Note: I reference situational depression in this article, not “clinical” depression. I refer to short periods (less than two weeks) of symptoms such as low energy, sadness, restlessness, negative thinking, irritability, or loss of interest.
Last summer was tough. After moving through my morning routine, I remember collapsing on my bed. Around 11 a.m., I felt drained, heavy, and unmotivated. Not even the bright sun rays shining through my large window could lift my mood. What was I even doing? Would I ever feel happy again?
This memory stands out because I’ve always been a morning person. Friends would describe me as highly energetic, optimistic, and curious. To my credit, I had just burned out at my job, started exploring my psychological shadows, and discovered a history of narcissist abuse. My energy felt sapped.
Since I was a pre-teen, I experienced phases of depression to varying degrees. Thankfully, I’m also persistent, resourceful, and excellent at habit building. I’ve been on the exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness train for a long time. Despite my best efforts, sometimes I feel “over it.” I judge myself and imagine I’m the only one who feels this way. My quest to embrace depression includes:
Reading many self-help books.
Using holistic processes
Exploring depth psychological
Pursuing creative recovery
Incorporating well-being practices
The first thing to remember: I am not alone in these feelings. Many, many people feel this way right now. Second: These feelings are temporary. Third: My pain always carries opportunities of equal weight.
We often need to address our human needs before spiritual needs. Or, as Tony Robbin said, “It’s hard to change your story when you’re in a lousy state.” I grouped my approaches into two categories:
Ways to relax or energize
Ways to better understand the emotions
Relaxing Or Energizing
When I feel drained, that’s either a signal to give myself more rest or to build energy. I like to trust my body to make this decision.
1. I find more self-compassion
Dr. Kristen Neff sums self-compassion up as “warmth towards oneself,” both physically and emotionally. Most people give more compassion to others than themselves. Yet people who have self-compassion tend to make healthier decisions for themselves and be better in relationships.
Dr. Neff suggests placing your hands over your heart or stomach or opening your palms to relax. Acknowledge the pain. Remember, you’re not alone in your feelings. Then speak kindly to yourself, maybe finding ways to support yourself in these challenging feelings. This approach works well for me.
2. I cry for as long as I need to
Crying is so good for you! It’s our body’s way of releasing tension. Grab a box of tissues and let yourself feel the sadness. Maybe jot down a few notes along the way. Somatic processing allows us to work through painful emotions more directly. Don’t let anyone tell you that crying is “weak.”
3. I engage my senses
I see strong emotions as a cue to reconnect with my body. I might light incense or candles or take a hot bath. Or I’ll snuggle with a fuzzy blanket and drink hot tea. Connecting with my body helps me to deepen my breathing and increase awareness.
4. I’ll explore local events
Finding people with shared interests is pretty much always a good idea. Being around other people usually makes me feel more energized.
5. I do yoga or stretch (even for 10 minutes)
Yoga can be so gentle that it’s nearly always accessible. I don’t stress about getting all the positions or flows perfectly. Instead, I prioritize connecting with my breath and listening to my body, using traditional yoga movement as a guideline.
6. Walks are my first line of defense
Walking somehow makes me feel more relaxed and energized. Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, suggests that walking for at least 20 minutes nurtures our creativity, builds our inner fire and helps with problem-solving.
7. Move my body
Whether you like jogging, lifting weights, dancing, swimming, or biking, getting moving does beautiful things to your body and mind. I’ve seen this recommendation in nearly every medical depression advice column. Never underestimate what exercise can cure.
8. Connect to my breath
Whether you enjoy breathwork or guided meditations, taking deep breaths is probably the fastest way to reset your perspective. I recommend finding guided anxiety meditations on YouTube. They help me ground, clear away judgments, and approach stressful situations with grace.
9. I watch TED talks
They have TED talks on depression and loneliness. But when I’m mostly looking for more energy or inspiration, almost any TED talk will make me feel better.
10. I sleep more
Yes, as adults, naps are still available to us. The power of sleep has been seriously underrated in our culture. If you haven’t heard about it yet, “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker is a game-changing book. Matthew also gave a TED talk, “Sleep is your superpower.”
11. I set up a movie night
Regardless of our “relationship status,” we are always dating ourselves. Scoping out new movies from award-winning or feminist lists gets me pumped. Then, I’ll pick up my favorite movie snacks. It’s a date. I recommend putting it on your calendar too.
12. I read a book
Fiction or nonfiction, books often inspire or at least engage me. Though this doesn’t address the feelings head-on, I’m still improving my state.
13. I read Medium articles
Similar to the last point, I often feel energized from reading these articles. I love how vulnerable and brave writers on this platform are in their stories.
14. I set a timer
Even when I feel drained, I can often work up the strength to commit to 10 minutes of activity. Whether that’s picking up my guitar, a book, or making food, I usually feel much better afterward.
15. Listening to music helps
I’ve seen this recommendation a lot in medical advice columns too. You can go as deep into your dark emotions as you want, or you can listen to upbeat playlists on Spotify. “Uptown Funk,” anyone?
16. I spend time in nature
Harvard researchers wrote about “your brain and nature.” Whether natural or more urban settings, being around nature reduces activity in the parts of our brains that focus on negative emotions. Biking to the beach is my new favorite outing, combining exercise and nature. I feel incredibly refreshed afterward.
17. I became a plant mom
Yes! Having plants in your home is healthy for you for many reasons, i.e., increasing relaxation and productivity. Varieties like Snake plants are also known for improving the air quality. Being surrounded by plants as I type this feels good.
18. Sometimes, I listen to motivational videos
YouTube is full of them. Even if they seem cheesy, I always walk away feeling empowered.
19. I love on animals
Even if that means watching videos on YouTube, animals bring good vibes. According to research, most people who view cat videos walk away feeling significantly happier.
20. I count my blessings
I remind myself: many things are going right. It’s easy to overlook incredible blessings like being able to hear, see, feel, or speak or having a home to live in with a regular food supply. Seeing the bright side is always a choice we can make.
21. I cook or clean
Advanced Psychiatry Associates recommend cooking and cleaning as effective ways to engage and be creative when you’re feeling down. One of my favorite meditation guides calls these activities “grounding.”
22. I take a break from social media
Research shows social media likely increases feelings of depression and loneliness. When you’re feeling low, taking some space from everyone’s “highlight reels” can help.
23. I try a new physical activity
Harvard researchers suggest doing enjoyable new activities makes us more resilient. The best new activities combine brain stimulation, physical activity, and social engagement. Activities like martial arts, rock climbing, partner dance, or tennis fit the bill.
24. I check out a new coffee shop
Like the above suggestion, trying out someplace new — whether a coffee shop, restaurant, or museum — can help with depression.
25. I get dressed up
Research shows that our clothing choices can impact our emotional states, i.e., dressing in nice clothes makes us feel better. Tan France from Queer Eye sees style as “a vehicle for getting what you want out of life.” Never underestimate the power of a great outfit.
“The depressive position may have evolved to remove us from distressing, damaging, or futile situations,” said Neel Burton, M.D. Our emotions always provide data to understand ourselves better. Our pain is a path, and we need to listen.
26. I explore tarot cards or horoscope readings
I enjoy using both tools to explore my feelings and thoughts. Sometimes insights remind me to appreciate the process; other times, I need to address internal conflict. Whether you’re “spiritual” or not, I also see these tools as a way to explore my psychology.
27. I practice talk therapy
Another widely-recommended practice, talk therapy, helps me to see my thought patterns and gain outside perspective. Whether I’m with a therapist or an empathetic friend, talk therapy reduces shame feelings and brings awareness. Sometimes, I’ll write out a long email to someone close, and that has similar benefits.
28. I write it out
In addition to regular stream-of-consciousness journaling, I use Brene Brown’s “Shitty First Draft” approach, which includes six steps:
What is the story I’m telling myself?
What emotions am I feeling?
How does my body feel?
What thoughts am I having?
What judgments am I making?
What actions am I taking?
From there, I can usually separate truth from negative thinking and reshape my story.
29. I put my strengths on my wall
Often when I feel depressed, I start telling negative stories about myself. I’m not good enough. How could anyone love me? I’ll never be able to do X. Keeping my strengths front and center helps me self-reflect more positively.
30. I pick up an instrument, regardless of skill level
Whether you’re listening to or making music, research shows music positively impacts depressive symptoms. Amanda Palmer recommends this practice too in her hilarious and powerful “Ukulele Anthem.”
31. I pray about it
Charles Duhigg talks about the value of spirituality in the “Power of Habit.” People going through Alcoholics Anonymous were more likely to recover when they believed in a higher power. This spiritual faith was critical for moving through tough times. Whether you’re spiritual or not, it’s worth a shot.
32. Mostly, I get curious about my emotions
Through environmental conditioning, we learn to hide unpleasant emotions. Our negative voices, or “inner critics,” are especially loud when we grow up in judgmental homes. Using somatic processing, I talk to my body. I’ll thank my headache for getting my attention and ask, “What more do I need to know?” Our bodies are incredibly wise.
Our feelings are something we experience, not who we are. Feeling depressed sometimes is natural. I used to feel embarrassed about my low energy and emotional heaviness — which made the symptoms worse. Not as much anymore.
Hiding dark emotions never works in the long run. Now, I try to approach depression as if I invited it. I look for ways to understand, move through, and embrace all of my feelings.
“You say you’re ‘depressed’ — all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective — it just means you’re human.” — David Mitchell.