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How to Get Out of a Depressive Episode

Over their lifetime, approximately 10-15% of people will experience at least one episode of major depressive disorder. They may feel intense feelings of sadness, loss of hope, and an intense disconnect from their lives. Many who find themselves feeling hopelessness may wonder how to get out of a depressive episode; continue reading to find some expert recommendations.

Is It a Depressive Episode, or Is It Sadness?

It can be hard to tell if what you’re feeling is simply sadness or if it is truly depression. The short answer is that sadness is often a temporary emotion and typically doesn’t impact a person’s ability to function day-to-day. Depression however is more pervasive, and can severely limit someone’s ability to function normally.

While colloquially we may talk about ‘depression’, clinicians often refer to an illness called ‘major depressive disorder’. Most people who experience depression once in their lives will often experience it again in cycles that we call ‘depressive episodes’. Unlike sadness, there doesn’t need to be a specific trigger for a depressive episode to occur.

While sadness is a common human emotion and requires compassion and support, depression is a much more profound and persistent mental health disorder. Some questions you may ask yourself to help identify if you’re depressed or sad could be:

  • Have you been experiencing a low mood most of the day, nearly every day?
  • Do you have much less interest or pleasure in most activities nearly every day?
  • Have you had a significant change in weight or appetite?
  • Have you been experiencing either insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day?
  • Are you moving, or fidgeting, a lot more or a lot less than usual?
  • Do you feel fatigued and exhausted nearly every day?
  • Have you been experiencing feelings of worthlessness, or excessive guilt nearly every day?
  • Have you been having difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions?
  • Have you been having ongoing thoughts about death, either by accident or intentional?

As you can see above, depression is far more than simply feeling sad, though feelings of sadness may accompany it. However, it is far more impactful on your ability to life a normal life – this can include activities as basic as eating, bathing, and sleeping.

If you have identified with some of the above statements for at least two weeks, then it is important to reach out for professional help and diagnosis. You do not have to suffer through this without care and support.

How to Get Through a Depressive Episode: Steps to Take

Avoid Isolating Yourself

Many people who experience depression have the desire to withdraw and be alone. While this may feel like the right thing to do, it is actually counter-effective to actually making it through and out of a depressive episode.

Spending time with loved ones, friends, even co-workers, can help bring a sense of belonging, identity, support and acceptance. These people do not all need to know what is ‘going on’ with you emotionally for you to benefit from their interactions.

If you can share what you’re going through with those close to you, it can often help them to understand and support you in better, more appropriate ways. Even reaching out and speaking to a therapist or psychologist has benefits of reducing loneliness and increasing feelings of being understood and cared for.

Practice Self-Care

When depressed something as small as brushing your teeth can feel like an insurmountable task. But it is important to engage in regular self-care to protect your wellbeing.

This includes eating nutritious meals regularly, sleeping adequately but not excessively, exercising a little each day, and making sure you stay on top of your hygiene. Brushing your teeth and hair, bathing, and having clean clothes go a long way to improving how you might feel.

Stay Active

A big part of self-care is staying active. Regular exercise can promote the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters in the brain, as well as improving blood flow and overall sensation in the body.

Exercise can feel like the last thing you want to do, but it taps into a therapeutic intervention called ‘bodily activation’ whereby physical activities help you to tap into and process emotional difficulties. It does not need to be intense HIIT trainings, any activity that gets you moving is great – such as dancing, walking, yoga, even swinging your arms around in circles does something!

If exercise seems beyond your reach, being active in terms of getting out of the house to get chores done, or even just to get some fresh air is helpful too. Standing outside and exposing your face to the sun for 15 minutes a day alone can boost mood, vitamin D levels, and help you to feel that you’ve accomplished something.

Set Small Goals

Getting outside is one example of a small goal that you can set yourself to accomplish. Many of life’s bigger goals can feel insurmountable, or even pointless under the haze of depression.

Write yourself a to-do list, either a traditional one on paper or do it with an app, and include any of the smallest possible goals that require you to motivate yourself. Some examples, of varying degrees, include:

  • Spend 3 hours out of bed today
  • Brush my teeth once
  • Go return my library books
  • Call my sister for at least 15 minutes
  • Do the laundry (wash and dry)
  • Finish a 20 minute exercise video on Youtube
  • Wash the windows in the house

There is really no goal too small for this list. Try to make sure you are realistic with what you think you can achieve so that you avoid disappointment, but also make attempts to push yourself beyond what you might ‘want’ to do.

Create a Routine

These little goals can also help you to establish a routine. Habits are a big part of what help us function and start to ‘automate’ some of our more ‘boring’ tasks throughout the day. Having a regular routine for each day can help to set up and maintain these habits.

If setting up a daily routine is not possible, you can mix it up by establishing bedtime routines, or morning routines. Some people enjoy skin-care routines or ‘closing up the house’ routines. Anything that has an order, a logic, and you can do everyday will help to maintain a sense of accomplishment and stability.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

With low mood and distancing from life can often come negative thoughts. Sometimes they are minor such as “my hair looks awful today”, but they can range to be more dark such as “everyone would be better off if I were dead”.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a great therapeutic technique that helps people to identify the source of their negative or harmful thoughts, challenges them, and then replaces them with helpful and health-promoting thoughts and beliefs. CBT is best practised with a professional therapist, however there are many self-help guides and resources available online for you to get started on your own.

If you are having any thoughts, fantasies, or desires to die or end your own life – please seek urgent medical and/or psychological support from a professional. Your life has value, and you deserve to keep living. If you feel you are in immediate danger of harming yourself, please call your local emergency services number.

Express Yourself

Engaging in creative and expressive activities can provide an outlet for more complex and difficult emotions. Any activity that you can connect with is helpful, such as art, writing, music, dance, or any other forms of self-expression.

Part of this exploration can include engaging in visual, auditory, and written arts to find creators that you feel you can connect to. Allow yourself to get as outside of the box as possible: felting with pet fur, frame restoration, ancient art history. Anything that captures your attention and inspires you works well.

Be Kind

Depression can be a debilitating illness, and recovery from a depressive episode takes time. Be patient with yourself and allow some room for error; nobody does recovery 100% perfect.

Giving yourself the same grace and love that you would a friend or loved one who needed your support. Celebrate your small victories and forgive yourself for your slip ups. Every step in the right direction means progress, even if it’s small or slow.

Seek Professional Help

Whether you feel like your depression is mild, moderate, or severe, you will always benefit from professional help. There are a variety of ways that professionals can help you, including different kinds of therapy, medication, and regular check-ins.

Some people choose to engage professional help on an out-patient basis, but if you’d like to dedicate yourself to addressing your depression and making a committed attempt to healing then you may consider in-patient treatment. This involves staying at a medicalised clinic with 24/7 access to support and professionals. This is a great solution for people who need intensive support or who feel like they simply need a step away.

Clinic Les Alpes is one such in-patient clinic that can offer state of the art treatments within a luxury environment. If you’d like to know more for yourself, or a loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Summary – How to Get Out of a Depressive Episode

Overcoming a depressive episode can be difficult, but it’s not out of reach. By reaching out for support and engaging in health-promoting steps anyone can start to recover. With the right strategies and support, it’s possible to overcome and learn how to get out of depression.

Clinically Reviewed By

Brittany Hunt

Brittany Hunt is an internationally experienced clinician, specialised in treating addictions and co-occurring disorders. Having worked in the public and private sector, she utilises holistic and evidence-based approaches designed to empower the patients in their recovery journeys. A graduate of The University of Auckland, she has a Bachelor of Health Sciences majoring in Mental Health and Addictions, a diploma in Psychology and Counselling and a Post-Graduate degree in Health Sciences, majoring in Addictions. She is a fully registered practitioner under the Drug and Alcohol Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (DAPAANZ).

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