Self-Care Strategies for Coping with Depression
Although professional help is available for treating depression, there are many things you can do to help maintain your mental health and improve your ability to cope with depression. The following are some suggestions:
- Develop a more healthful, balanced diet. This helps you keep moods balanced and overall health status strong.
- Get regular exercise. If you feel lethargic and tired, the last thing you may feel like doing is exercising. However, exercise has been shown to affect the same neurotransmitters in your brain that are involved in depression. Any regular exercise can help -- swimming, biking, walking.
- Get sufficient sleep. Cutting short on sleep can contribute to a downward spiral in other areas. If you are having trouble sleeping, consider your sleep habits. If you are sleeping too much, stick to a regular schedule and try to find activities or responsibilities that will get you out of bed in the morning. Students can talk with a health educator about making changes in sleep patterns.
- Develop stress skills and time management skills. These will be helpful in surviving college and keeping yourself from feeling overwhelmed. There are many good self-help books on stress management in the Tang Self-Care Resource Center. Students also can meet with a health educator to discuss their particular situation and stressors.
- Pay attention to your feelings. Learn to be aware of your feelings and not let them build up to the point where they overwhelm you, bring you down, and cause even bigger problems in your life.
- Develop and use a support system. Talking to people you trust can give new perspectives and support. Let your family and friends know if you just need them to listen, if you just want to vent, or if you just need a hug. Let them know that you don't need them to "fix" the problem or "make it all better."
- Cal Students can discuss healthful lifestyles with a Clinical Health Educator
Seeking Professional Help
People often try to deal with problems themselves. This might work, but often it isn't enough. For example, you may find that even with the strategies provided above, you continue to feel depressed. Sometimes people get so depressed that they can't mobilize themselves to use these strategies.
If you are at the point where depression is seriously affecting important aspects of your life, or if you are considering suicide, you must seek professional help. If you have questions about how you are feeling or any concerns about whether you might be depressed, these are also reasons to talk to someone. Contact a primary care physician, a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional. For students, these resources are available at the University Health Services and are available to you regardless of your insurance plan. If you're uncertain who can help, talk to your family, Resident Assistant, advisor, or other adults in your life.
Types of professional help available
If you think you might be depressed, discuss this with a health care or mental health professional who can address your concerns. Many effective treatments for depression are available and can provide relief from symptoms in just a few weeks. The most common treatments are psychotherapy (talk therapy), antidepressant medication, or a combination of the two. The best treatment for an individual depends on the nature and severity of the depression. Sharing your preferences and concerns with your treatment provider helps determine the course of treatment.
Counseling or psychotherapy is often the best place to start. While talking to friends and family may be helpful, there are often limitations to how much they can help. You may be reluctant to share certain aspects of your life with them or you may be concerned about overwhelming them with your problems. Talking to a trained professional can provide the outside perspective you need to understand where you are stuck and how to take steps to get better.
Antidepressant medications can also be very helpful, especially with serious depression or with depression that is resistant to psychotherapy treatment. While medications are generally not seen as substitutes for therapy, they can help the person get back on track more quickly and can "lift the cloud" so the person can function better and move toward "getting things back to normal".
Together, antidepressants and psychotherapy have been shown to be the most effective to prevent relapse in the future. Antidepressants can be quite helpful in relieving symptoms while psychotherapy helps to enhance the person's understanding of the depression and his or her coping strategies for dealing with the condition or with the situations that led to the depression in the first place.
Finding the right therapist is very important. It is important to consider whom you feel most comfortable with, in terms of gender, age, race and ethnic origin. In addition, therapists vary in terms of their style and orientation. Orientation refers to the approach the therapist takes in working with you on the depression. Here is an overview of the most common types of psychotherapy used with depression:
- Interpersonal Therapy: This approach can help identify and resolve the problems in relationships that are contributing to the depression.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This approach focuses on the negative, inaccurate, self-defeating and/or pessimistic thoughts, beliefs and perceptions that are contributing to the depression. CBT not only focuses on identifying and changing thought patterns but also on making specific behavioral changes to reflect and reinforce the new thoughts and beliefs.
- Psychodynamic Therapy: This approach focuses on past experiences
and how they might be contributing to your current depression, perhaps
in ways of which you are not aware.
The following three dimensions are useful when talking to a health care provider about how you are feeling:
- Frequency: How often do you feel sad or depressed? Every day? Three times a week? Once a month? All the time? Only when something negative has occurred
- Severity: How bad is it? Do you feel suicidal? Are you able to get up in the mornings and face another day? Totally hopeless and stuck in a dark hole? Or just kind of lousy and negative?
- Duration: How long does it last? Until you see your partner? Until you go home for the weekend? A few hours every night? Does it drag on for days, weeks, or even months? Have you felt somewhat depressed your whole life?
- For Students
- For Faculty & Staff
- Also see:
- Online handouts
and College Students (pdf format)
- Depression and College Students (pdf format)