For years, I’ve struggled with recurring depression – the intense kind that steals away your enjoyment of your favorite pastimes and makes you want to hide away under a pile of blankets, just staring at the wall. For a long time, I didn’t know how to manage those symptoms, even with medication. It caused me to struggle through my second semester in college, and made me spend an entire year not caring if I even had a single friend.
Since my depression cycles in so often, I’m resistant to giving into it. I maintain a schedule of events for myself, and some of them are non-negotiable because people depend on my presence. It’s hard sometimes, but this has helped me achieve high-functioning depression, which is sometimes the best you can hope for. While I’d like to shed the darkness forever, just knowing that I’m living my best with it is enough for me now.
Depression is the real monster living under your bed, but instead of making you fear it, the monster sucks you in and bounds you to it. Even the smallest tasks become difficult. When taking a shower is a triumph, how can you possibly make progress toward your goals?
After years of mourning the time I’d “lost” do to depression and feeling like I’d never accomplish anything, I’ve finally started seeing a light in the dark tunnel of my mind. I’m not perfect, but I’m definitely doing better than I ever thought possible, so I thought I’d share some of my tactics for coping with depression without losing sight of my goals.
Narrow your focus to what’s most important to keep going forward.
Trying to stay on track with all that you would normally do is often impossible when you’re depressed. Even if you don’t give into the urge to sleep all day, your mind will likely be distracted and restless, which translates to less focus. You will also likely be dealing with fatigue, making it hard to be at your peak performance level.
No matter what your goal is, there are essential tasks that can keep you on track, even if you’re just treading water. For example, as a freelance writer I’ve kept up with my paid work while dealing with depression, while I did less of my side or creative work. When I’m working on weight loss, I’ll focus on eating healthier and getting in brief bouts of activity, such as a ten minute walk or a few yoga poses. While this used to feel like I was failing at my goal, now I recognize that I’m still on track to reach my goal just at a sustainable pace.
Do something easy that contributes toward you goal every day.
In the past, I would get way off track while I was depressed because it often seems like everything is impossible. Now, I focus on the little bits that are possible – like the fifteen minute activities that help me move forward. Sometimes that’s fifteen minutes I spend jotting down a few fiction ideas, or a short walk around the block to help me stay active and get in my steps.
Whatever your goal is, there are little things you can do that help you work on your goal. Even if these are superficial activities, like snapping a few photos to remind yourself that you’re a photographer, doing something small everyday that connects to your goal can boost your morale and prevent a downward spiral that makes you get way behind on your goal.
Use positive self talk throughout your day.
Positive self talk is one of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself. I use it everyday, but I especially use it while I’m depressed. Give yourself a pep talk in the morning, and then remind yourself how well you’re doing after you do your easy activities. When the depression creeps in with its negative messages, counter them with your positive self talk.
It’s helpful to write out a few statements that really speak to you. I even post them around my apartment. I love magnets, canvases, and art pieces that feature positive inspirational messages for this reason. I’m surrounded by positivity, and in my darkest moments I’m reminded why I want to keep moving forward.
Accept compliments and supportive statements from friends and family.
I’m really hard on myself, and I’m even more demanding of myself when I’m depressed. My friends and family are often the voice of reason during these moments, reminding me that I’m doing more than I think I am. While the depression makes me want to reject their words and focus on my flaws, accepting these compliments helps me stay on track instead of faltering.
It’s important to remember that your family and friends are watching from the outside, so they have a different perspective on what you’re doing. While you may feel like you aren’t doing very much because you aren’t meeting your own expectations, they may see that you’re staying on track and making progress, even if it’s not as fast as you’d like. Believe them when they tell you you’re doing well.
Practice self care that includes acknowledging your depression.
While self care is important all of the time, it can look different during depression. Sometimes sleeping longer or staying in pajamas all day without judging yourself can be an act of self care while you’re depressed. Be gentle with yourself in how you try to break out of the depression. Sometimes you will need to burrow, but try to find ways to work out of the depression while you rest.
One of the best ways to do this can be journaling, reading a self-help book, or making some art. This way you can stay in your pajamas all day but still use a tool to cope with your emotions. It’s very empowering, which helps you stay motivated to keep going instead of sinking deeper into the depression.
In addition to acknowledging your depression, eating nutritious foods, drinking hot tea, and taking in plenty of water can help you feel better than eating heavy foods, drinking alcohol, or taking in too much caffeine. Try to help yourself feel better, not worse.
Depression is a fact of life for many of us. While it may never truly go away, learning how to cope with it can allow you to live a great life that’s full of everything you’ve ever wanted. Whatever you do – don’t give up. As bleak as your darkest moments feel, they will eventually lift and the light will return. It just takes time.