After living with high-functioning depression for several years, one of the most important things I’ve learned about managing my depression symptoms is to be more proactive than reactive.
People struggle with depression for many reasons and for some of us, it’s a constant companion. Over the years, I’ve made it a point to take a step back to notice some of the events or behaviors that cause me to feel worse. While this may not “cure” me of depression, it can be useful in preventing a downhill emotional spiral.
Are you lonely and feeling disconnected from people?
Does a certain food or drink seem to always be around when you’re feeling badly, or do you seek it out when you’re deep in a depressive episode?
What happens if you haven’t been active for a few weeks?
These are the types of questions that I started to ask myself as I worked to discover certain unhealthy behaviors and recognize my internal alarm bells when I started to feel more anxious or depressed.
This can be tricky territory — the behaviors and events that might have a negative impact are super personal and there isn’t a digital guide to all of them. Plus, it may be difficult to figure out if what you’re feeling is just a “normal” part of your depression symptoms, or if perhaps they are being aggravated by something else.
But in my opinion, learning to identify the thought patterns, events, and behaviors that negatively affect you can provide really valuable insights and possibly help you to become more aware of your own health and help to manage your symptoms more effectively in the long term.
My personal journey
Over time, I’ve become well-versed in what makes me feel more anxious or depressed. Here are a few examples and what I do to mitigate them.
Coffee (or lots of caffeine) on an empty stomach makes me feel anxious
This was one of the easiest for me to spot since the effect was immediate. It also helped me recognize that my eating habits weren’t particularly healthy.
The fix: Years ago, I cut down on my caffeine consumption and if I did have coffee, I made sure to have food in my stomach first. I’ve also been working to improve my diet and physical health, which has helped make this less of an issue — I love coffee and don’t think I could give it up entirely!
Not expressing myself or avoiding conflict makes me feel really down
This one comes in different shapes and sizes. It may be that I feel isolated, or not able to express what I’m feeling. It can also come in the form of a conflict with someone else where I’m withholding my frustration or my feelings. All types of unexpressed emotions seem to lead me down the dark path into a more serious depression episode.
The fix: Early on, I was able to open up with photography as a way to express what I was going through, which evolved into The One Project. But overall, finding ways to express myself right away — whether it’s through words, other healthy habits, or my art — when I’m feeling a certain way has made all the difference.
Not moving my body or seeing friends can lead to a bad episode
This is one of those tricky ones that it’s important for me to be aware of. I recognized a pattern a while back that times I was less social coincided with the beginning of a depressive episode or some rough anxiety. It was a slippery slope — the less time I spent exercising or hanging with friends, the more intense my symptoms were. As my symptoms got worse, I had way less motivation to do anything.
The fix: Recently I’ve been hyper-focused on building a solid routine of taking care of my physical health while also making a point to take time off on the weekends — one of the downsides of working for yourself — and meeting up with friends more often.
I find that setting up reminders on my calendar or having structures around social time and workouts helps me to remember and not fall off my routine. It’s also one of the first things I dive into if I start to feel these issues coming on — head to the gym and hop on a call or go meet up with a friend.
No boundaries = no good
I’ve learned the importance of boundaries in both my work running multiple businesses as well as my personal relationships. It became clear that not having the right — or any — boundaries and allowing others to take control of my time and energy intensified my depression and anxiety.
The fix: It’s simple in theory, tough in practice — set proper boundaries. Stick to them.
It’s important to take the time to reflect on your experiences with depression and see if you can spot any common patterns. I’ve found daily journaling to be a great method of catching these. It also gives me the time and space to discover them on a regular basis.
Even 5 or 10 minutes of writing about your day, what you did, and how you felt and why could make a big difference in how you manage your symptoms and your day-to-day life.
Remember that the things that intensify bad feelings can change over time, and they’ll be different for everyone. It’s also important to remember that depression is a serious health condition, and while certain behaviors or events may make you feel worse, they likely are not the cause of depression. Still, learning to identify those behaviors can be a good supplement to the treatment program you design with your doctor.
I hope that you’re able to discover some powerful insights into how your mind and body work in relation to your mental health, and that it empowers you toward a better life.
For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
DEPR-US-NP-00051 MARCH 2019