Coping Skills are Stupid...
...and other lies depression tells you.
Last month I wrote a blog post about coping skills. I outlined what they are and gave you some basic ones to help you get started in building your “toolkit.” It’s not lost on me; however, that as necessary as coping skills are, the ones I gave you sometimes just don’t cut it. So today I’m presenting some different, more nuanced coping skills for one particular situation: depression.
The Invasive Voice of Depression
“Coping skills are stupid...
“Coping skills don’t work…”
“Coping skills are a waste of time…”
Do any of these sound familiar? If you’ve ever experienced depression, your answer is probably “Yes!” Here’s the deal… I know these can feel like absolute truths in the midst of the darkness of depression. But these statements are myths. They’re lies depression tells you. And depression’s voice is incredibly sneaky. It can convince you that you don’t matter, that there’s no point, and that self-care and coping skills aren’t important. All lies. With this in mind, I want to focus on some do-able coping skills that can help you combat these myths, and help you chip away at depression.
Self-Care in the Face of Depression
Adjust your expectations
I’m preaching to the choir here if you’re dealing with depression right now, but when you’re depressed, you’re low on motivation and energy. This makes it so hard to engage in activities that might actually help you feel better. You might get overwhelmed thinking about everything you have to do, so you never get started on anything. Adjusting your expectations and taking baby steps is a good way to get started.
- Zoom way in – think of one thing you want to get done today and just focus on that thing. Don’t worry about anything else… just make it your goal to cross that one thing off your list.
- Make it small – focus on tasks that are manageable. If you can’t do the entire sink full of dishes, try shooting for just the mugs. Or, if you know you can’t make it through the entire family party, try going for just an hour.
- Acknowledge the small wins - focus on and celebrate (in any way you can) the small stuff (changing your clothes, brushing your teeth, actually taking a shower and washing your hair). On a really bad day this might look like celebrating that you woke up.
You’re probably get tired of hearing people say that exercise helps with depression. It does (here’s a study from the Mayo Clinic), but if that's not working for you, try something else. Find another way to just move your body. Get out of bed, and move to the couch. Or get off the couch, and go take a shower. Maybe even get dressed, and get out of your house. It can be small, but move your body… when you get moving and your blood starts pumping, physiological changes happen that can boost your mood. If the momentum kicks in, keep going - take a walk around the block.
Let safe people in
Another lie depression tells you is to keep to yourself. It makes sense… you’re low on energy, probably feeling bad about yourself, not in the mood to talk, and maybe even feeling shame about feeling depressed. But this isolation may actually be making your depression worse. I’m not saying that you should force yourself to go to parties or be overly-social, but I do recommend making an effort to connect with safe, trusted people in your support system. What do I mean by a safe person? I mean someone who won’t judge, who won’t try to force you to be happy, and who won’t minimize what you’re feeling. This could be a close friend, a colleague who’s experienced depression personally, a parent, a therapist, or even someone at a crisis hotline (like some of the ones listed here ). Even though it's probably the last thing you want to do, you've got to let safe people know what you're going through. Depression isn’t something you need to go through by yourself.
Get in the sun
Research is currently being done that examines the positive effects of sunlight and vitamin D on depression. It is believed that sunlight helps regulate serotonin and melatonin in the brain, both of which play an important role in fighting depression and maintaining mental well-being. Though the research is still in the early stages, some studies are already showing positive results. One study in particular found that people who spend more time outdoors demonstrated increased cognitive functioning. This can be helpful in fighting depression because when you’re depressed, cognitive functioning like memory retention and the ability to focus are often impaired. Spending time outside and getting a dose of natural vitamin D can be a simple way to improve this. I know that when my clients spend more time outdoors in the sun, they seem to experience a shift in mood. This shift might not be permanent, but that’s okay. Even if it’s small, it can still provide you some relief from your depression. And I encourage you to bask in that positive moment, rather than worrying about when it might end.
Challenge your thoughts
Depression is capable of producing strong negative thoughts and actually convincing your brain that they are true. These lies can show up as that really critical voice that keeps you down and berates you for not doing better or being happier. But these thoughts are not necessarily true, so don't believe them. Notice your thoughts as just thoughts, and put your attention on something else. Try saying to yourself, “I’m noticing that critical thought again. Even though it feels really big, it’s not true. My thoughts are just thoughts.” In the moment this feels so true, and the emotions that they can trigger are real, but hang on to knowing the thoughts are just thoughts.
Incremental Shifts Are Key
The most useful kinds of coping skills for depression are the ones you can actually do -- the small, incremental things. They don’t have to be monumental activities. So the next time depression is telling you that self-care practices and coping skill techniques are nonsense, I encourage you to challenge that voice a bit and try out a few of the steps mentioned above. Even if your energy only goes from a 2/10 to a 3.5/10, that’s still movement forward and will be a critical step in treating your depression.
If you are experiencing depression and live in the Atlanta area, Fleurish Psychotherapy can help. Please contact us to set up a complimentary consultation.