5 (actually doable) things to do during a depressive episode

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

When people are in a depressive episode, there are a number of things that may be similar across all experiences: feelings of sadness, low motivation, fatigue, changes in eating patterns, changes in sleeping patterns, among other things. It can be hard to manage all of these symptoms, and more, when you’re in a state of not wanting to do anything at all. However, there are a number of things that you can do to make the struggle more bearable in addition to working to help it pass.

1. Address your basic needs.

During a depressive episode, low motivation is a big barrier even to the most basic of needs. Answer these questions: have I eaten today? Have I had water/fluids today? Have I slept today? Have I washed my face/brushed my teeth today? Address these most basic needs first to keep your body functioning as you psychologically and emotionally take a break. And if these questions have their own barriers to them, make it easier for yourself. Don’t want to cook your meal? If it’s accessible to you, order from DoorDash or get takeout. Don’t want to wash dishes? Use paper plates, cups, and disposable plasticware. Don’t have the energy to splash water on your face and hair? Use baby wipes and dry shampoo. Surviving doesn’t have to be glamorous, and oftentimes it isn’t. If surviving is where you are, you have absolute permission to do so!

2. Acknowledge the experience.

When you are in a space to acknowledge what is happening, it’s important that you do so. Remember to talk to yourself kindly and gently (you deserve kindness and gentleness!). It can be as simple as, “I’m going through a depressive episode.” If you want to add some extra (deserving) kindness, you can also try this: “I’m going through a depressive episode. It’s hard right now, but it will pass.” Feel whatever emotions come up for you when you do this. Your frustration, sadness, exhaustion, and all else are valid.

3. Reach out to someone you trust.

A huge buffer of depression, even in the midst of a depressive episode, is social support. If there is someone in your life who you trust, sometimes the simple act of sharing space in peaceful quiet can be healing. Be clear about what you need from that social support. Maybe it’s so that you can share a meal together, watch a movie, or maybe just be in their presence while they do their own tasks (if they’re okay with it). In a world where working from home is also the norm, managing relationships from home can be, too! Maybe ask if you can just sit on facetime with them just to know that they are there in the background behind all of their open tabs and windows.

4. Try not to use substances.

When we engage in substance use, it causes our brains to act differently. Sometimes we are able to use them to feel better, but this can cause a negative cycle of dependence. Other times, this can even make our symptoms worse, especially alcohol. Do your best to avoid taking substances when you’re experiencing a depressive episode and instead attempt to engage in tasks that can help you elevate your mood.

5. Access your other established coping skills.

This is going to look different for everyone because everyone has a different set of coping skills. It can be as simple as engaging in joyful movement like stretching, going outside, hugging a loved pet, or swaying back and forth to an upbeat song. It can also be keeping your hands busy with an art project that doesn’t require too much cognitive energy like crocheting or watering your plants. Reading a book, listening to an audio book or a podcast, or even watching a loved movie can help as you navigate your depressive episode.

Many of these to-dos can help give little boosts of energy to your body and mind while you rest and heal. Once you get into a groove of what works best for you, you can also create routines. Routines are helpful in preventing depressive episodes and managing them. And, when an established routine goes off track, it can be a sign that you might be entering a depressive episode and may need some extra self-care and self-love.

Depressive episodes can be scary, frustrating, and, well, depressing. It is (unfortunately) normal to feel guilty for taking the time to take care of yourself. However, it is absolutely necessary. If there is a leak in a boat filled with precious things, we want to attend to the leak. Not only are all of the things you do precious, but you yourself are precious, worthy, and deserving of self-care.

Sometimes it takes a friend, or even a therapist, to remind you of how to engage in all of these things to take care of yourself. And if you are ever having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of death, it is even more important that you are able to talk to someone you trust or can provide you with professional support. You and a therapist can work together to create something called a safety plan, or steps that work for you to make sure you keep yourself safe and functioning when you experience a depressive episode. At Cultured Space, our therapists are trained to help you use and discover coping skills that are effective for you to use whenever you feel yourself slipping into a state of needing more support. Contact us today to set up a free consultation to see how we can best support you or check out our therapists to see who is a good fit for you.

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