The alarm goes off and you roll over and hit the snooze button. For many people, an alarm is an invitation to start the day and to get excited about what may lay ahead. But for those who are experiencing a depressive episode, an alarm every morning feels like a cruel reminder of the weight of the world that we will have to figure out how to navigate somehow. It’s like a twisted form of taunting where we know we should be happy that today is a new day filled with exciting opportunities, but the weight of depression is so heavy and hard to shake that it seems so much easier to pull the cover back over our heads, roll over, and sleep the day away.
So on the really hard days, what can you do?
Show yourself grace and compassion. Shaming yourself into feeling better or doing more usually only exacerbates the depression you are experiencing.
Be aware that your thinking is overly distorted and self-critical when you are in the middle of a depressive episode. Challenge the depression by talking to yourself like you would talk to someone you love and care for deeply (your child, your best friend, a younger sibling, etc) if they were experiencing what you are in this moment.
Focus on one step at a time. It can be overwhelming to think about all the things that need to get done today. What is the next thing that would be most helpful for you to do?
Prioritize your day
Healthily nourish your body
- Eat a balanced diet; there is a correlation between healthy nutrition and balanced neurochemistry that influences mood
- Take a shower
- Take your vitamins and/or medication
- Offer your body healthy movement and exercise
- Stay away from alcohol (and other substances); in addition to alcohol being a depressant, drinking as a coping mechanism can make you more prone to developing a dependence on substances
Focus on most important responsibilities (after nourishing your body)
- Attend to your children and pets (if applicable)
- Prioritize your work (Do you have a deadline coming up you need to focus all your energy on? Are there emails you need to return that are more important than others? Is there anything that can wait?)
Enlist support (professionals, friends, family, higher power). If you are having trouble reaching people or if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to your personal network, there is a hotline available to text or call at any time of the day or night with a supportive person on the other end who wants to hear from you. You can call 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741.
Try to muster enough energy to do something you enjoy or something nice for yourself, even if you don’t feel like it. This can be something as small as moving from your place on the couch to a hammock in your backyard in the sun. Or maybe it is getting out of the house and going to the movies or to get your nails done.
Coping through distraction can be temporarily helpful to get out of your head. I wouldn’t recommend Netflix binges to cope on a regular basis, but on really tough days, Netflix it up. And be okay with it. Be mindful of what content you take in. Is today really the best time to watch that one show that makes you experience all the feels? Or maybe that same show be helpful in releasing some emotion? (This will be different for each individual). And since there is a connection between laugher and the release of pleasure chemicals in our brains, make sure some of your content is light-hearted, even when it may be the complete opposite of what you are feeling.
If you notice that you experience your deepest depressive episodes during the winter, get your Vitamin D levels checked. Especially in geographic locations where it is overcast or very cold for months at a time, Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect many people. When people don’t get much exposure to sunlight, Vitamin D levels can be negatively affected. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression directly correlated to a deficit in someone’s Vitamin D levels. Once Vitamin D levels are adjusted, depressive symptoms lift.
Remind yourself that the intensity of what you are feeling is temporary; every time you have felt this low before, it has always gotten better. If this is your first time feeling this low, know that the intensity of what you are feeling will lessen if you can ride it out.
If none of the above help, know that it’s okay to lay in bed, pull the covers over your head, cuddle with your pet, and try again later today or tomorrow. Sometimes the best you can do is to get through today, and that’s okay. See #1 and #8.
If your brain tries to convince you that ending your pain by suicide would be easier or best for everyone, try to notice the thought without buying into it. Engage some of your coping skills that are distraction-based to disconnect or movement-focused to support your brain in processing. Consider enlisting extra support, even if that is just making sure that you are in the same room as or on the phone with at least one other person while the thoughts are present.
Remind yourself that a suicidal thought is your brain’s way of telling you it is in a lot of pain and actively trying to find relief from that pain. All human brains are wired to find relief, so the fact that your brain is attempting to figure out a way to experience relief is not inherently a bad thing. It is actually kind of creative on your brain’s part. With that said, just because your brain is attempting to use suicide as a coping mechanism, it definitely does not mean suicide is the only or most effective way to find relief
Instead of shaming yourself for having the thoughts, try to see them as information you can use as a sign that suggests you have additional needs for care, compassion, and support in these moments. Reach out to people in your support network you trust. If you don’t have anyone that fits that description, reach out to supportive professionals available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255 or texting 741-741. Speaking about suicidal thoughts gives the thoughts much less power and helps you challenge distortions in your thinking process your brain may be believing in its depressed state that it normally would be able to challenge on its own.
The presence of suicidal thoughts also may be indicative of a neurochemical imbalance in your brain that can be remedied by medication or a change in medication. Psychiatrists are great resources for this. If you have a good relationship with your Primary Care Physician, s/he may also be a good resource for you to start this conversation with if you feel more comfortable with that person.
It also can be helpful to think about what has kept you living thus far (family, pets, career goals, friends, significant other, fear, faith, etc). Write those reasons down and hang onto them, as they can be easy to forget in moments when you are overwhelmed. And then challenge any thoughts that arise that try to convince you people would be better off without you by thinking about how you would respond to someone you love deeply (your best friend, your child, your sibling, etc) if they were experiencing what you are. Would you want to know if they were experiencing suicidal thoughts? Why would you want to know? Would you perceive them as a burden? Why not? How would you feel if they completed suicide? Would you want to do what you could to help them? Why would you want to do what you could to help them?
And then remind yourself again that the intensity of what you are feeling in this moment is temporary. It will pass if you can hang on.
If your thoughts are still overwhelming any you aren’t sure you can keep yourself safe, it is okay to help your brain out by checking yourself into the hospital until the intensity of what you are feeling passes and you can support your neurochemistry in balancing out. We all need extra support sometimes, and if extra support means you are helping your brain to gain some of its control back, it may be worth it.