Symptoms of depression can make it hard to do just about anything. Many people report having trouble getting out of bed, feeling lethargic, or absently going through the motions of the day. They may be sad, or simply feel numb and detached from things that used to be important.
Coping skills for depression can help you manage the symptoms, and sometimes boost recovery. Examples include self-care, talking to friends, and physical exercise. These activities may help you feel better in the moment while you seek ongoing support.
Depression can be situational or may be caused by an inherent chemical imbalance. People may have short spells that last days or weeks, or may continue to feel down over time. Persistent symptoms can be a sign of major depressive disorder. If your symptoms last, make an appointment with a therapist or doctor for an assessment. Meanwhile, these self-care techniques can help you cope until you’re feeling better.
What Are Coping Skills?
Coping skills are simply activities or actions that make us feel better during a difficult time or situation. They’re often used as a way to deal with stress or mental illness. They don’t necessarily cure a problem, but they make it easier to get through it. They can provide temporary relief, lead to long-term improvement, or both.
For example, practicing mindfulness as a coping skill, even occasionally, can bring calm in the moment to someone who’s having an anxiety spell. Practicing it more regularly can have a long-lasting effect, decreasing anxiety in the future.
Similarly, using alcohol to cope can bring temporary relief. However, this type of coping skill is likely to have a negative rebound effect. The more someone uses alcohol to cope, the more they may need it, and the worse they may feel when they’re not drinking. This makes it more difficult to deal with depression in the long term.
Let’s take a look at other unhealthy and healthy coping skills, and what to do if symptoms aren’t improving.
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Unhealthy Coping Skills
Not all coping is alike. Excessive use of alcohol, marijuana, or other unprescribed drugs are examples of unhealthy coping skills.
When used in moderation for recreation, substances like alcohol may not be harmful for everyone. However, when they are used to manage mental health symptoms and to cope over time, they can complicate symptoms, and make them worse. Those who are experiencing mental health symptoms such as depression are also more vulnerable to the overall negative effects of drugs and alcohol.
Likewise, certain foods can also provide temporary relief from symptoms. However, over time excessive amounts of sugar, salt, and carbohydrates will typically worsen mood. Similar to substance use, there may be a rebound effect once the comfort from the food wears off. For example, eating mainly non-nutritious foods can lead to feeling tired, or contribute to mood drops.
One of the most used coping skills for those with depression is to stay in bed as much as possible. There’s a certain relief in staying isolated, under the covers, and away from the exhaustion of the world. Anyone who’s felt down in the dumps knows the relief of hiding under a blanket. Doing this for short periods to take a break may be fine. However, ongoing isolation and inactivity can perpetuate symptoms of depression.
So, if these types of coping skills are problematic, what can you do to change them? First, give yourself a break. You’re not choosing to feel this way—depression is choosing for you. Accept that this is a hard time for you, and it may take some gradual steps you can to break out of it. Next, see if you can begin to replace your activities, or inactivity, with healthy coping skills.
10 Healthy Coping Skills
Because depression inherently zaps your drive and energy, it can be particularly difficult to cope with it. After all, how do you deal with something that takes away your will to deal with it? It is possible to get out of this cycle by taking small steps. These coping skills can help you manage symptoms while you’re working towards getting better.
Each person is different, so there’s no one way to deal with depression symptoms. Coping skills aren’t a replacement for professional care. However, they can provide some relief while you’re working on getting better. Rather than trying to do several of these, pick just one or two to get started. You may find that one or more don’t work. In that case, keep trying new ones until you have a few that do help.
Get Out of the House
This may be one of the hardest things to do when you feel down, but may be one the most helpful. Humans are social beings and need interaction. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go to a busy bar or a crowded festival. Just make small efforts.
For example, go to your usual grocery store and get your favorite snack. Walk around a local park. If these sound too overwhelming, start with just going to your mailbox. Any small step counts, can make you feel a little better, and is moving in the direction of healing.
Listen to Uplifting Media
These days, news alone can make someone’s depression worse. One way to combat that is to limit negative media, while replacing it with the opposite. For example, put on your favorite upbeat music, a podcast about your favorite hobby, or a positive audiobook. For example, Ted Talk features numerous motivational talks that may make you feel more encouraged about your life.
Make a point to listen to at least one positive piece of media per day, even if you’re not in the mood for it. You may be surprised at how ongoing exposure to inspiration materials can change your outlook.
Exercise is another one of those things that can feel like torture when you’re depressed. Or, at least the sound of it might. However, once you get started with a fun activity it typically feels good.
Several studies have shown that exercise is one of the most important things you can do to relieve depression long term. Simple activities like biking, cycling, or using a treadmill are all shown to decrease depression symptoms.
To start, pick one small activity that will get you moving a little bit. This could be walking your dog around the block, taking a short bike ride, or doing a few yoga stretches. Anything counts.
When you’re ready, try to find an activity you can actually enjoy and look forward to more regularly. These typically involve recreational activities, or goal-oriented exercises. Here are some examples you can think about for inspiration.
- Practice racquetball at the local gym
- Join and train for a virtual marathon
- Take up swimming
- Try virtual reality exercise games
- Exercise with stationary equipment while you watch Netflix
- Join apps focused on exercise motivation
- Walk through a new neighborhood and explore what’s there
These are all activities you can start on your own, and then involve friends down the road if you wish to. Even if you need to cut it short, it will be worthwhile.
Reach Out to a Friend
Typically when you’re depressed you’re not thinking clearly. Your brain will mislead you into looking at the worst of any given situation. Talking to a friendly face can help challenge these thoughts. Where you see darkness, they may see a neutral situation or be interpreting it less negatively.
Simply socializing can be helpful for you as well. Even if you’re not ready to talk about personal things, just going to a movie with a friend can offer a boost and begin to make you feel better.
If you’re having trouble finding and connecting with friends, try low-pressure group activities. Examples might include going to a church outing, finding a local Meetup group, or joining an art class on Zoom. You can try any of these events one time and continue going if you enjoy it.
Mindfulness is another alternative activity with increasing research behind it. Repeatedly, studies have found that mindfulness can be effective in decreasing depression symptoms as well as helping with anxiety, physical health, and other mental health conditions.
Several researchers reviewed the possible overall benefits of mindfulness, and made a list of perks you may look forward to.
- Improved mood and lowered depression symptoms
- Increased kindness towards yourself
- Fewer physical healthy symptoms, such as decreased pain
- Increased ability to handle stressors
- Enhanced emotion regulation
You can look for mindfulness events at local health organizations, use a meditation app, watch a Tai chi video on YouTube, or take a yoga class. Any activity that intentionally uses mindfulness can help. The more you do it, the more you can benefit.
Stretching your creative muscles can also help activate your brain and get you moving. If the idea of creating something from scratch sounds overwhelming, that’s okay. Look for easy, no-pressure creative activities, known to help with mental health.
Examples include adult coloring sheets or a paint-by-number kit. While we need more research on art therapy in general and certainly on art for self-help, research has looked to art to deal with anxiety, physical health, and general mood. Studies show there are worthwhile benefits for adults during this simple activity.
Be Consistent with Medications
If you have been prescribed medication, it’s important to take it consistently, as directed. Because of the nature of depression, it’s common to put it off. Missing doses regularly or stopping suddenly could be making symptoms worse. If you feel the medication isn’t helping, talk to your doctor about other options. You can also talk to your healthcare provider about vitamins, diet, or supplements that can help. Sometimes deficiencies in certain nutrients can be making things worse.
Essential oils are all the rage, touted to help with everything from pain to sleep issues. Research on the use of aromatherapy is limited, but it does exist. Scientists who have investigated oils for wellness have typically included a mix of lavender and other scents.
Limited studies have suggested that oil mixtures may help with anxiety, sleep, and mood. More research is needed to verify these results. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use oils on your own, as long as you don’t have any contraindications. Check with your doctor if you’re not sure. Potential ways to enjoy oils include using a diffuser, or with jewelry made to absorb oils so you can keep it with you all day. Inhaling the scent regularly may increase its effect.
Interact with Animals
Emotional support animals are growing more popular for a reason. Many people find comfort in furry friends. Researchers believe that interacting with animals increases oxytocin, a bonding chemical in the brain. This is particularly effective when the pet is your own. This may help with mood, comfort, and feelings of security.
Having or fostering a pet can also force you to get outside more often, and may counter some of the problems that perpetuate symptoms.
Talk About Your Feelings
Sometimes, there are suppressed feelings underlying depression. Someone might actually be feeling grief, hurt, or anger towards a person or situation. The numbness that accompanies depression can keep these feelings at bay. However, the energy that goes into this avoidance can manifest as feelings of depression.
For this reason, it can be helpful to practice identifying what you may really be feeling, and to talk to others who are supportive. Go to friends who tend to validate and normalize your feelings, rather than dismissing them.
You can also explore private ways to process your emotions. Many people find it helpful to journal, create art, or meditate on their feelings during exercise.
Find Professional Support
There are many natural coping skills that can help you with managing and decreasing symptoms in the moment. However, if you continue to feel down, discouraged, numbed, and unmotivated, it could be a sign of clinical depression. In this case, professional treatment is recommended. Your healthcare provider can discuss the benefits of therapy, alternative treatments, and medication if necessary.
Coping skills are here to get you through difficult moments and out the other side. When it comes to depression, many people start to feel better simply by getting active. Since many skills naturally involve this, they may also help you get on a new track. Remember that you shouldn’t tackle major depression disorders on your own, and to seek help when you need it. Meanwhile, take one small step today, and then another, until you feel better.