive thinking. Not even close. However, I do think what we focus on effects how we feel and our overall perspective about life. Once I realized I could make myself feel better by choosing to focus on something that made me feel good I felt like I had a lot more control over my depression. I used to constantly dwell on memories that were painful or beliefs that made me feel bad. Now when I catch myself doing that I call up a happy memory instead and do my best to relive that moment in my mind. I have done this so many times now it has gotten a lot easier for me to call up the feelings that are associated with each memory. Doing a lot of guided meditation helped me learn how to do this. I frequently discuss my mindset tricks on my mental health podcast if you’re interested in learning more. Learning to be mindful about what I allow my brain to focus on has been really difficult but it has brought tremendous benefits to my overall wellbeing and happiness.
Listen To Positivity
If your mind is a negative and unkind place get some positivity in your ears ASAP. Listening to audiobooks and podcasts all day every day has taken my life to a whole new level. Find something with a positive message you can listen to and use that to drown out your own negative thoughts. I listen to personal growth podcasts and books constantly throughout the day and it has really helped me shift my mindset. This is my best tip to counteract negativity if you are surrounded by negative people or someone that complains a lot. After you get done listening to them spew negativity put your headphones in a listen to something that makes you feel good. I love feeling like I am able to counterbalance any negative messaging I receive by listening to a podcast or book afterward. It is my ritual to cleanse my energy and keep my mood positive. If you really suck at positive thinking listening to things with positive messaging can help you reprogram your mind.
I journal every day when I wake up and every night before I go to sleep. I use my journal to set intentions for the day, write affirmations, sort out feelings and vent any frustrations you have. Right now I am really into using these prompts inspired by The Five Minute Journal.
- I am grateful for…
- Would would make today great?
- Daily affirmation. I am…
- 3 Amazing things that happened today…
- How could I have made today even better?
If you’ve never journaled before use these prompts to help you start your practice. When I’m feeling depressed I like to journal about how I want to feel, what I want to be doing and my dream life. Getting excited for the future usually helps me from slipping further down into depression. I like to write elaborate fantasies about what my ultimate dream life would look like and it makes me feel hopeful and excited for the blessings that are waiting for me in the future. I also like to write gratitude lists of everything I already have that I am thankful for. It’s so easy to focus on the things that we don’t like in our lives or what we wish was different. Writing gratitude lists has helped me learn to focus on what I already have that makes my life great and the blessings that surround me every single day. I am not a naturally positive person but my journaling practice has really helped me change my mindset.
I am a big believer in affirmations. I think it can really help reprogram your brain especially if you are like me and tend to tell yourself negative messages throughout the day. Some studies have even shown that saying affirmations can help underperforming students raise their grades. The first thing I do in the morning is writing all of my affirmations for the day into my journal. You can check out my guide to using affirmations here. I think the most important thing is to spend time creating affirmations that feel really powerful to you and then write and think them often. They need to be things you actually believe and feel are true. It’s kind of like giving yourself a really powerful reminder throughout the day. When I’m really struggling I’ll set the most powerful affirmations I can think of as alarms on my phone. That way they pop up throughout the day and I will use that as a cue to say a bunch of affirmations out loud or just in my head. I think for affirmations to really work you have to think them or say them a lot. Now that I’m in the habit I just kind of think them to myself throughout the day. It helps me keep my mood high and reminds my brain to focus on positive thoughts.
You can check out my podcast episode about my gratitude practice here. Anytime anything good happens to me I use that as a trigger to go off on a gratitude rampage in my head. Here is an example of what that would be like if I found a good parking space “My life is full of so many blessings. Good things are always happening to me. This parking space is just one small example of how life is blessing my all the time. I am so thankful I get to live this life. I am the luckiest girl in the whole fucking world. I love living this life in this body and I know I am exactly where I need to be right now. I am so excited for the future and all of the blessings waiting for me”. I can go on like that forever and gratitude tangents really help me when I need to shift my mood quickly. I like to do it whenever something good happens to me throughout the day but you can set any trigger that you want. You could decide your gratitude trigger is going to be whenever you buckle your seatbelt or every time you walk through a doorway. Use your trigger as your cue to go on a tangent in your mind of all the things you are thankful for, what you are excited about and what is amazing about your life. Making this a regular practice teaches your brain to always be looking for things to be thankful for throughout the day.
Get a Workout Routine
I know this is an annoying thing to hear someone say when you’re depressed because it is incredibly difficult to make yourself work out when you’re depressed. Even people that don’t have depression struggle with getting into a regular fitness routine and sticking with it. Getting in shape takes a lot of discipline and it is not an easy thing to do. However, I have to talk about it here because of it freaking works. If you struggle with depression you need to be working out. There have even been studies that show exercising can be just as effective as a lot of medication when it comes to treating depression. I take anti-depressants and wholeheartedly advocate for them so I’m not suggesting you substitute medication with exercise. I am just telling you that the reason everyone is always saying to work out when you’re depressed is that it really does freaking work. Commit to doing some kind of exercise every single day. Yes, every day. You don’t have to become a cross-fitter or even join a gym but you do need to go for a walk, do some yoga or do something. For my exercise is VITAL for my mental health. It might actually be THE MOST IMPORTANT thing I do to manage my depression and anxiety. When I was depressed I thought people telling me to exercise was the most annoying thing in the world. Now I’m the person doing the recommending because it worked for me and quite honestly it changed my life.
Clean Up Your Diet
Whenever I start to eat junk food all the time and skip out on salads and fish I usually eat I notice a BIG difference in my mental health. Start by cutting out things you know you shouldn’t be eating. It’s easier to cut out a bad habit than add a new one. Pick a category of food that you know you shouldn’t be eating and give it up. I’ve cut out fast food, soda and candy from my diet so far. Just start with one thing and really stick with it. Once you cut some of the bad things out make an effort to drink an actual ton of water and start eating more veggies. I have found that doing gradual changes like this is sustainable for me. When I try to cut ALL the junk food at once and only ever eat REALLY healthy meals I usually fall off the wagon after a week or two and settle back into ordering Dominos pizza from my couch.
Prioritize Your To-Do List
When you’re managing depression you don’t have as much energy as you usually do. I started writing my to-do list out based on how I am feeling that day. When I am feeling really good I’ll write a long list of everything I want to get done and I’ll work really hard to tackle as much as I can. If I’m feeling depressed I will ask myself how many things I think I can realistically get done that day and make my to-do list based on that. After I finish my tasks I choose some kind of reward (usually journaling or laying outside and reading a book). Even if you only get one thing done it is important to celebrate the things that you DID do instead of focusing on everything you didn’t get done. If you only focus on what is still left to do you will make yourself feel paralyzed by everything that is left and your brain will start believing you aren’t making any progress. The truth is if you just do one thing every day you are making progress! I believe it is important to push yourself to do more things that you want to when you’re depressed but you also must celebrate the things you ARE able to accomplish.
Talk To A Doctor
Like I mentioned earlier, I take medication to help me manage my depression. I have tried to go off of them many times (listen to my podcast episode here) but have always decided to go back on them. Everyone’s experience with medication is different but I know for me anti-depressants have made my life better in so many ways. It makes managing my depression a little easier and even though I still have to work out, eat healthily and practice mindfulness to prevent a relapse my medication gives me a little extra cushion between a bad day and a full-on depressive episode. When I finally talked to my Doctor about my depression and asked about the medication my whole life changed. My biggest regret in my life is not getting the help I needed sooner. I struggled for years to manage my depression on my own without medication and while I could often get it under control there would also be times where it felt like I was on a downward spiral and nothing I did could stop it. I felt like going on medication meant I was a loser or I wasn’t strong enough to treat it on my own. I let all of these beliefs hold me back from getting the medication I needed to transform my life. I ended up canceling trips, missing many experiences with my friends and destroying relationships because my depression would get out of control. Making the decision to go on anti-depressants changed my life for the best and while I know it is not the answer for everyone I also know it could help a lot of people in this world. I urge you not to be like me and let your pride stand in the way of getting the help that you need. I suggest you talk to your Doctor and see what the options are so you can make an informed decision about what is best for you.
Try Something New
Depression can keep us trapped and stuck in a rut. If you’re feeling stuck or uninspired make an effort to try something new. Find a class to sign up for and learn something you’ve always wanted to do. Try photography, a new dance workout or a meditation workshop. Doing something new can help you shake yourself out of a funk and help you feel like you’re getting a fresh start. Try going to new places. Explore an art museum, nature park or try a new restaurant. Make an effort to try new things to give yourself a little variety. Getting out of your comfort zone can help you and over time you might discover a new passion or find something you actually enjoy doing again. When I’m depressed it’s so easy to just let myself get through my daily routine and not do any extra activities. Adding something new or a little adventurous to your day can give you something to feel excited about again and shake you out of your daily routine. I’m also a really big fan of traveling so if I’m starting to feel a little depressed I’ll plan a trip somewhere. This gives me something to look forward to and I have found that traveling is really good for my mental health. It completely shakes up my daily routine and puts me in a whole new environment. I always get a lot of creative and fresh ideas when I’m traveling and I come back feeling really inspired about life. In fact, the idea for this blog came to me while I was traveling around Europe at Christmas time.
Try a Challenge
I have used challenges a lot to help me develop habits to help improve my mental health. Right now I am in the middle of the last 90-days challenge. I have done 28-day fitness challenges, 30-day journaling challenges, and healthy eating challenges. I suggest you design your own challenge around a habit that you want to create and then pick a length of time that feels do-able to you. You could do a seven-day meditation challenge where you commit to doing a guided meditation every day for seven days or a ten-day affirmation challenge where you write your affirmations every day for ten days. This is your challenge so it should be something that you really think will help your mental health and that you feel excited about. Before you start the challenge spend some time journaling about why you want to complete the challenge and all of the ways you think it will benefit you. Having a clear idea of why you want to do the challenge and what you’re trying to accomplish will help motivate you to finish it once you start. I have found that doing a challenge helps me stay focused on building my new habit.
I love goal setting and planning for the future. I like to start by coming up with very big dreams I would like to achieve someday. These should be a little scary but thinking about achieving them should also make you feel excited. I like to ask myself “what would I do if I knew I could not fail and my success was inevitable?”. That question helps me write down things I actually want to do and not just what I think might be possible. After I have my huge dreams figured out I write down my goals for the next year. I try to ask myself what I want to achieve by this time next year. Once I have my goals for the year figured out I break my year down into quarters and write out my goals for each 90-day chunk. If you’re having a hard time feeling motivated or excited about the future I suggest creating a vision board and really trying to imagine what it would feel like to live your dream life. Having a clear vision of what my goals are, helps me stay motivated and keep working to achieve them even when I don’t feel like it. I really enjoy working towards goals and I suggest trying to set some even if you’re depressed. The most unhappy times of my life were when I wasn’t working towards achieving anything and I didn’t have a vision for what I wanted out of life. Now I spend a lot of time journaling and imagining what life will be like when my dreams and goals come true. It helps me stay excited about life.
I hope this gives you some ideas of things to do when depressed. These are all of the things I did that really helped me finally get my depression under control and start living a happy life. I hope it helps inspire you and gives you some idea for things you can try in your own life. The most important thing I can tell you is to just try something. For years I didn’t do anything to try and manage my depression and every year was worse than the one before it. It was a terrible way to live and I wish I would have just tried something sooner. None of these things are quick fixes. You have to work at it for a long time to get results but I promise you recovery is so worth it.
I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering from a major disorder and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. If you need help finding a mental health care provider call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit BetterHelp to talk to a certified therapist online at an affordable price. You can download a free printable list of hotlines here and join the free mental health support group on Facebook here. This post contains affiliate links, you can read my full disclosure policy here.
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