Depression is like a hulking monster: at first glance, it looks like only the biggest guns can take it down. However, this is largely an illusion. In reality, depression is not one long war. It’s a series of small, daily battles. While long-term treatment strategies like improving nutrition, taking medication, and consistently attending therapy are certainly very effective strategies for winning the war, they don’t typically help on a short-term basis. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of fast-acting strategies for treating depression one day at a time, so that you can win the battles while you fight the war.
1. Distract yourself for a little while.
Whether you’re actively engaging your brain with a book or watching a mindless TV show, getting your thoughts off your problems is an important thing to do. When you’re depressed, it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of ruminating about your anxieties. Rumination makes you feel like you’re fixing your problems just because you’re thinking about them, but ultimately it doesn’t get anything done. Instead of falling into the sticky web of worrying all the time, allow your concerns to simmer down for a few minutes every day. Just be careful: distracting yourself from reality constantly can be dangerous. Sometimes distraction is used as a counterproductive tool to avoid doing unpleasant things that need to be done. It’s okay to watch a movie when you’re feeling too unwell to cope, but it’s not okay to watch movies all the time instead of learning how to cope.
2. Fill in a mood chart.
A mood chart is a helpful record of your daily feelings and activities. While that may sound complicated, they’re usually straightforward and easy to fill in. Most of them use a simple numbering system to track how you feel, like a one-to-ten scale, or they ask you to write down a quick sentence describing what triggered a particular mood or decision you made that day. They’re useful if you or your doctor(s) want to observe patterns in your mood fluctuations or identify recurring triggers that agitate your symptoms. And they don’t lie. Depression can have a negative effect on memory, so while you may think you have an accurate mental catalog of your recent mood patterns, your memories may actually be somewhat distorted by your condition.
Mood charts take just a minute or two to complete each day, and it’s easy to find pre-made charts online – I’d recommend this one from Depakote.com if you suffer from depression or bipolar disorder. It allows you to record a month’s worth of symptoms on one sheet of paper, and if a particular box doesn’t apply to you, you don’t have to fill it in.
3. Write down something you’re grateful for.
I’ll be honest: every time I do this exercise, it feels a little silly at first. I always forget what a powerful effect recording positive memories can have. But little gratitudes make for great ammunition against a melancholy mood. Writing down a single thing you’re grateful for at the end of each day has two major benefits. First, it sends you to bed knowing the day wasn’t a complete waste, because you’re glad about something that happened. Second, those gratitudes quickly pile up into a whole book of reminders of why you continue to get up each morning. Each gratitude may be small on its own, but if you’re careful not to repeat them, they combine to create a sizable patch of light your depression can’t touch.
4. Tell another human being how you’re feeling.
Depression lies to me over and over about how hopeless my future is and how little I’m worth. For many years, I kept that suffering to myself. I allowed those thoughts to calcify into beliefs because I didn’t tell anyone about them, which means my disease was my judge, jury, and executioner. No one knew what I went through, so no one could provide the checks and balances I needed to realize that the ideas my depression was feeding me were inaccurate.
Ever since I started blogging, those diseased, concrete thoughts have started to dissolve. Every day, my readers give me feedback that my pain is valid and there’s hope for me. But you don’t have to share your depression with the whole world to find affirmation for your struggles. Even the simplest statement like “I feel sad” can go a long way toward giving you relief when you share it with just one other person.
5. For goodness’ sake, do something you enjoy.
Don’t forget to live while you’re trying to survive. I understand only too well that finding the motivation and energy to have fun while you’re depressed can be extremely challenging, but even if you think you won’t like it, do something you usually enjoy anyway. You don’t have to go into it thinking you’ll have the time of your life; if you’re depressed, you probably won’t. In fact, it may have no positive effect on your mood whatsoever. But you know what definitely won’t have a positive effect on your mood? Staying in bed all day ruminating on upsetting things. At least if you’re engaging with an activity, you stand a chance of sparking your passions back to life, at least a little bit. Depression might tell you that nothing will get better if you pick up your favorite hobby, or write to that friend, or walk around the block, but there’s a good chance it’s lying. Just because you anticipate that you won’t enjoy doing something doesn’t mean it won’t turn out to be just the slightest bit fun.
All of these techniques are intended to help relieve depressive symptoms quickly and on a daily basis. While none of them is likely to cure you permanently, they have all been recommended to me by professionals as helpful ways to lift some of the weight of depression at a moment’s notice. I have personally found each of them to be helpful because they are flexible, simple, and relatively low-risk. I have not yet won the war against my depression, but with these strategies I feel equipped to win the next battle.