If you've been feeling down or hopeless for a while, you're not alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 280 million people worldwide are living with depression.
Fortunately, there are ways to live with depressive disorders and manage the symptoms of depression.
Before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about depression and what it looks like.
Major depression (also known as clinical depression or, simply, depression) is one of the most common mental health disorders. It affects how you think, feel and go about everyday activities like work or school.
Depressive disorders are characterized by at least two weeks of a depressed mood or lost interest in things you normally enjoy.
Some of the most common types of depressive disorders include:
Major depressive disorder (MDD). Lasting at least two weeks, MDD symptoms interfere with daily life, such as the inability to eat, sleep and perform at school or work.
Persistent depressive disorder. Sometimes called dysthymia, this type of depression involves less intense symptoms than MDD but lasts much longer — often, two or more years.
Bipolar disorder. This mental health condition causes both depressive and manic episodes, the latter of which involves unusually excitable, happy or hyperactive moods.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD generally affects people in the colder, darker months of the year and gets better in the spring and summer.
There are other types of depression that don't have specific guidelines, such as birthday depression. Like other mental disorders, major depression can be caused by a variety of factors, such as big life events, trauma, history of depression and certain illnesses. Neurotransmitters (or brain chemicals) are also thought to play a role in clinical depression, though it's not exactly known how.
While it varies among depressive disorders and individuals, some of the most common depression symptoms include:
Persistent sadness, tearfulness, anxiety, hopelessness and/or an "empty" mood
Feelings of restlessness, anxiety and agitation
Irritability and anger or frustrated outbursts over minor issues
Reduced appetite and weight loss
Increased appetite, food cravings and weight gain
Physical painand other physical symptoms, including headaches, joint and/or muscle pain and digestive problems
Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
You can learn more about depressive disorders in our guide to depression types, symptoms, causes and more.
If you're living with depression, certain lifestyle changes may help with managing depressive symptoms, especially when combined with treatments like medication and psychotherapy.
We’ve compiled tips and strategies for coping with depression in daily life below.
When you're stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol that helps you better deal with whatever's making you feel uneasy. Our cortisol levels typically peak in the morning and decrease throughout the day.
A spike in cortisol can be beneficial in the short term, like helping you wake up or giving you a burst of energy when dealing with trauma or physical stress. However, high cortisol levels are associated with major depression, especially severe depression.
For those who live with depression, research suggests cortisol levels peak in the morning but don't decrease or level off throughout the day.
The more you reduce stress, the more you can minimize your risk of developing depression over time. Consider breathing techniques to slow down a racing heart, mindful meditation to focus on the present moment or gentle exercises like yoga.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is one way to cope when living with depression. Talking to a licensed psychiatrist can help you figure out what might trigger depressive symptoms, change negative behavior patterns or better manage stressors.
Different types of therapy for treating depression include:
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
You can learn more about different types of therapy in our guide.
The therapy that'll benefit you most depends on your symptoms, the severity of your depression and other factors.
If you're living with depression and are considering therapy, you can schedule a consultation with a licensed mental health professional online. They can give peace of mind about the process and may recommend psychotherapy in combination with medications such as antidepressants.
Another way to live with depression and a common treatment for depressive disorders is to take antidepressants. Antidepressant medications are thought to work by affecting the levels of certain chemicals in the brain that impact mood and behavior.
The most common types of antidepressants include:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs work to increase serotonin levels in your brain by preventing the brain from reabsorbing it. Some examples of popular SSRIs are fluoxetine (Prozac®), sertraline (Zoloft®), paroxetine (Paxil®) and escitalopram (Lexapro®).
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These antidepressants work to increase both norepinephrine and serotonin levels in the brain. Common SNRIs include venlafaxine (Effexor®), duloxetine (Cymbalta®) and levomilnacipran (Fetzima®).
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). An older class of antidepressants, TCAs work by increasing norepinephrine and serotonin levels. Tricyclic antidepressants include amitriptyline, doxepin, amoxapine, clomipramine and nortriptyline.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are another older class of antidepressants that increase serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and tyramine by blocking the enzyme monoamine oxidase. FDA-approved MAOIs include isocarboxazid (Marplan®), phenelzine (Nardil®), selegiline (Emsam®) and tranylcypromine (Parnate®).
Medications usually take anywhere from four to eight weeks to start working, so try to be patient if you’re just starting to take them. Also, they tend to improve sleep and concentration issues first, followed by improvements in mood.
A healthcare provider or mental health professional can help determine whether you should try antidepressants.
Setting achievable goals can help motivate you while living with depression.
Whether it's making your bed each morning, connecting with a friend or going on 10-minute walks, setting small daily intentions can also help your confidence while managing depression.
Insomnia (difficulty falling and staying asleep) is a common symptom of depression. In a 2014 study of co-occurring MDD symptoms, 27.7 percent of respondents suffered from both insomnia and hypersomnia (inability to stay awake during the day).
If you're struggling to sleep at night or are often tired during the day, improving your sleep hygiene may help. This means forming good sleep habits in an attempt to get better-quality shut-eye.
You can brush up on your sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, limiting screen time in the evening and creating a dark, quiet environment for sleeping.
Incorporating exercise into your lifestyle may also help you cope with depression and potentially improve some symptoms.
Physical activity has tons of benefits, from improving sleep and protecting against cardiovascular disease to releasing endorphins, the body's "feel-good chemical." And don't worry — you don't have to go all out on vigorous workouts to boost your physical health if you're living with depression.
A Harvard study found that running for just 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour is associated with a 26 percent reduced risk of major depression. Even a quick walk around the block is a great place to start.
If you're struggling with depressive symptoms, it can take time to feel better.
And when you start noticing improvements in your quality of life, stick to your treatment plan. Stopping antidepressant use, for instance, can result in withdrawal symptoms.
Consult with your healthcare provider before you stop taking any medications. It's also good to check in about any new or persisting symptoms before changing your treatment plan.
If you're living with depression, everyday life can be a struggle. But there are ways to cope with the symptoms of depression and find an effective treatment.
Some common and effective ways of managing and coping with the symptoms of depression can include anything from setting realistic goals, to meeting with a mental health professional, trying mindful meditation on for size and getting proper rest.
And, of course, there are plenty of others.
At the end of the day, the real trick is trying to understand what you’re experiencing and making positive steps forward in addressing it. And one of your first steps forward should be speaking with a professional.
Our online mental health resources can connect you with a licensed mental health professional who can help you figure out ways to cope with daily stressors, see if therapy is right for you and more.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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