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Key Takeaways:

  • Depression is a medical condition that can affect a person’s emotions, behaviors, and thoughts.
  • Depression is characterized by extreme sadness and losing interest in previously enjoyable activities.
  • Aside from seeking professional help, there are many ways to cope with depression.

Depression is a serious medical condition that affects how one thinks, feels, and behaves. It drains a person’s energy, hope, and drive, making it even more challenging to take steps to aid recovery. Sometimes, simply thinking about coping skills for depression, like exercising or spending time with family and friends, can make them feel more out of reach or impossible to implement. Recovering from depression isn’t easy, but you have more control than you realize. The key is to start small and keep going. Here are 14 effective coping skills for depression that you can try when you encounter that familiar feeling.

Understanding Depression

To understand depression more thoroughly, we must define it. Depression is a mental disorder that affects a person’s mood, thoughts, and behaviors. The clinical name for this condition is medical depressive disorder (MDD), characterized by feeling sad and uninterested in activities one usually enjoys for two weeks or longer. This is not the same as sadness, which everyone experiences occasionally. Depression involves “extreme sadness or despair” and “ interferes with the activities of daily life and can cause physical symptoms such as pain, weight loss or gain, sleeping pattern disruptions, or lack of energy [*].”

Depression affects about 3.8% of the population, and it is 50% more common among women than men [*]. This illness can affect anyone, even individuals who seem to live in relatively ideal situations. Several factors can affect the development of depression in individuals, including biochemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors.

Symptoms of Depression

Several symptoms characterize depression. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or empty for long periods
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Losing interest in hobbies or interests
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or like you are “not enough”
  • Difficulty remembering things and an inability to concentrate/focus
  • Feeling irritable, restless, and frustrated over small issues
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, whether sleeping too little or too much
  • Changes in appetite, whether eating too little or too much
  • Frequently having thoughts about suicide or death
  • Physical symptoms (e.g., migraines, chronic pain, thyroid disorders, etc.)

14 Effective Coping Skills for Depression

While depression is a commonly occurring illness, it is also treatable. Aside from seeking help from a licensed professional, you can also manage your depression with the right coping skills. Here are a few you can try:

1. Daily exercise

Exercise is one of the most practical coping skills to combat depression. Research has shown that higher physical activity and exercise can reduce incidents of depression [*]. Exercise doesn’t just release endorphins (which help relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve mood), but it can also improve your self-esteem and confidence.

2. Mindfulness and meditation

When experiencing low moods, you can use mindfulness as a powerful tool. Turning your attention to the present moment rather than overthinking past or future events can reduce worry and rumination, which can contribute to depression.

Rather than waiting for depressive symptoms to appear first, try making mindfulness and meditation a habit. Incorporate DBT mindfulness exercises such as mindful breathing, “urge surfing,” and walking into your daily routine to help you stay focused on the present and control your emotions.

3. Social support

It is especially important to connect with family and friends when we are feeling depressed. By spending time with your loved ones, you can start to feel more supported and improve your mood. Isolation can worsen symptoms of depression, so it is helpful to reach out to family and friends and let them know how you are feeling. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up about depression to your family and friends, then you can opt not to disclose this information and instead spend time with them in more casual settings. You can go for a walk, watch a movie together, or have dinner. The key is to find ways to be around people who make you feel good.

4. Challenge negative thoughts

Negative thinking can worsen depressive symptoms. If you constantly beat yourself up or have a negative outlook, write down your thoughts. This can help you identify distorted thoughts, which are irrational or negative thoughts that are not always based on reality or facts.

Some examples of distorted thinking include:

  • Mind reading: “Everybody hates me.”
  • Catastrophic thoughts: “The event will be a complete disaster.”
  • Turning something positive into a negative: “I did a decent job, but it should’ve been better.”
  • Making unfounded predictions: “This feeling will never go away.”
  • Using negative labels: “I’m so stupid.”

You can challenge negative thoughts by asking yourself if each thought is valid, accurate or fair. One way to combat these thoughts is to treat yourself like a friend; how would you respond to a friend who had these thoughts?

5. Set achievable goals

When managing your depression, it can be especially difficult to be optimistic. Setting realistic and achievable goals is one way for you to make progress and feel more positive about future goals. For instance, if you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, your goal might be to get up, make the bed, shower, and get dressed every day.

Be careful about setting big or lofty goals, as they may only discourage you further. But if your goals are broken down into smaller and more achievable steps, they will be much easier to do. This can give you a much-needed sense of accomplishment and progress.

6. Avoid stress

Stress doesn’t just worsen and prolong depression — it can also trigger it. To avoid this, list down everything that adds stress to your life, whether that’s too much work, money problems, or difficult relationships. Then, find ways to manage these stressors. You can do this by creating a balanced schedule, seeking social support, and practicing relaxation techniques.

7. Express emotions

Bottled-up emotions can worsen depressive symptoms because they trigger your fight-or-flight response, increasing your heart rate and stress levels. It also hinders you from acknowledging and addressing your negative feelings. It is important to feel your emotions, process them, and (if need be) let them go. One way to express your feelings is by stating them out loud. Doing so can loosen the emotion’s grip on your well-being.

8. Practice self-compassion

Practicing self-compassion during instances of difficulty or suffering can help you deal with depression a little more easily. This involves caring for, forgiving, and being kind to yourself during challenging times. Imagine the empathy and understanding you give to other people you care about. Self-compassion is extending that same kindness to yourself.

However, self-compassion is not the same as having self-pity, which entails seeing yourself as a victim. It is more to do with self-acceptance and avoiding self-punishment when things go wrong. One way you can start practicing this is to acknowledge what you are feeling without blaming yourself for your emotions.

9. Spend time in nature

A simple way to combat some symptoms of depression is to head outside and spend some time in nature. Research has shown that visiting natural environments can reduce both physical and psychological stress [*]. It can also boost feelings of self-esteem and improve overall well-being.

While this can be challenging for people who live in urban areas, something as simple as visiting a park can significantly affect our mood and outlook. If you live in a more rural area, try taking a short hike or spending time in the woods. You can also visit other places like the beach, lakes, or rivers. Whatever is available to you will be helpful.

10. Engage in fun activities

Having fun is one effective way to combat depressive symptoms, even temporarily. Engaging in pleasurable activities can make us feel more connected to other people. It can also help us feel better about ourselves and see our relationships more positively. You can try activities such as journaling, sports, creating art, spending time with loved ones, meditating, going to the movies, doing your hobbies, or anything that brings you joy.

11. Help others

Most of the time, coping with depression focuses on acts of self-care. But individuals can also facilitate their healing by doing good deeds for others. Research has shown that performing acts of kindness can reduce depressive symptoms. This technique also promoted feelings of connectedness to others, which is essential as social connection is strongly associated with well-being [*].

12. Limit social media

Social media is an amazing digital tool that allows us to stay connected and have fun. However, excessive use has also been associated with feelings of anxiety, depression, the fear of missing out (FOMO), and even addiction. In fact, a study found that limited use can reduce loneliness and depression and improve well-being [*]. Try reducing the time you spend using apps like Facebook and Instagram and engaging in hobbies and with other people instead. This may help you feel more connected and fulfilled.

13. Laughter

Studies have shown that laughter can be an effective way of coping with depression since it alters dopamine and serotonin activity. Laughter also has a positive effect on overall mental health and boosts the immune system [*]. There are many ways to add laughter to your day, including watching a funny show, looking at your favorite memes, or spending time with a particularly funny friend.

14. Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is crucial when you are struggling with depression. There is a strong link between sleep disturbance and depression, and research has stated the need to manage this to prevent depressive relapses and improve quality of life [*].

There are several ways to get enough good-quality sleep, including having a set bedtime, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and ensuring that your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. It may also be helpful to take sleeping aids, such as melatonin — just be sure to consult with your physician before taking any supplements.

When to Seek Professional Help for Depression?

These depression coping strategies are powerful tools for managing your depression. You can even supplement it with tools such as depression worksheets. However, if your symptoms continue to develop and feel overwhelming, it may be prudent to seek professional help.

Mental health professionals like therapists can evaluate your symptoms to determine if there needs to be an official clinical diagnosis for depression. This can help determine what types of treatment are appropriate through therapy and medication. Different types of therapy are used to treat depression, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), emotion-focused therapy (EFT), and more.

If you are already seeking treatment from a mental health professional, inform them of your symptoms and what you are experiencing. They can revisit your treatment approach and provide new coping skills you can implement.

The Bottom Line

There are many different ways to cope with depression. Whether used together or individually, coping skills can help you manage some of your depressive symptoms. Remember that these depression coping mechanisms are just one part of a more extensive process of treating and recovering from depression. Ultimately, they can complement therapy and medication and help you on your path to healing from depression.

References:

  1. American Psychological Association. Depression. 2023.
  2. World Health Organization. Depressive disorder (depression). 31 March 2023.
  3. Schuch F and Stubbs B. The Role of Exercise in Preventing and Treating Depression. August 2019.
  4. Ewert A and Chang Y. Levels of Nature and Stress Response. May 2018.
  5. Cregg D and Cheavens J. Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions. 12 December 2022.
  6. Hunt M, Marx R, Lipson C, et al. No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. December 2018.
  7. Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. July 2016.
  8. Nutt D, Wilson S, Paterson L. Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression. September 2008.