Major depression can be debilitating. You may find yourself having trouble functioning, and even simple tasks may feel insurmountable. Depression often features ups and downs where you may experience two or more weeks of major depressive symptoms, and then you may start to slowly feel better, though it can take some time. Those valleys and hills in the severity of your symptoms are entirely normal. Some proven methods can help get your life back on track.
The Office of Women’s Health recommends antidepressant treatments that can include therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Depression causes physical changes in your brain, and medication can help return it to a balanced state. You should speak with your primary care provider if you are not currently receiving treatment for your depression.
What is a Major Depressive Episode?
A major depressive episode is at least fourteen days during which you experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Severe sadness or hopelessness
- Unusual fatigue
- Change in appetite and sudden weight loss or gain
- Change in sleep patterns including trouble waking up or falling asleep
- Loss of interest
- Severe and persistent feelings of guilt
- Difficulty focusing
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
The Effect on Day-to-Day Life
Depression impacts every part of an individual’s life. You may have found yourself unable to complete even simple tasks during the depressive episode. Some people describe major depression as feeling like being physically weighed down by sadness or other emotions. Exhaustion, lethargy, inability to focus, and a loss of energy are also prevalent with depression. You might find yourself unable to do even small things like brushing your teeth or preparing a meal. However, once the symptoms begin to improve, you will slowly find yourself regaining energy.
It is essential to recognize that there is no on-off switch for depression, and recovery is not always linear, which means you might find yourself having really great days followed by several more challenging days. Your brain goes through a series of changes before, during, and after a major depressive episode. The things you are feeling are a side effect of these changes.
Making a Plan and Stick to It
Depression makes it difficult to focus clearly on goals, and it drains your energy. One of the best ways to return to your typical activity level after a depressive episode is to create a list of achievable, clear goals. The more detailed they are, the better, and you can even break down each goal into separate exact steps to make it even less intimidating. For example, instead of writing down a plan like “start cleaning the house again,” you can put down several smaller goals like “do the dishes after dinner” or “sweep the floor this week.” There is no need to pressure yourself by expecting more from yourself than you can give. Recovering from severe depression is a process.
Here are a few criteria you can use to develop stress-free goals:
- Be precise about what, when, where, or how. For example, you would write down “walk the dog twice a week for 20 minutes” instead of “exercise the dog.”
- Break down more complex tasks into more manageable ones. For example, if you find it particularly hard to get started each day, you can make a routine where you go through a series of steps like “1) get out of bed, 2) use the bathroom, 3) brush teeth, 4) get dressed.” Each step you complete is a success for the day.
- Be prepared to miss some of your goals, and instead of marking them as a loss instead move them back a bit so that you can complete them on another day.
Stay Positive When Progress is Slow
It can take weeks or months to return to your regular routine after a major depressive episode. That is entirely normal and does not reflect on you or your resilience. When it takes a long time to get back to your standard level of functioning, it can be easy to feel guilty, helpless, frustrated, or angry. These emotions can increase the risk of falling back into a more intense depression. One way to overcome that negativity is to practice mindfulness and positive thinking.
You can do this even if it takes a little longer than you may prefer. After a depressive episode, it is normal to feel lingering sadness, guilt, or hopelessness. You can decrease the impact by practicing self-validation every day. Here are a few examples of how you can do that.
- Acknowledge all the small ways you are progressing in your recovery.
- Give yourself credit for your accomplishments.
- Reframe negative or self-flagellating thoughts to make them neutral or positive.
- Look at events objectively and list out the ways you have started re-engaging with others and your typical routine.
Depression is incredibly common, and there is some evidence that the pandemic has increased the risk of developing this condition for many people. If you find yourself experiencing a major depressive episode, you may be having a hard time returning to your daily routine. There are some things you can do to help yourself get back on track. Start small and remember that slow progress is still progress. You will experience good days, bad days, and neutral days when you feel like not much gets done. Try to stay positive and work to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed by guilt or hopelessness. Treatment facilities like Everlast Recovery Centers can help you prepare for depressive events by teaching you coping skills that can lower the risk of a relapse. For more information about how Everlast Recovery Centers can help you stay sober during major depressive episodes, call us at (866) 338-6925.