Last year at this time I was fighting major depression as a result of abuse. I am thankful that this year is much better for me but I know some people who are really struggling right now. I vividly remember how last year’s Holiday season made me feel worse. Winter weather and less daylight contributed to the struggle also. I had counseling and intensive outpatient therapy to help me recover. I learned some new techniques and tips to help me pull out of depression and here are some actions that I found to be the most effective for me. Please keep in mind that I’m not a professional therapist or a doctor and I needed professional help along with the following practices I could do on my own to recover. Please get professional help if you are suffering from depression. If you are afraid that you might harm yourself, please call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately. Here is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number – 1-800-273-8255.
Help someone else who is suffering – No matter what your situation is, there are always going to be people who have it even worse than you. I’m not saying this to invalidate what you are feeling because you feel how you feel no matter what other people are going through. Maybe you can visit a lonely person or make a phone call, make someone a nice baked good or homemade gift, do a good deed for a neighbor or volunteer for a charity. No matter how humble you think your gifts are, someone out there can use them. I know that one of the most depressing thoughts you can have is that you don’t matter or no one would care if you are gone. It’s not true, even if other people have tried to make you think that. Doing things for people helps you prove that to yourself and the gratitude you get is very healing.
Explore DBT skills for emotion regulation – DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Training. While in group therapy we practiced some DBT techniques which helped me out a great deal. The concepts were new to me and I wish I’d known about them earlier in life. I kept printouts about the anger and sadness emotion regulation techniques hung up in my bathroom for months so that I could perform normal life functions and do things I needed to do for recovery. I recommend you get the workbook and if you can, take classes. When I was feeling overwhelmed with emotions the techniques on the worksheets were invaluable.
This slide show provides a good overview of distress tolerance and includes some good techniques: DBT Distress Tolerance Skills
For example, I had to learn to tolerate distress because I was in a situation that I could not fix. You can’t make the trauma not have happened. There were people in group therapy with me that were rape victims, crime victims, were homeless and in other situations that could not be undone or fixed quickly. You have to learn to tolerate your situation to avoid making it worse. For example there were many times at work when I had to run to the refrigerator to put a cold drink on my head and do breathing exercises so I could do my job – that’s an example of learning to cope to avoid making things worse. It wouldn’t help my recovery to add financial and career problems to the trauma I already had. I was left with a huge therapy bill, enough to buy a good used car, and adding unpaid bills to my other problems would not make me feel better!
Intrigued? Here is some more information about DBT.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
Attend support groups – Some people tell me that support groups are not effective for them but I find them valuable. It’s a good place to discuss painful things with people who understand some of what you’ve been through and will listen without being judgmental. Sometimes there is no one else in a person’s life to provide this. If you do have people in your life who will listen you have to be careful not to burn them out. It feels good to provide this service to other people in the group because you know how valuable it is. Also you can learn from the other members’ experiences and get good information about resources you may need.
Use AND statements in your internal dialougue – I learned this in a support group and it’s one of the most helpful things anyone has ever told me. “I feel ______ AND I’m going to _______.” This is a good way to remind yourself that there are a lot of things you can do despite how you feel.
Examples of AND statements I’ve used to motivate myself:
“I’m angry AND I’m going to give this customer extra good service and make their day easier.”
“I’m sad AND I’m going to take a walk and enjoy nature.”
“I’m tired AND I’m going to go grocery shopping so I have nutritious food to eat.”
G.R.A.P.E.S. – This is an acronym to help you remember to take steps each day to help recover from depression. When you are really depressed, it’s difficult to take any kind of action. I learned from experience that if I did everything on this list daily I would improve. It was hard. It took a long time. But it did work!
- Being Gentle with yourself
I made a set of felt ornaments for a friend to put little pieces of paper in as a reminder of which activities have been done that day and motivation for getting as many as possible completed each day. I suggested she start with the papers on the sun side and move them to the moon side as they are finished to get more out of the cycle of each day. I also made a set for myself. The patterns for the sun and moon came from the book “Forest Fairy Crafts”.
I made a PDF file that includes reminders that you can print out on cardstock or on clear sticker paper to incorporate them into different systems that you might use for motivation such as calendars or planners. I threw in some motivational sayings that are designed for cards the size of ATCs (artist trading cards). Some people call these “self care cards”.
Download PDF here
Light Therapy – Other people can explain better than I can the science behind improving your mood with light. I just know that it works. I give myself exposure to a natural light lamp and try to get natural sunlight on me as much as possible. Of course that is difficult in winter when you have to cover up to be outdoors but I use the outdoor activities I enjoy and gardening to motivate me to get what sun exposure I can.
Meditation – I never tried meditation before I was in group therapy. I was having severe sleep problems and a group meditation session got me closer than I had been to sleep in quite some time. I decided to download some apps to help me meditate on my own and I’ve enjoyed using them ever since. There are guided meditations designed especially for problems such as sleep, anxiety and depression. Meditation has been a great discovery for me!
Collect motivational and comforting sayings – fighting depression feels like you are fighting your own brain and your own thoughts all the time. Putting an input of healthy thoughts in my brain is helpful. I put some of them in my journal where I can use them for inspiration, a journaling prompt or just a reminder to get my thoughts in a healthy direction. You might put such sayings on the wall, on a fridge, on a computer slide show, on a Pinterest board or wherever it’s convenient for you.
In a support group meeting that I go to, we read affirmations at the end. We are supposed to pick ones that resonate with us at the moment. Sometimes I or other people have to look at the list a long time before we see one that we think is the truth. I know what it’s like to read an inspirational or motivational saying or affirmation and think “yeah, right”. Give it a chance and give it time and maybe more and more of them will seem true to you.
Try new activities with a group – Doing something fun with a group of strangers may not be a substitute for having a close friend to do activities with. However, I think it’s much more likely to lift your mood than staying home alone. You’ll also get the opportunity to make some friends. For example I do a lot of activities with groups on Meetup.com. There are groups you can join for every interest and activities for every budget.
Journaling – there are several ways my art journal helped me fight depression.
I wrote down thoughts which helped get them out of my mind. Once expressed, it was easier to get my mind on something more pleasant.
I gained new insights through writing. Forcing myself to organize my thoughts by writing them down made me understand situations better.
I kept track of my tasks. I found it much more satisfying to do what I needed to do to get better if I made a task page or some kind of task listing for it in my journal/planner. I found it motivating to fill in or mark completed tasks as opposed to just keeping track in my head. Seeing tangible evidence of the completed tasks made me feel proud.
Do artwork that expresses your feelings. Some of my best artwork was made when I was really having a bad time. It makes me feel a little bit better to know that if I had to go through the feelings, I at least got some strong artwork out of it. Here are a couple of art journal pages that I did Christmas Day 2016. I hope I never feel again like I did that day but I did get quite a bit of satisfaction out of my artistic expression.
I made gratitude lists. It’s easy to forget about the good things we still have – referring to a list of things to be grateful for is a good reminder that life isn’t all bad. As an exercise when I felt like I “hated everyone and everything” I decided to go through two magazines and make a collage out of things I was grateful for. I realized that even if I could not enjoy them now I would again in the future.
I made a list of my progress. Seeing what I’d achieved in recovery then referring to it when I felt frustrated by my seemingly slow progress was a great motivator for me. I had been taken down so far by abuse that performing normal, everyday activities became milestones. Keeping track of them DID help me realize I was slowly getting better and gave me determination to keep working.
Spiritual practices – In my life I’ve gone back and forth from having religious faith to having serious doubts. I’ve resolved my doubts for the most part at this stage of life but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy for me to take time out for prayer and worship. However, I’ve found spiritual practices are one of many things where if you don’t “feel like” doing it, if you do it anyway the feeling will follow. In other words, let feelings follow the actions, don’t let feelings dictate your actions. Is this proof of the existence of God or just how the human brain works? Either way, if you’re open to it spiritual practices have been a source of strength and healing for me. I’ve prayed for strength in many tough situations and received it and I am very grateful.