When you’re depressed, you may feel like you’re utterly alone. But for a large number of Americans who suffer from this condition, having coping skills is key to managing it. About one in 6 adults — almost 16 million Americans — will have depression at some time in their life, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Depression doesn’t care how much money you make or how old you are, and it can happen at any age and in all different types of people.
Before figuring out how to cope with depression, it’s important to recognize its warning signs and know when to seek help.
The coping strategies for depression can very well depend on the type of depression you have.
Some of the most common types of depression are:
- Clinical depression: Clinical depression (also called major depression) is a common but serious condition that affects many Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health . It can affect all aspects of a person’s life, including eating, sleeping and work. In order for it to be considered “depression,” symptoms need to be present nearly every day for at least two weeks in row.
- Persistent depressive disorder: This is clinical depression that has been going on for at least two years. The depression may deepen or lessen over that time, but the underlying symptoms are ongoing.
- Post-partum depression: While many women face what is called “the baby blues” after giving birth, postpartum depression is much more than that. Some women experience it during pregnancy, and others experience it after giving birth. Many women may not realize that the full-blown sadness, exhaustion and depression that they are feeling are components of post-partum depression. Mothers suffering from postpartum depression have a hard time caring for both themselves and their newborn baby.
- Seasonal affective disorder: This type of depression comes about in the winter when there’s less natural sunlight, and people seem to be affected by the cold, dark weather. Symptoms include weight gain, increased sleep and social withdrawal.
Symptoms of depression
Regardless of the type of depression you may have, the symptoms are often the same and include: feeling anxious, sad or down, becoming more irritable and withdrawing from social situations.
Many people stop taking pleasure in activities that normally bring them joy (like playing tennis or going dancing). Sleep is often affected, and people find themselves sleeping more or having disruptive sleep. Appetite is often affected, too, either eating less or more and thus losing or gaining weight.
Making decisions becomes more difficult, and people may second-guess themselves or avoid situations where a decision needs to be made. It’s often hard to maintain concentration or focus on a task. It can be hard to read a book, follow along on a conversation or get work done at your job. Headaches, cramps, stomach issues — ailments that appear without any known causes — are other symptoms. Feelings of negativity and hopelessness often persist.
Depression risk factors
According to the CDC, while depression affects people from all walks of life, there are certain risk factors that make some people more prone to depression. These include:
- A family history of depression — a mother, father, grandmother or grandfather who was affected — may make it more likely that you suffer from it.
- Going through a major life change — moving, divorcing, starting a new job or having a child — can create a stress environment that leads to depression. Even if the situation was planned, it can still be disruptive and lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Having a medical condition — ranging from chronic pain like backaches and migraines to having cancer or heart disease — can lead to depression.
- Experiencing trauma — the death of someone close to you, financial hardship, cases of abuse — can leave a trail of depression in its wake.
- The side effects of certain medications also can lead to depression. Be sure to read the labels and talk to your doctor before taking prescription medication.
- Depression can also be a side effect of alcohol and drug abuse.
As important as recognizing the signs of depression is knowing how to cope with its symptoms. The two most common treatments for depression are antidepressant medications and therapy, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Many doctors will recommend seeing a therapist for talk therapy (psychotherapy). This is often the first line of defense. Some people may meet individually with a therapist, while others find it more beneficial to meet in a group (for instance, postpartum depression therapy may include a group of new mothers). Discussion topics can focus on learning new coping mechanisms or skills for solving problems or identifying stressors that are in your control (like changing jobs) and those that are not (like the death of a loved one).
Another important way to deal with depression is through antidepressant medications. There are many different types of medications, and doctors can prescribe the one they feel is best based on the symptoms of the individual’s lifestyle.
How to manage depression
There are no sure-fire ways to prevent depression from happening, but there are coping strategies you can employ that may prove helpful, according to the Mayo Clinic. Here are seven approaches to consider:
- Try to control your stress levels — avoiding stressful situations and taking measures to increase your self-confidence and your levels of resilience. Everyone faces disappointments and difficult situations but being able to bounce back from these situations and find healthy ways to cope with depression is key.
- Be sure to develop a strong tight-knit community of family and friends to turn to when things get hard. These people can be your safety net to help you weather difficult situations.
- When you start to feel depressed, don’t ignore it. Seek help. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and how you’re feeling.
- If you’re doctor prescribes medicine or seeing a therapist, make sure you stick to a plan — like anything else, weight loss or a healthy diet — constant maintenance is key.
- The American Heart Association notes that when people are depressed, they are more likely to drown their sorrows in a bowl of ice cream or skip exercising, but working out, eating a healthy diet and having an active social life are all good coping mechanisms for depression.
- Try not to overwhelm yourself. Instead of promising yourself you’ll hit the gym every morning for a week, aim for walking around the neighborhood three to four times a week with your kids or dogs. Make it a more pleasurable experience and shoot for goals that are realistic and attainable. When eating, grab fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks and choose salads and lean meats instead of fatty comfort food.
- Another key coping mechanism to keeping depression at bay is staying away from unhealthy habits like smoking. Replace bad habits — eating unhealthy food, watching too much TV or not getting enough exercise — with healthier habits like trying yoga, taking a warm bath or going for a walk.
- Depression, Major Depressive Disorder, Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007
- Depression symptoms, causes, Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9290-depression
- Depression, National Institute of Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
- Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/depression-anxiety.html
- How Does Depression Affect the Heart? American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing/how-does-depression-affect-the-heart