When you are dealing with a depression diagnosis, it’s not easy trying to make sense of the biological storm in your brain. Whether you’ve been newly diagnosed or are doing your best to come to terms with ongoing mental health concerns, I wanted to share these 10 life-changing habits with you.
When I was finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), I tried to push away the rawness of the experience. The relief of finally getting diagnosed quickly faded, as the reality of what I was dealing with set in.
Thankfully, I was able to access private therapy as an out-patient in The Priory. Despite having access to therapy, it took several years to recognize how my daily habits were impacting on my ability to accept my diagnosis. That’s why I wanted to put together a list of my top 10 life changing habits, in the hope it will help you respect and appreciate the true nature of what you are dealing with.
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Here’s my top ten life-changing habits to adopt when you have depression.
Don’t try to hide or mask your depression
It can take a long time to get properly diagnosed for depression, in my case I’d been trying to mask how I was feeling. I felt like there was something wrong with me. This behavior continued for some years into my diagnosis, because it felt too painful to admit the truth to myself and others.
That’s why the number one life-changing habit you can adopt moving forward is to refrain from trying to mask or hide your depression. This is not a one-time thing. Every day you’ll bump up against triggers and automatic negative thoughts (ANT’s) and it can be tempting to hide your struggle from others.
Trying to conceal your depression is exhausting and when you stop, you’ll be amazed at how much energy you have.
Realize You don’t have to justify your illness to anyone
Some people seem to under the illusion there must be a justifiable reason for your depression. Sadly, the stigma and general ignorance surrounding depression, gives rise to all kinds of unreasonable, stupid assumptions.
It’s difficult to talk about depression at the best of times, but when a person puts you on the spot and you feel like you have to justify your illness, stop. Breathe. Let the silence add a little gravity to the situation.
I know how painful it feels to when people demand to know why I feel low, or depressed. Sometimes people ask me to tell them why my symptoms are showing up in a certain way, or comment on how I don’t “look” depressed. When put on the spot, it can feel easier to react, by trying to justify or defend my illness. But the truth is, I don’t have to and neither do you.
Make a resolution to yourself to interrupt the habit justifying and defending your experience. While a person might mean well, you should never have to justify your diagnosis, or made to feel ashamed because you have depression.
Be Aware: Depression will cause you to mistake thoughts for facts
Depression will cause you to believe your emotions are presenting as facts. But feelings aren’t facts and one of the most powerful things you can do, in the moment, is to question your thoughts.
Left unchecked depressive thoughts have the potential to spiral into a major depressive episode. Begin to implement a daily habit of asking, “Is this thought true, or is it a depressive and/or automatic negative thought (ANT).?”
If you are feeling overwhelmed by your thoughts, have someone work though them with you. If nobody comes to mind, I’ve put together a list of numbers you can call anytime. These numbers are emergency helplines, but they stress you needn’t be in a crisis situation to call them.
Don’t let Brain Fog derail you
Brain fog, a major symptom of depression, can distort the way you perceive thoughts and emotions. Brain fog can present as lapses in memory, triggering confused, scattered thoughts.
One thing you can do that sounds really basic is write out a “Comforts List” of small things that bring you comfort when you are feeling low, such as a hot water bottle, a pretty perfume or essential oil, a comfy sweater etc. Stick this list on your fridge, I know it sounds basic, but it’s so handy to have this list of reminders on hand, especially when your mind is addled with brain fog
Or you could go one step further and create a self-care box filled with healthy treats and little comforts, being sure to include some of the things on your list.
Accept That Some Days You’ll Feel Like Shit
One in four. That’s the number of people in the world the World Health Organization (WHO) says will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. There will be days when you feel completely immobilized by depression and that’s okay.
One thing you can do right now is resolve not to get down on yourself when you are having a bad day. Begin to cultivate the habit of compassion: be kind to your mind and rest when you need to.
Learn To Recognize & Track Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT’s)
Depression triggers automatic negative thoughts (ANT’s) with such viciousness and regularity, you can easily mistake them as facts.
One simple, but not so easy thing you can do to combat this is to notice what thoughts are showing up. Start a practice of thought tracking, so you can begin to deconstruct your thoughts and see them for what they are.
Which leads us on to our next point.
Ruminating is Common But It Doesn’t Have To Rule Your Mind
Ruminating, or excessively worrying about the future and/or fixating on past is a common symptom of depression.
One of the most powerful things you can do right now is to resolve to watch your thoughts with the intention to interrupt the process of rumination.
Begin to notice when your mind is starting to ruminate and have an action plan in place. The intention is to immediately distract yourself when you notice you are ruminating. You can do this with mindfulness, or an activity such as conscious breathing or introducing a positive anchor (such as an affirmation, positive statement or mantra).
Don’t Get Tripped Up By unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms
Many people with undiagnosed depression use avoidance, or self-medicating as a coping mechanism. Once diagnosed this behaviour can carry on as a habitual response.
One of the most powerful things you can do right now is take a mental assessment of your default response to any pain or discomfort that shows up in your body or mind.
Is your natural response to try and dull down, suppress or escape unpleasant thoughts, feelings and body sensations? Again, this is where it can be extremely helpful to enlist the support of a therapist, or group therapy program aimed at helping you navigate your thought process, so you can address unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Be aware: People Will Judge You
This point is to simply make you aware, so you can hopefully recognize and minimize your exposure to hurtful people and situations. It is a very sad fact that when you have a mental illness people will make all kinds of unnecessary and hurtful remarks. You need to know straight up that depression does not make you weak, and you don’t have to justify the way you feel to anyone.
The most powerful thing you can do in when people judge you is tell them their comments are hurtful. If you don’t feel well enough to confront a person for judging you, know that it’s also okay to walk away. You need to do what’s best for you in any given situation.
It can take a lot of energy to call someone out on their ignorance, but every time you do, you are taking a stand and saying no to depression stigma.
Allow Yourself To Feel Angry, Upset and Frustrated With Depression in Healthy Ways
Many people don’t understand the gravity of what you are dealing with and this can exacerbate feelings of anger and frustration. There will be days when you feel utterly devastated, angry and alone. These are the days you need to be prepared for. You need to be aware a depressed mind can very quickly skip to extremes, triggering suicidal feelings and/or the urge to self harm.
One essential and potentially life-saving thing you can do right now is to have a plan in place for the those dark days.
Use a day when you are feeling good to prepare a list of numbers you can call in an emergency. In those early days when I didn’t know how to cope with my diagnosis, or where else to turn, I would call the Samaritans. I’m so grateful for their service, it was so reassuring to hear a calm voice when my mind was screaming.
Another thing you can do is put together a self-care bag in case you are admitted to hospital, or need to stay with a friend or family member.
Always remember: when depression casts a nebulous, dark shadow over the colour that once filled your days: you are not alone. You are brave and beautiful, and strong – and you matter in this world.
Have You Been Diagnosed With Depression? What was your biggest takeaway from this post. Have I missed anything, or is there anything you would you like to add to the conversation?
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below 🙂
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IMPORTANT PLEASE READ: While I share my personal experiences with depression, I am not a therapist or health professional. Bravely She Blogs is not intended as medical or therapeutic advice. I've put together a list of phone numbers you can call if you are feeling low, but please if you are feeling poorly or are having suicidal thoughts, seek immediate medical help.