9 Helpful Reminders for Anyone Deep in a Depressive EpisodeSometimes, doing the bare minimum is enough.
If you have depression, you know it’s a complex mental health condition that can ebb and flow. And sometimes it can sweep you away from your true self. When that happens, it can be a struggle to find your way out of a depressive episode.
While there are several different kinds of depression, depressive episodes often last for at least two weeks and can come with a host of miserable symptoms, like trouble focusing or doing your typical daily tasks, feeling sad or apathetic, and having issues sleeping. When you’re deep in a depressive episode you might feel numb or overwhelmed by even the smallest things—cue wearing the same PJs for days on end while clutter and mess seems to pile up around you.
When you feel like you’re not functioning at an optimal (or even average) level, it’s easy to be hard on yourself. But if there’s one thing I know as someone who lives with this tricky condition, it’s that feeling those complicated feelings, reaching out for help, and reminding yourself that you deserve to get better are all important for your mental health.
As you might know, there’s no quick fix for depression, but it’s treatable with things like therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes that help you incorporate healthy coping skills into your daily life. But even if you’re doing all of that, depression doesn’t always play by the rules, and each episode can present its own unique challenges. As much as we desperately want a depressive episode to immediately end, a lot of the time we just have to ride the wave and make do as best we can.
So, whether you’re in the thick of a depressive episode right now or want to learn some skills for future reference, check out these helpful reminders from therapists and people who know what depression actually feels like.
1. You’re not a bad person or a burden.
Sometimes depression feels like it slowly descends upon you. Other times it snatches you by the collar of your shirt and demands attention now. Regardless of how it tends to happen for you, it’s powerful enough to stop even the strongest person in their tracks. Because of this, it can be easy to believe you’re unproductive, lazy, fragile, or a burden to those around you. It might also make you think you lack willpower or you’re a bad person because it’s so damn hard to fight off this condition. But this is so far from the truth, says licensed clinical social worker Indhira Udofia, LCSW. “Depression in and of itself is not a moral failure.”
The next time you’re in a depressive episode and negative thought patterns invade your mind, remember that making it from sun-up to sun-down is something worth celebrating.
2. Don’t ignore your feelings.
It’s understandable that you’d want to hide from the mess of emotions and negative thoughts that come with a depressive episode, but that doesn’t usually help you through it and can actually make your depression worse, says clinical psychologist Jessica Stern, PhD. Since confronting your feelings can be daunting, it’s best to only sit with them for short periods of time, she suggests. Of course, that’ll look different for every person, so try to figure out where the line between processing and stewing is for you. “The stewing is not great; that's where sometimes people can get sucked into that dark hole,” she warns.
To help you avoid ruminating on your emotions, try to process your thoughts and feelings in a more active way, like journaling or talking to a loved one or therapist. You can also process them while you’re out for a walk or doing something you love—something that gets you out of your depressed space, Dr. Stern says.
“A lot of times, people have difficulty with truly [feeling their feelings] because they’re fighting against the process or [against] the reality they may be [living in], adds therapist Shahem Mclaurin, LMSW. “Lean into it. Allow yourself to feel the feeling. Allow yourself, when you need to, to sit it out, cry it out, or whatever.”
Some of the best advice I ever received (shoutout to my sister!) was the importance of realizing that your feelings are visitors. Feel them and let them go. There’s nothing wrong with feeling sad, lonely, scared, worried, or any other emotion, but repressing them can backfire. And a condition as insidious as depression can take advantage of emotions we haven’t processed. Knowing this, when I’m knee-deep in a depressive episode, I like to help myself through those emotions by processing them out loud with voice notes. Hearing myself admit these things helps me accept them and, hopefully, move on.
If sitting with your feelings leads to you thinking some scary thoughts, remember that you don’t have to process this alone and can always reach out to resources like the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, the Trans Lifeline, or The Trevor Project counselors.
3. Remember there’s life beyond your room.
I know that getting some fresh air might seem like rather basic advice, but during my most harrowing depressive episodes, I’ve found that a relatively simple task like going outside to remind myself that a whole world awaits me is sometimes enough momentum to help me work through the episode in question.
If getting outside feels like too much, opening your window is a more accessible way to acknowledge there is a life for you beyond the four walls of your room. And if you’re able to sit near the window and absorb some sunlight, that may help your body maintain its sleeping patterns, which is always a good thing.
Astrology student Wicked Womanist credits opening a window as one of the factors that tends to help her disrupt her depressive episodes. “Listening to the rhythms outside allows me to send my brain a small ‘Hey girl, let’s get our shit together’ signal,” she adds.
4. Do something you loved when you were younger.
When I’m in a depressive episode, it can feel like there’s nothing (or very, very few things) that can lift my mood. But one thing that tends to help time after time is doing a hobby I used to love when I was a kid and giving myself a mission of tapping into one of those things.
Try watching shows and movies or reading books that always made you feel better back then. My go-to? Rewatching old TV shows and movies that young Clarkisha loved. The more “childish” the better! In fact, the top two shows I tend to gravitate toward are Digimon: Digital Monsters and a good chunk of the Power Rangers franchise. There’s just something about imagining myself as a Power Ranger or pretending I’m “DigiDestined” that makes me giddy and happy. Plus, this reminds me to be merciful to myself during a depressive episode and remember that young Clarkisha is counting on me to get better.
When revisiting a hobby you used to love, it’s OK if you don’t fall right back in love with it after the first time, Dr. Stern says. “It doesn't have to be fun for you at the beginning, but if it's getting you out of the habit of not doing anything, you might fall in love with [it] again.” So try to stick with the hobby and give yourself time to find the joy again.
5. Or do anything—especially if you don’t feel like doing it.
If you’ve ever seen a mental health professional for your depression, you may be familiar with therapy techniques like opposite action and behavioral activation. If not, no worries—we’re about to break these therapeutic techniques down for you so you can try them yourself.
Opposite action basically encourages you to do the opposite of what your depression is telling you to do, Dr. Stern explains. So if you get an urge to lash out at someone because you feel angry or ashamed, try to pause and identify those feelings first. If it seems like you’re working with a depression-fueled response, try doing the opposite of what that urge is telling you to do. That doesn’t mean you have to go give that person a hug, but maybe you can remove yourself from the situation and create some physical distance. Similarly, if your depression is telling you to pull away from friends and family, you could try texting a friend and letting them know you’re going through it.
Behavioral activation is a similar technique that can be super helpful if you’re struggling to do the things you typically love or the basic life things you need to do, like errands, Dr. Stern says. “Behavioral activation basically gets you out of this cycle of almost being turned off or turned down. That can mean doing anything that brings you joy or something you need to get done that will help you feel productive after you're done with it,” she says. The key is to start small—like just committing to cleaning a few dishes, tidying up one spot in your home that you love, or going for a short walk around the block. (Side note: Behavioral action is sometimes seen as a form of opposite action because when you’re depressed, there’s often an urge to avoid things and be inactive.)
Part of the reason I’ve been able to survive some particularly rough depressive episodes these last few years during the pandemic is because I committed to starting or finishing something that I would have otherwise avoided because of my depression. In my case, that looked like finding a video game that interested me enough (thank you, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey) to carry me through my darkest bouts of depression. By the time I actually finished the game, I was like “...what depression?” and felt the energy to get up and start living my life again—starting with cleaning my immediate surroundings.
Whatever your goal or chosen hobby is, just make sure you start with something that feels realistic and not too lofty so you don’t get discouraged. When you get the hang of it, then you can work up to bigger tasks.
6. Lean on your depression buddies.
If you’re like me, then you probably go straight for isolation when depression arrives at your doorstep. That’s especially understandable if you’re used to processing things alone without your support crew. But depression and isolation can tag-team you, making you sink deeper.
So remember that if you’re depressed, it’s absolutely paramount to find yourself a “depression buddy,” aka someone you can confide in or who can just sit with you when things get dark in your world. And if your depressive episodes tend to impact your household chores or your income sources, for example, your bud might be able to help you straighten up and manage any financial obligations, like paying small yet necessary bills (phone, lights, gas, etc.).
As difficult as it might be to ask for help, it’s important to have someone you can trust and lean on when you’re going through a tough episode, Mclaurin says. I have a couple of depression buddies who have saved my life on more than one occasion, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
If you don’t have a depression buddy situation that works for you, consider reaching out to those mental health hotlines and chatlines, like 988, and, when you can, make an effort to identify someone you trust and give them the lowdown on why you’d appreciate their support in the future.
7. Find little ways to feel more like a human.
Let’s face it. When you are in the thick of depression, trying to do everyday human maintenance, like making it to a shower or tub, can feel like a whole undertaking. So try to find easier ways to do them or something that makes you excited about doing them, Dr. Stern says. Say you don’t enjoy putting on daily sunscreen, which is important for literally everyone. Think about if there’s one brand that you’ve been wanting to try (maybe that viral Trader Joe’s dupe!?) that might make getting ready in the morning more interesting. Another idea: Turn your shower into a chill zone with your favorite playlist or podcast.
That said, if a depressive episode is making it near impossible for you to take care of yourself—even with little modifications—that’s usually a sign that you should reach out for help, says Dr. Stern. This would be a good time to see a mental health professional or to ask a trusted person in your life for help connecting with one. And remember that crisis lines are also a resource in these situations if you need help now.
8. Nourish your body—whatever that might look like.
Depending on how intense a depressive episode is, I can lose the desire to eat. It’s like my appetite knows depression has arrived and immediately sees herself out. On the off chance my appetite does stick around, the immobilizing nature of depression makes it so that even thinking about feeding myself (and the labor that it will require) is enough to make me put off eating at all. Of course, since biology tells us humans need food to live, even we depressed peeps have to remember the importance of eating.
Behold: the go-to depression meal, something that’s simple enough, tasty enough, and (ideally) nutritious enough. This isn’t Top Chef or even Nailed It!—the bare minimum is OK, Udofia affirms. “If something like cooking is too taxing, ready-to-eat meals are helpful. If ready-to-eat meals are too taxing, get yourself [something like] microwavable rice or other things you can cobble together [to] create something quickly,” she says. It can even be delivery food if that’s what works for you. My go-to depression meal is yellow curry and rice from my favorite local Thai place.
Similarly, don’t forget to drink some water. Because you know what is worse than being depressed? Being depressed and dehydrated—those dehydration headaches (on top of depression) are no joke.
9. Find what works for you.
Depression, like the fakest person you know, has many, many faces. That makes managing it so tricky because what works for someone else might not do the same for you, says writer Roslyn Talusan. To figure out what’s best for her, she asks herself, “What do I need right now that can help me out of this [particular] depressive spell?” And she takes it from there.
The bottom line: Dealing with depressive episodes is hard. What might help you manage during one episode might not work during another, so go easy on yourself and remember that doing the bare minimum is OK and doesn’t mean anything about you as a person.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.