Thanks to Rebekah Dunlap for contributing to this article.
Our mentors and page authors are not necessarily psychologists or therapists. Even when they are, this page is not medical or psychological advice and they are not creating a doctor/therapist-client relationship. You should consult a professional if possible and they can tell you whether this advice applies to your situation. If this is an emergency, you should call your national emergency number, like 911, or a mental health hotline, like 1-800-950-6264.
We are glad you are here. All of our mentors stand ready to support you. We believe in you and we believe you can fight and overcome this!
You are not alone. You never will be.We are glad you are here. All of our mentors stand ready to support you. We believe in you and we believe you can fight and overcome this!
You are not alone. You never will be.
If you’re reading this page, perhaps doctors and therapists haven’t been able to help you. Perhaps you don’t want to just use anti-depressants. Perhaps you want tools or a mentor to guide you through this process as you work through your mental habits yourself.
We recommend that if things get serious or life-threatening, such as if you catch yourself with suicidal thoughts or are unable to leave your room for several days even to shower or eat, that you contact your doctor, nurse, or GP. They can point you to more resources that can help you and even get you necessary medication.
If you haven’t given these steps a try, though, we recommend you do! They can really reduce your depression and give you a new lease on life.
Do you Have Depression?
This page is for everyone who is struggling with sad or hopeless recurring thoughts, whether or not it’s “depression.” If you want to figure out if you’re depressed and by how much, here’s a good online tool. But of course, only your doctor or psychologist can officially diagnose you.
Remember that just because you smile or laugh a lot, people think you’re optimistic, or you’re a sociable, balanced person does not mean you’re not depressed. If your mind isn’t working for you, if you’re feeling hopeless or sad, if you can’t get sleep or have no energy, you might be depressed. And that’s okay! Many, if not most people go through depressed phases in life.
Step One: Understand What Depression Is
Being able to identify moments when your brain is not acting right will help you actively do things to feel–if only temporarily–more normal. The hallmark of depression is the depressive spiral: things are bad, so they make you feel worse, so things get worse and you feel worse. On and on. There are three depressive spirals you should mindfully watch for:
- Cognition: You think things are going badly, so you feel worse. As you feel worse, you think things are going more badly. So you feel even worse. On and on.
- Behavior: You stop actively doing things, so you feel worse. As you feel worse, you do even fewer things and maybe spend hours not making it off your bed. So you feel even worse. On and on.
- Social: You stop interacting with people and withdraw into yourself, so you feel worse. As you feel worse, you withdraw and stop communicating even more. So you feel even worse. On and on.
Our goal here is to teach you how to stop the spiral and then eventually to learn to spiral upward instead of downward.
The other thing you need to understand is the cognitive behavioral triangle:
Our thoughts, emotions, and behavior are all interconnected. How we think affects how we feel and act; how we feel affects what we think and do; what we do affects how we think and feel.
Remember that your depressed mind is like a broken leg. You need to use tools like you’d do physical therapy to exercise your mind, slowly make it stronger, and fix the break. Depression means your mind is not emotionally healthy. You can fix that in two ways: changing your behavior and changing your thoughts.
Step Two: Collect Data on Yourself
Specifically, we recommend that you journal your average mood every day. Notice the major activities you did each day and why you feel better on days you did. This will allow you to observe which activities bring your happiness. Then you can schedule those activities for more often during the week.
Often, when we are depressed, we make pessimistic assumptions about whether or not we’ll enjoy something. We might think that a TV show or a long bath won’t actually make us feel better. When you document your feelings from 1-100 each day, you’ll notice that that’s not always the case. And if things help drop negative emotions and increase positive ones, keep doing them!
Some negative feelings you can track every day: hopelessness, sadness, anger.
Some positive feelings you can track every day: happiness, hope, contentment.
Also, track your energy levels once or twice a day from 1-100. Depression often saps us of energy and it’s important to notice what activities give you a boost of energy as opposed to taking it away.
Once you’ve tracked the problem, recognize and accept there’s an issue. Staying in denial will make it much more difficult to cope. There’s nothing wrong with you as a person. Mental health is just as physiological as a broken bone.
Step Three: Find a Safe Person, Friend, or Mentor
The good news is that we at Dweebs Global are happy to be that person for you! It’s also good if you can find a resource you can more consistently communicate with during tough moments, someone you can call when you’re about to spiral.
Remember that you don’t have to play pretend when you’re not feeling well and the people you find should understand that. You should never feel forced to smile through the pain. It’s okay to not feel well.
Step Four: Behavioral Activation-Mood Monitoring
This is the first tool to help with depression. Before you try to change your thoughts, try changing your behavior. It’s easier.
Track your feelings every day. If this seems hard at first, just start with your energy levels or happiness, ranked from 1-10. Notice which days in the week you felt happier or more energetic and try to figure out why. Which activity do you think brought you that happiness?
Make a list of the activities that have brought you the most joy. Then try to do those things more often. Schedule those activities into every day and make sure you never miss them. Sometimes getting out of depression is just forcing yourself to do more things, as much as possible.
Here are some suggestions of behaviors to change or try that you may find will boost your mood:
- Track what food makes you feel better. For some people, fatty food doesn’t make them feel better. For other people, increasing fats and protein and decreasing carbs does the trick. Mood monitoring over time will help you learn what to include and what to cut.
- Try meditating. Meditation can help center and calm you, give you a boost of energy, and help you notice what is okay in the moment.
- Stay as physically active as you can. Remember that you are a body as well as a mind and that your body feels more well after being pushed. Exercise will build your supply of energy.
- Reduce alcohol and smoking. Reduce junk food.
- Eat on time every day. Structure gives you something to look forward to.
- Improve your sleep.
- Daylight is your friend. Spend time in it and invite it into your home.
- Be wary of online communities made up of depressed people. Twitter or a depression memes page may make you feel seen, but they won’t make you feel better.
Consider rewarding yourself if you successfully log your mood every evening, schedule events that make you happier, and stick to your plans. Rewards can include buying a dress, game, or other splurge-item you want. Good food is a good choice as well. Maybe an afternoon of binge-watching a guilty pleasure. Do not use alcohol, THC, drugs, or anything else you’ve recorded making yourself feel worse as a reward. Your reward must be something you’ve logged doing that actually makes you feel better in the long-term.
Also consider social and environmental changes that might help. Could you call friends more often? Are people making you feel bad? Can you cut them out of your life? Does your room need a good clean? Could you use a move? Could you decorate your house with uplifting quotes or bright colors?
Step Five: Cognitive Restructuring–Stop the Spiral and Cure Negative Thoughts
Once you’ve exercised your mind a little and feel it’s a bit stronger, the next step is to work on cognitive restructuring. This requires a bit more brain power and mental control. If you feel you don’t have it yet, we recommend practicing a bit of mindfulness or meditation daily to grow your focus muscle.
Then take a look at the ABCD model and the 7-Column Thought Record exercises. They will help you figure out how to restructure your brain and correct your thoughts. Basically, if you think “my life is awful and I have no future,” you take time to discover why you think that. Then you correct yourself each time in your mind or out loud: “Just because this bad thing happened doesn’t mean my life will always be this way. I have a lot going for me. I have a bright future.”
In particular, for depression, take a look at the dysfunctional attitude scale and see if you believe any of these thoughts in particular. They are ones to watch out for and fight each time they cross your mind. Never stop fighting and never give up, no matter how hard it seems to correct these thoughts at first.
If you notice you’re spiraling, immediately do an activity to distract you, call a friend or mentor, or correct your thoughts using these techniques. Treat yourself like someone you’re responsible for caring for. Looking at yourself from an outside perspective often reveals an actionable next step. E.g. “That guy would feel better if we went for a walk.” Don’t discount mood-improving activities that seem juvenile, like jumping on your bed or talking loudly to yourself.
For more cognitive restructuring tips, please check out our entire self-help toolkit which includes some of the most used techniques in cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s very worth a read and you may find more techniques that help you.
Step Six: Cognitive Restructuring— Spiral Upward and Increase Positive Thoughts
Now that you’ve learned to stop the spiral, you want to work on switching the spiral upward. One way to do this is to take time to write in a gratitude journal every day. Don’t just write. Spend time to savor each good memory and focus on it. This will get easier over time and teach your brain to be more positive.
Also, give yourself time and space. It is as necessary to reflect on life and be with yourself as going out into the world and taking on responsibilities, especially as you are recovering from depression.
For more positive psychology tips (increasing positive thoughts, rather than fixing negative thoughts), check out our positive psychology page.
Here are the positive spiral goals:
- Cognition: You think things are going well, so you feel better. As you feel better, you think things are going even more well. So you feel even better. On and on.
- Behavior: You fill your days with lots of activities, so you feel better. As you feel better, you do even more things and stay even busier. So you feel even better. On and on. (Note that we don’t mean work by “busy.” The goal is to work hard AND play hard. It counts as being busy is you actively and mindfully enjoy a good movie, playing games, cooking, music, etc.)
- Social: You interact with a lot of people and share positivity in the world, so you feel better. As you feel better, you interact and communicate with people even more. So you feel even better. On and on.
Step Seven: Seriously Consider an Emotional Support or Service Dog
There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and support animals. But depression and serious depression can affect your life in the long-term. It’s a serious issue. It can be easy to spiral again if you’ve spiraled before.
Service dogs and emotional support dogs have saved many people’s lives, especially those who are depressed and/or suicidal. A dog is a great anchor, someone to love and care for, and can be trained to distract you when you need to stop the spiral, encourage you to spiral upward by licking and playing with you, and even remind you to take your medication on time.
If you already have a well-trained dog, consider making them your service dog. Especially as COVID 19 lifts and you may have become very attached to your dog being around all the time, there is no need to force yourself to leave them behind if they’re important your mental well-being. Emphasis on well-trained. A good pet does not necessarily make a good service dog.
A well-trained service dog is legally allowed in most countries to accompany you to work, stay with you at home (your landlord is required to allow them), and go with you to movies, public places, and restaurants. An emotional support dog can help as well, though they are allowed in fewer places. Sometimes, just having that presence everywhere you go can make a huge difference.
In the United States, you do not need to legally register your dog anywhere to call it a service dog. You do not need a doctor’s or psychologist’s certificate or letter. All online registration companies and service vests/id’s are “fake,” in that the government does not certify them. They exist because people do not know this or do not care. They can be useful so people don’t question you. What makes your dog a service dog is if you say so, they are well-trained and can accompany you to places (will not be distracted or pee, will not bark, will respond to all commands, etc.) and you can answer the following questions:
- Is your dog a service animal? (Presumably yes.)
- What service or task is your dog trained to provide you? (This can be calming you down, licking you in response to a spiral, notifying you about a medical emergency, giving or reminding you to take medication, or anything else.)
The more people who can take their emotional support or service animals places they need, the better. Dogs can be life-changing. Therefore, if you need your dog at all, fight for your right to take it. Even if your dog just makes you feel “a little better,” that’s fine. You need that. Don’t let anyone tell you your illness isn’t serious enough for a service dog.
However, if your dog is untrained, will bark at other service animals, will cause disruptions, etc., then please don’t take your dog to public places. That’s because other people will have their service animals and you’re hampering their ability to use their dog.
More for the U.S. laws here: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html
(Multiple contributors to this article have service dogs, some for mental health reasons and some for physical health, so we are not just suggesting this to take our pets to work. Our dogs have saved our lives. To those critics who make life difficult for us and may make life difficult for you and to those of you judging us for conditions that “are not serious enough for a service dog,” your opinions are meaningless, the law sides with us, and you can shut it.)
Step Eight: Learn More Self-Help Techniques
There are many advanced cognitive behavioral techniques in our toolkit, like the 7-Column Thought Record and specific positive psychology exercises. If it seems overwhelming, please reach out to one of our mentors who can help you walk through what good next steps might be and try to support you with your condition.