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DIY Self-Care for Depression

I recently read an article from Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way Foundation” (an organization she created to address mental health and wellness in younger generations; https://bornthisway.foundation/about-the-foundation/) and a take away was that in this connected world it’s more likely that a teenager may be more likely to reach out to a friend versus their parent or other adult if they are having a mental health crisis, thus it’s extra important that we educate teenagers on signs and symptoms of depression and the like.  It got me thinking that a large number of teenagers I’ve seen in my practice have stressed the importance of keeping their cellphones on at night in case a friend needs to reach them; many have had friends they’re worried about, emotional stability wise, and feel actively accountable for.

I thought then that maybe today I would cover some coping skills/ tools that can be useful for teens as well as adults dealing with depressive symptoms, going through heightened stress, or wanting to improve their overall wellness and emotional well-being:

1.Connection – the paradox in this highly connected world (smart phones, social media) is that many people are feeling disconnected from people in a more meaningful way. Connection can mean joining something new to meet new people, reaching out to a friend or neighbor to deepen an already existing connection, spirituality or religious connection, or by reading books and articles written by others who may be experiencing the same or similar things/ feelings as you.

2. Gratitude – while gratitude won’t per se fix your situation or mood, it can give us something else to focus on. A gratitude list or journal may be a good place to start, where you write down one or two things a day you feel grateful for.  This can help ‘train the brain’ to look for those things during the day, like “oh, I’m gonna have to remember this that was nice I got this compliment today”, etc.  Sometimes volunteering can also help us feel more grateful for, and notice, what we have. Here’s an article on some other gratitude exercise ideas: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-exercises/

3.Self-Compassion – I think of self-compassion as sort of treating oneself and talking to oneself in a way you would a good friend. It is easy for us to like the things about ourselves that are easy and likeable but far more difficult for us to accept and have compassion on the aspects of ourselves and the areas wherein we ‘mess up’ or are ‘flawed’.  Many of us talk to ourselves in a manner much more critical, shaming, and blaming than we would if it was our friend (or our child) we were talking to.

4.Meditation – the mindful acceptance of the moment(s) as they are. Taking time daily or throughout the day to ground in to the present moment.  Taking time to quiet your mind or refocus.  Some people like to meditate with instrumental music in the background, others prefer a guided meditation.  There are guided meditations on a zillion different topics through the app, Insight Timer https://insighttimer.com/.  I’d recommend it!  (it’s supposed to be helpful for sleep too….)

5.Exercise – When medications are being researched, testing is undergone where some subjects are given the medication and another group of subjects is given a placebo pill. Neither knows which study group they’re in, and inevitably positive and negative effects are reported from both groups (hence the concept termed, “placebo effect”).  Anyway, a research study testing SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) for depression noted that a group given a placebo/sugar pill and an exercise program to complete fared as well as those given the SSRI.  That’s not to say medications don’t have their place, but to bring up the encouraging information that exercise can have a big positive effect on mood.  Can you find an exercise you like?  Take an exercise class with someone?  Walk even if it’s only a few minutes around your neighborhood to start?  Sometimes when someone is feeling depressed, things they used to enjoy aren’t enjoyable much anymore.  While that’s discouraging, building the habit of exercise (as well as building other healthy habits) can create that enjoyable effect in the long run.  Seeking inspiration? – maybe an exercise you enjoyed as a kid (soccer? Swim team? Horse back riding lessons?) would be a good one to try.

6.Pep Talks – There’s some truth to that old saying about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Sometimes there are just days that feel worse than others, when there is not a trigger to be found nor a change in our circumstances.  I’ve suggested that folks create an “inspiration folder” or “blue day folder” either on their phone or IRL (in real life) filled with things like pictures, quotes, inspirational things, encouragement, accomplishments – things you can then look back on when you’re needing a pep talk/ needing some encouragement.  A pep talk can also be seen as given yourself a little nudge to do something that may be healthy or kind or productive.  There’s a helpful youtube video on how depression is like an invisible black dog that follows you around and some days it’s more imposing than other days. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc


I hope you’ll use these strategies when you need them – or proactively (!) – and also hope you discuss them with your family or other loved ones.  Keep in mind none of this is to minimize depression.  Depressive symptoms can really range in severity and are not always so simply treated in a DIY (do it yourself) manner.  Please reach out for professional help when need be, no one has to go through this on their own.