More than sadness, depression is a feeling of inescapable darkness.
If you are struggling through this, know first that there is no shame or guilt here for you. You did not choose depression, and you most certainly do not deserve it.
When I was going through my deepest depression at 16, I was drowning in a lethal mixture of bitterness of what happened to me in my past, despair that there was no point in living and shame about who I am. And even though I still struggle with depression today, starting that healing process three years ago was the best thing I ever did for myself.
Here are 20 things that have helped me incredibly along my journey of healing from depression that I hope will help you on yours, too.
1. Be kind to yourself. Depression is a battle. From the very moment you open your eyes you are on the front lines and it’s scary and very, very hard. So, be gracious to yourself. No one expects you to feel or look strong. Know that even just to get out of your bed or keep your head up for a day is an effort worthy of your own grace, and everyone else’s.
If you’re struggling, you deserve to make self-care a priority. Whether that means lying in bed all day, eating comfort food, putting off homework, crying, sleeping, rescheduling plans, finding an escape through a good book, watching your favorite TV show, or doing nothing at all – give yourself permission to put your healing first. Quiet the voice telling you to do more and be more, and today, whatever you do, let it be enough. Feel your feelings, breathe, and be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can to cope and survive. And trust that during this time of struggle, it’s enough.
2. Try some simple exercises. Studies have shown that there is a significant relationship between exercising and a decrease in feelings of depression. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme – taking a short hike or a walk around your neighborhood is ideal.
3. Find a trusted professional like a doctor or therapist who genuinely wants to see you get better, not just people who want your money. Throughout my journey with depression, I have found people who pushed me further away from getting help, and people who actually really care. Find and surround yourself with those people – as hard as it is to believe sometimes, they do exist and they are out there.
4. Try get a decent night of sleep. I know how hard it can be to get your sleep under control and, like me, you may have tried everything from tea to pills to sleep hypnosis. However, doing whatever it takes to get a good nights sleep will be well worth the effort – it’s incredible what difference a good nights sleep can do to your mood.
5. Reach out to a trusted friend. The best thing I ever did to help me overcome my depression was email a good friend of mine and tell her that I was depressed. When you are depressed, you don’t need to be told what to do. You need to be understood, loved and heard as you are. Find someone who can be that kind of friend to you – they may very well be the one who will help save your life and guide you toward healing.
6. Know that you are not alone. The path of a depressed person is one that is well-worn and well-travelled. Patricia in the movie P.S. I Love You said, “So now, all alone or not, you gotta walk ahead. Thing to remember is: if we’re all alone, then we’re all together in that too.” Take comfort in knowing that even though your pain is so very unique to you, there are a legion of people out there who are also struggling to get out of bed everyday, too.
7. Do something that quiets your world. One of my favorite movie quotes is by Allie in the movie The Notebook when she describes her love of painting to Noah: “Most of the time I have all these thoughts bouncing around in my head, but with a brush in my hand, the world just gets kinda quiet.” When your head is so consumed with negative thoughts, it’s good to do something which makes those thoughts go quieter. It could be re-exploring something you used to love to do, or trying something new altogether – painting, writing, taking a hike – whatever it is, let your creative side shine.
8. Get as much natural light and fresh air as you can. As comforting as the darkness and confinement of your bed may be, opening your curtains and getting some fresh air will do good for your body and soul.
9. Fill your body with good foods. It’s so much more easier to go to a drive-thru than it is to cook a nutritious meal. But the cliche remains ever so true – if you put fast, cheap and highly processed foods into your body, you’re going to feel even worse. If you are having trouble wanting to eat, be gentle with yourself. Eat the foods you enjoy in moderation, choose the healthier alternatives and try to eat regularly five to six times a day to keep your body healthily sustained and your tummy happy.
10. Let it all out with tears. I believe in the therapeutic healing of crying until you feel like there’s no more left to give. I look back at the times I would be found on my bed by my sister, crying uncontrollably, unable to form words to explain how much my heart hurt. Even though it’s not easy looking back on those times, sometimes letting it all out is something you just really need to do. Remember that you don’t have to be strong all the time, and that even our greatest heroines cry, too.
11. Music, movies and TV shows can be like therapy. While it is an entirely different thing altogether to drown yourself with depressing entertainment, choosing them wisely can be a an effective weapon to help with feelings of depression. Uplifting, hopeful music, inspiring and touching movies and funny, laugh-out-loud TV shows can uplift your spirits and a few may even give you renewed hope.
12. Remember that this is not a journey you have to fight through by yourself. How I fought and struggled to make it through my depression alone or die trying! But there are very, very few things in life which we can do alone. God didn’t make us to be independent and self-sufficient. God made us to need each other, to support one another and to cry together. It is in your very darkest point where you will need a strong hand to pull you up – don’t let it be too late for you to realize that. Which leads me to my next point…
13. Surround yourself with those who only lift you higher. There are some people who will try cheapen your pain or tell you to ‘get over it.’ And then there are those kind of friends that will walk beside you on your journey, hold you up when you stumble, and encourage you when you fall. Find those friends and and set boundaries with people who drain you. True friends are a lifeline of hope.
14. Don’t be afraid to look and feel amazing. The whole idea of looking good and therefore feeling good is so true. Do whatever will give you a feel-good confidence boost, whether it’s putting on lipstick or wearing that special dress.
15. Spend a day with nature. One of the best things I did, and still do, to help ease my depression is to spend a day in solitude with nature. Drive out to a beach you love, sit on a log and journal. Take a walk in the park and sit under a tree and read. Organize a hike and explore a secret, magical place to eat your lunch. However you go about it, there is nothing like reconnecting yourself through Mother Earth and giving yourself space to reflect and simply breathe.
16. Grieve and forgive. Before we forgive and let go of what was done to us in our past, I believe that it is so important to grieve what was lost. It will oftentimes take seasons, and that’s okay. Grieving is a good thing, and it helps us through the often painful transitions in life. Take the time to process your emotions, find therapeutic healing for your past and it may just be easier to be able to finally forgive and let go of the past.
17. Take the mask off. Anyone hiding something this painful inside can tell you that it hurts everyday to fake a smile to the world and pretend like nothing is hurting inside. But, the truth is, you can be beautiful without having to mask your pain. Be brave enough to say that you are not okay. Be brave enough to say that you are struggling inside. Be brave enough to say that you aren’t that strong. That kind of vulnerability is nothing but raw and beautiful, and there are people out there who will appreciate that and want to help you. It is so much more liberating to stand in the light than to hide in the dark.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
18. Find a purpose. If you’re struggling to wake up and get out of bed everyday, try to find a purpose to rise every morning. It can be small, like finishing an art project, listening to your favorite playlist on your way to work or reading that book you can’t seem to put down. These things can give you that extra bit of strength everyday and will help anchor you.
19. Don’t underestimate the small things. Getting up early to see the sunrise, being on a beach at sunset, star-gazing on your roof, dancing in the rain, playing with your dog, smiles from a strangers, Fruit Loops at midnight, laughing until you cry, singing in the car and exploring barefoor – life is all about the small things. And little by little, they give you hope. Don’t lose sight of that.
20. There is always hope. I remember one morning, in the midst of when I felt depressed and suicidal, my mum came up to my bedroom. Even though she had no idea I was struggling with those things, she told me something I will never forget: “When you feel like you can’t walk anymore, ask God to carry you. Watch what He does. He will carry you.”
Always remember, if nothing else, that God is not angry or disappointed in you for being depressed. He is close to the brokenhearted, ever ready to comfort you and embrace you tightly with his strong and safe arms. He understands your confusion and pain, and He is with you in the very midst of it. When your hope is fading fast and you feel like you are losing this battle, ask God to carry you through. He will. He loves you that much that when you call out to Him, He won’t ever disappoint you.