Proven Coping Skills For Depression

If you’re reading this page, you are probably interested in practical, evidence-based coping skills that will empower you to cope with and overcome your depression. The majority of the tools discussed here are evidence-based, and/or are based on the direct experience that I have in helping many people cope with and overcome depression. 

Are Your Coping Skills Impaired By Life Circumstances?

Consider the following: 

  • How long have you been dealing with your symptoms?
  • Did anything significant happen in your life that coincides with the onset of your symptoms? For example, have you experienced any of these events: 
  • Loss of a loved one or friend
  • Moved to a new home or new area
  • Changed jobs--quit a job, started a new one
  • Divorce, or end of a romantic relationship
  • Significant injury or illness
  • Sexual problems
  • Legal problems
  • Retirement
  • Emotional, Sexual, or Physical Abuse. If this applies, click here for information about coping with trauma. 

All of the above stressors can impair your coping skills. This Dartmouth College website about life changes and stress can help you get a sense of how many life stressors you’ve recently endured. Anxiety is obviously a highly related--and often co-occurring condition--challenge for those living with depression. If you want to read more about treatment for anxiety issues, check out this page. I would add that, once you see an improvement in your depressive symptoms, you'll almost certainly see a lessening of your anxiety. 

You Need Coping Skills That Work Now

While different things will help some more than others, I’ve found that the following are some of the best ways to cope with depression:

  • Physical Activity. As much as you may not feel like it, this is one of the best things to do when you’re feeling down. There is a sense of accomplishment, the health benefits of exercise, and measureable chemical changes in your brain that uplifting to your overall state of mind
  • Changing your thought patterns. One of the hallmark beliefs of Cognitive Therapy is the notion that our interpretation of events in our lives (i.e., our thought patterns) direct effect the way we feel. I have seen tremendous changes in client suffering from moderate to severe depression as they consciously change their habitual thought patterns. Identifying and modifying thinking patterns such as Catastrophizing, Disqualifying the Positive, and All-or-Nothing Thinking produces long-term changes in one’s emotional reality. This link is a good resource for ideas and hands-on ways to directly address dysfunctional thinking--the second page contains a list of 'ways to untwist your thinking' by the well-known and resourceful Dr. David Burns. The link also discusses common troublesome thought patterns and how to break them down and replace with more resourceful thinking!
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people. As simple as it sounds, if you are around people who are generally uplifting, this lifts one’s spirits. The opposite is true as well.
  • Journaling can help you get your thoughts and feelings on paper. This provides you with a different perspective than when everything is swirling around in your head. Furthermore, actually reading what you journal can provide additional insights. This is one of the most common recommendations I make to clients. More on journaling here
  • Structure your day. Having scheduled activities helps you feel more productive and empowers you to get more accomplished, versus laying around for much of the day, trying to figure out what to do. Trying to spontaneously create structure when we are depressed is an extremely hard thing to do.  Creating structure at designated times during the day is one of the most basic yet helpful things you can do for yourself!
  • Eat healthy. Our mind and body work closely together, so nourish yourself with healthy foods and your moods can’t help but be positively affected.
  • Ask for Help. As much as we want to believe we can handle our problems on our own, sometimes we need help. Talk with a trusted friend or family member who will be honest with you without judging you. In my experience, not being willing to ask for help is one of the biggest barriers that keep people stuck in depression. 
  • Low self esteem? If you feel that your overall self esteem is low, click here for additional insights
  • Addressing our anger. For many people struggling with depression, learning to channel our anger in a constructive way is the 'make or break' factor in overcoming depression. It's an old but generally true cliche: anger turned inward results in depression. More on anger management here.
  • Seek professional help. Seeing a mental health therapist for depression and stress symptoms is one of the best ways to treat depression. I have years of experience helping women and men work through depression and emerge a stronger, more self-aware individual.

Have You Seen Your Doctor?

As you consider coping skills for depression, you’d be wise to see your primary care doctor to see if you are having any physical health issues that could be contributing to or causing your depressive symptoms. Ruling this out can be a huge relief, and empower you to focus on the mental health issues at hand.

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