Depression is one of the most common mental health challenges worldwide and it’s a major risk factor for addiction. For example, one study found that among people with major depression, 16.5 percent had an alcohol use disorder and 18 percent had a drug use disorder.
Those are both much higher than the incidence of substance use disorders in the general population. Furthermore, if you have had one episode of major depression, you are likely to have another. About half of people who have had one episode will have another and about 80 percent of people who have had two episodes will have a third one.
The good news is that you can often lessen the severity of a depressive episode or avoid it entirely if you are aware of the symptoms early and respond appropriately. Early symptoms can be any of the common symptoms of depression but are especially likely to include irritability, fatigue, rumination, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, and isolation. If you notice any of these symptoms, take the following action:
Make Sure You’re Sticking to Your Treatment Plan
If you have received treatment for depression in the past, you likely followed some course of treatment that helped you through it. This might have included therapy, healthy lifestyle changes, changes in thinking patterns, and possibly medication.
Typically, as you start to feel better, you are more inclined to let these things slide. So if you feel symptoms of depression coming back, review whatever helped you overcome your last episode and make sure you’re still doing those things, or resume doing them if you’ve stopped.
Make sure you’re eating healthy and getting regular exercise. You can also consider resuming therapy if you have met with a therapist before.
Take Care of Yourself
In addition to eating healthy and exercising, there are additional ways to take care of yourself that will help you in your healing from depression. Find ways to turn down the dial on your chronic stress, perhaps by managing your schedule better, saying no to new responsibilities, or delegating existing responsibilities.
Make sure you’re taking a little time each day to relax and have fun in whatever ways work for you. Spend time with people you care about. All of these things will help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for depression.
Talk It Over
When you feel like your mood has taken a wrong turn and your thoughts start getting pretty dark, don’t bottle it up. Talk to someone. Ideally, you should talk to a therapist because it’s possible that you’ve slid back into some unhealthy thinking patterns and your therapist can help you correct the course. However, it can help to talk to someone you trust or someone who supports you and will listen without judgment.
It’s especially important to be able to discuss your feelings with your spouse or partner since it’s easy to take irritability and a persistently foul mood personally. An important thing to remember is that communication is key. It helps prevent alienation and just talking about what you’re going through will probably help you feel better.
Connect with Others
It’s also important to stay connected socially in general. Often, one of the earliest signs that a relapse of depression is approaching is that you want to be alone. You cancel plans, decline invitations, or just don’t show up to things. However, this is one of the behaviors that can make you spiral down more quickly.
Spending time with people you care about reduces stress and improves your mood and the less you feel like it, the more important this kind of connection is. Be sure to accept invitations and actually show up. Reach out to people, even if it’s just a text or email. Keep in mind that no matter how much you are dreading getting together with friends, you will probably enjoy it once you drag yourself out of the house.
Change Your Mood
If you’re in the depths of a depressive episode, the idea that you can just cheer up by listening to music or watching some funny videos is absurd. However, if you’re just starting to feel early symptoms of depression, these kinds of activities are powerful because they can help keep you from spiraling down.
Funny or uplifting music, videos, movies, TV shows, and books are all great ways to change your mood quickly. Exercise, even a short walk, is an especially powerful way to improve your mood in a matter of minutes. Talking to certain friends might help, as might something like cooking your favorite meal or going to your favorite restaurant.
Even just a change of scenery might get you out of a funk. Try going to a place with natural beauty, as nature has been proven to improve your mood. Even a few minutes sitting in a nearby park can lift your spirits.
Accept Your Feelings
If you have already experienced an episode of major depression, you know how bad it can get. When you feel another episode approaching, you might feel overcome with dread or even panic. You might think, “Oh no, not this again! I barely made it through the last episode and I don’t have time for this right now.”
Unfortunately, that kind of thinking makes you feel even worse. You’re adding to your misery because you feel bad about feeling bad. A much better approach is accepting your feelings. We all have bad days or even bad weeks. Instead of panicking, you can say to yourself, “I feel pretty bad today.
That’s fine; it’s normal to feel bad sometimes.” Then just sit with the feeling. It will likely pass. There is even research suggesting that the more people are able to accept challenging emotions in times of stress, the less likely those emotions are to turn into depression.
If you are attuned to your emotions and if you are aware of your patterns and triggers, it’s possible to avoid or at least reduce the severity of another episode of depression. The keys are to take care of yourself; talk it over, especially with a therapist; connect with others, particularly those you trust; manage your mood, especially early on; and avoid compounding your symptoms with worry or anger about your symptoms.
If you suddenly find yourself in emotional distress, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or use their chat feature. You don’t have to be suicidal to call.
At Enlightened Solutions, we know that substance use is often just the tip of the iceberg. Most people who struggle with addiction have other issues as well, including major depression. Managing your mental health is a key component to a strong recovery from addiction, which is why our treatment program includes evidence-based treatments for co-occurring mental health issues, as well as lifestyle changes to promote holistic healing. To learn more, call us today at (833) 801-5483.