What can I do about my depression?

Taken From: http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/depression/depress.html

Common Symptoms of Depression

Physical

  • Changes in sleeping pattern: much more or much less?
  • Changes in eating patterns: much more or much less?
  • Fatigue, loss of energy.
  • Headaches, stomachaches or otherwise inexplicable aches and pains.

Behavioral/Attitude

  • Diminished interest in and enjoyment of previously pleasurable activities-sex, sports, hobbies, going out with friends, etc.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  • Neglecting responsibilities and personal appearance.

Emotional

  • Depressed mood-can mean feeling down, apathetic, irritable, pessimistic,hopeless, negative, guilty, anxious, empty, etc.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless.
  • Feelings of worthlessness.

Possible Contributing Factors to Depression

Environmental:

  • Cramped living conditions, bad roommate situation, money problems, car problems, holidays you're not looking forward to, having a tough time with classes, too much pressure on you, feeling helpless to change your environment, loss of something significant (a job, a dream, etc.), being victimized (assault, robbery, rape, etc.).

Interpersonal:

  • Relationship problems or break-up, conflicts with parents or family members, death of significant person in your life, the anniversary of a loss, feeling like people are taking advantage of you, unresolved anger or guilt, feeling helpless to effect changes in important relationships.

Physical/Medical/Biological:

  • Food allergies, unhealthy diet, genetic predisposition ("it runs in the family"), chemical imbalances, dealing with illness or infection, sleep deprivation, chronic anxiety.

Diet/Exercise:

  • Getting by on fast food, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, potato chips, and other relatively non-nutritious items; substance abuse; lack of exercise.

Cognitive:

  • Negative self-talk, self criticism, pessimistic thinking, catastrophic thinking, anticipatory anxiety, low sense of self-worth.

Spiritual/Existential/Philosophical:

  • Doubts about the meaning of life; questions about your own religious beliefs; a sense that you're somehow missing out on your true calling or path or that you're not being true to yourself, your dreams, your beliefs.

What can I do about my depression?

There are actually a lot of things you can do about depression. The most important thing is that you do something positive and constructive.

You might start by getting yourself some paper and a pen and make headings for all the factors previously described: Environmental, Interpersonal, Physical/Medical, etc.

  • Make a list of any problems, concerns, or negative feelings you have that relate to each of the areas. (It also helps to identify which of the areas are sources of strength, support, positive feelings.)
  • As you break the depression down into smaller, more manageable contributing parts, some solutions will seem clear to you. Again, we're not operating on an "Either-Or" assumption---that you either have depression or you don't; we're assuming a continuum of depressive feelings or symptoms.
  • So any changes you can make for the better, though they may not "fix" the depression or make it go away immediately, are definitely worth doing.
  • Depression can leave you feeling helpless and out of control of your life, your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You want to regain and experience more power and control; you want to get to the point where you feel like you can do something to improve your situation and life.
  • For instance, you may realize that relationship problems are a key contributor to your depression and decide that assertiveness or communications training would really help remedy that situation.
  • You might notice that for you the symptoms are largely physical and choose to get a medical check-up to rule out other possible problems.
  • Perhaps parental pressures and expectations have been burdening you and you'll decide to have that long, honest talk with your parents.

Go over each area and do your own self-assessment, then write down what you think it would take to help the situation. No two lists will be exactly alike, but several general strategies often are beneficial to people struggling with feelings of depression.

Beneficial Strategies for Coping with Depression

  • Develop a more healthy, balanced diet.
    • We aren't made to run on junk, fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes.
  • Get regular exercise and sufficient sleep.
    • For exercise, walking is fine. The times when you least feel like doing it might be the times you need to do it most. Cutting yourself short on sleep can really contribute to a downward spiral in other areas.
  • Develop stress skills and time management skills.
    • These will be very helpful in surviving college and keeping yourself from feeling overwhelmed and down.
  • Check in with your emotional self regularly.
    • 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.
    • Most people don't mind being around someone who's depressed, especially if you tell them what would be helpful, as in the examples below.
      • I need a hug. I need some support.
      • I just need somebody to listen.
      • I just want to vent and blow off some steam.
      • I don't need you to "fix" me or "make it all better."

But I Just Feel So Stuck!

Clearly, many of these changes are things you can do on your own. For many of us, it's difficult to get ourselves going, and we may prefer to seek the help of a professional counselor to help us move past that stuck point. Certainly if you have been stuck for a long time, or if you are at the point where you are seriously neglecting important aspects of your life or even thinking about suicide, you must seek professional help.

A professional can help you get the help you need, whether that be counseling/psychotherapy or even possibly anti-depressant medications for a short period of time.