Depression is a familiar foe for me.
As the days shorten and the nights get longer, my mood slowly but surely slips off into sadness with the familiar depression related symptoms of lack of energy, lower than normal self-esteem, a horrible case of the f*ck it’s, no drive or desire to do basic daily activities like showering or getting dressed, let alone pursue my goals.
To be quite honest, I could spend the entire day staring at the floor or walls and not think twice about it.
Physically, depression feels like trying to run in quicksand. Emotionally, it’s like living in a black hole.
Today is a particularly difficult day for me, so I decided to write this post as a cathartic outlet and also because I know I’m not the only person in recovery who struggles with depression. In fact, 1 in 4 adults who have a mental illness also have substance use disorder. (Read this article.)
With that scary statistic, know that you’re not alone if you’re all too familiar with depression as well. Also, know that there are things you can do to help yourself when sadness takes over.
Here are some things to help you when depression hits:
Regular recovery support meetings - Staying active in your recovery community is absolutely essential during depressive episodes! There are a wide variety of recovery communities, groups, and meetings, and it is essential that you keep going to whatever works for you to keep you sober.
Distancing yourself from your sobriety support could spell disaster eventually. You’ll know you’re in danger of a relapse when you start thinking about looking for relief from your sadness, looking for anything to make you feel better.
If this happens, get to a meeting or reach out to someone ASAP.
Journal it out or Talk it over - As I mentioned above, I like to write posts to help me through my emotions. I find it VERY cathartic. However, not everyone is willing to journal out loud to the public, and that is perfectly OK!
You don’t have to get public with your emotions in order to find relief. Simply writing them out or typing them out can be all it takes to help you process them.
It may not take the depression away completely, but I’m certain it will at least lighten the load for a little while.
Talking about your emotions with someone you trust will do the same thing! Whether this is a therapist (which I totally would encourage, therapy is a wonderful thing!), a close friend or family member you trust, a sponsor, or someone you met in an online community that you’ve connected with, getting your thoughts out of your head and into the light of day does wonders on lightening the emotional load.
If you find yourself ruminating on specific thoughts or memories, writing or talking about it becomes even more important. I tend to ruminate A LOT, which is both exhausting and depressing in its own right, and writing it out or talking with someone almost always stops the ruminations in their tracks.
Keep your body moving, even when you don’t feel like it - Nothing makes depression worse than inactivity, but when you’re depressed, staying active is the last thing on your mind. I totally get it! I know the last thing you want to do is force yourself to do things when you’re down and out, but believe me when I say this is the time to force yourself to move.
Gently and compassionately keep yourself moving. Even if all you’re doing is pacing your house, doing jumping jacks, or playing with your kids, that’s enough to work! 20 mins a day for 5 days a week is all you need to start seeing relief in depressive symptoms. Bonus points if you go for 30-60 mins 5 times a week.
Supplements - You know I’m a holistic person, so it’s no surprise that supplements make my list. Magnesium is a wonderful supplement for mental health. So are B vitamins and vitamin D.
The type of supplement you take matters too because most supplements you buy are made in a lab and our bodies don’t absorb them as well as all-natural supplements. In fact, the supplement brand I take is 2-½ times more absorbable than standard supplements, so this makes them not only more cost effective but also more supportive as well.
Laugh - Humor is therapeutic. Laughing releases feel-good chemicals in your brain that will help lessen the depressive symptoms.
Listen to your favorite comedian, watch a funny movie or TV show, get together and have coffee with a funny friend, read a funny book, whatever it takes to get you to start giggling and laughing. Even if all you do is start laughing for no reason in a room all by yourself, that’s all it will take to trick your brain into thinking you’re happy and start releasing those good feeling chemicals.
Again, this isn’t a depression cure-all tactic. It will, however, lessen the burden of the symptoms. Repeat as often as necessary.
Essential Oils - Your sense of smell, emotions, memory, and feelings are all dealt with by the part of the brain called the limbic system. Let me say that another way: Your sense of smell is connected to the same system of the brain that deals with emotions, memories, and feelings.
In a nutshell, this is one of the reasons why essential oils work!
Our sense of smell is HIGHLY correlated with our feelings and emotions. Ever have a smell that whisked you away to a distant memory? Maybe a batch of cookies that reminds you of The Holidays or your Grandma’s house? The limbic system is why this happens.
To use essential oils in your favor for depression, use oils that would be associated with “happy” smells. Bright, light smells like anything citrus is perfect for this. So are smells that remind you of beaches or sunshine. Vanilla, orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit, and florals are what I use All The Time to change my down-and-out mood. I may walk around smelling like a fruit basket sometimes, but I’ll be happier because of it!
Don’t isolate - This one is important because when you’re depressed it’s most likely that you also want to be alone. I know I do! However, isolation feeds depression and makes it worse.
This is another one of those things that you’ll need to gently push yourself to do, but it’s important to get out of the house and be around positive, supportive, and understand people who will help you and be there for you in your time of need.
Even if it’s going out on a weekly basis for coffee, that’s better than nothing.
Keep up with hobbies and other normal routines - Depression sucks the joy out of things that used to make you happy. I know it’s easier said than done, but keep doing all the things that once brought you joy.
As I said above, giving in to the depressive symptoms and not doing pleasurable things will feed the depression and make it worse. It’s okay to give yourself grace and not push yourself to go full tilt on the fun activities for a while, but completely cutting them out could spell disaster for your mood.
Something as simple as working on a fun activity for an hour a day is better than stopping it altogether.
Go easy on yourself - Don’t be mean to yourself if you feel bad. Don’t say negative and hateful things in your head.
Doing this will only perpetuate the depression and you’ll be further away from healing instead of on the path to peace. Challenge each and every negative thought with logic and counteract it with a positive affirmation, even if you’re not feeling positive at the moment.
In the same vein, don’t believe all the negative crap that goes on in your head. My depressive thoughts usually run to absolutes when I’m down.
I’ll think things like “I’ll always feel like this” or “things will never get better”. It’s important to objectively challenge these sorts of thoughts.
If I’m true to myself and thinking with logic and not emotion, I can prove to myself that I’m not depressed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It may feel like I am at the time, but I know for certain that better days have happened in my past and will happen in my future.
The same is true for you.
Depression and addiction feed off each other, so it’s imperative that you work on each issue at the same time. The above tips aren’t cure-alls.
Practicing one or all of the tips each day won’t magically whisk your depression away for it to never be seen again. That’s just not how it works.
However, if you do use the tips above, along with other coping skills you’ve tried in the past, I am more than confident they’ll help lessen the severity of your symptoms so you can find yourself coming out of your depression sooner rather than later.
As always, if your symptoms last for months on end no matter what you do or try, I would highly recommend talking to a therapist and your medical doctor. Depression, when left untreated, can be dangerous, so it’s important to seek help when the above tips don’t bring lasting change to your symptoms.
If you have a coping skill that helps you take the edge off your depression that I didn’t list above, please tell me in the comments! There are so many healthy things we can do to help our symptoms, and I’m sure others would love to hear more suggestions.
Getting sober is the first step. Building the dream recovery you deserve is the second!
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