The reality of depression is that, rather than being a constant, it typically ebbs and flows. The patches of time where you feel seriously down are known as "depressive episodes." That's when depression really gets on top of you — when you can't get out of bed and the sadness, blackness, and lack of hope seem inescapable. The good news is that they often pass relatively quickly, and with a little experience, it's actually pretty easy to feel them coming on. If you're starting to feel negative thoughts encroach on your brain and stop being able to enjoy things, then you know that Bad Times Are A-Comin'. But this early warning phase can actually present opportunities to help yourself prepare for your forthcoming depression.
The key bit of advice I'm not going to give you? I'm not going to give you any tips on how to try to stop the depressive episode from happening. Chances are that denying it, blocking it, or otherwise ignoring the signals would be counterproductive and make for a missed opportunity. You're headed into the storm; you need to batten down the hatches, and then maybe you'll be able to navigate a slightly calmer path through the breakers. (Sorry, excessive metaphor alert.) None of this advice is a substitute for professional medical help, of course, but if you're an experienced depressive, these tips might help you listen to yourself and prepare for what is on the horizon.
Here are ten pieces of advice for what to do when you feel a depressive episode incoming. They're all geared toward making sure that your experience can be mitigated as much as possible. You can do this. Get to your stations, sailors!
1. Make An Appointment With A Professional, Stat
Got a therapist, but don't maintain regular appointments? Line one up. If you're regularly scheduled, but feel like you can't hold out until your usual Thursday time slot, contact your therapist or other mental health professional to let them know that you believe you're at the edge of a dark time. They'll appreciate the heads-up, and may either be able to fit you in earlier or give you tips on coping.
2. Give Yourself Reasons To Leave The House
For those of us who recognize the signs, getting a heads-up on an upcoming depressive episode is a genuine opportunity to put some good groundwork in place. Combat the isolation that depression brings by scheduling some social time for the next little while. It doesn't have to be big parties or things that may make you feel more depressed or alone — one-on-one time with understanding friends, group activities that you love, or anything that will make you feel connected are all good ideas. And tell somebody else your plans so that they can help you stick to them.
3. Eat More Fish
Omega-3s, which are found in fatty, oily fish, are believed to have a positive impact on mood. So stock up on salmon, mackerel, and other reasonably-priced sources. Talk to your fishmonger about the best options. If you're a vegetarian, take some omega-3 supplements.
4. Up Your Exercise Game
The science is pretty definitive: Exercise is damn good for dampening the effects of depression on the brain and body. And you aren't going to want to develop a new exercise regimen when you're in the midst of a serious depressive slump, so try to start a routine now and make it easier to slip into those running shoes next week. Easy, do-at-home exercises like yoga or a workout DVD might be a great alternative to gyms for depressives who have a touch of social anxiety.
5. Tell People Close To You
A simple "Hey, I think I'm going to be going through a rough period. Mind if we schedule some tea?" is enough for most people, even if they don't know that you're actually depressive. If there are people in your life who do understand, and who help monitor your depression, make sure that you notify them of what's about to happen, and they can help you make plans to deal with the fallout.
6. Start Monitoring Your Sleep And Wakefulness
Sleep disturbance is one of the classic signs of a severe depressive episode. Now is the time to start checking your sleep patterns and habits. Don't let a disordered sleep cycle get on top of you. Try to stick to a strict bedtime, use no devices before lights-out, drink lots of calming tea, and set a guaranteed wakeup time in the morning. Make notes of how your sleep patterns are shifting, too — your therapist and physician will find those helpful in monitoring how your condition's changing.
7. Stock Up On Products That Support Your Well-Being
If you're on medication, get that sh*t refilled now. I cannot tell you how many times I or other depressive friends have been caught short by an unexpected episode that completely derails our planning capacity and leaves us without enough meds for the weekend. Plan your meds, guys. Also stock up on helpful herbs like lavender, which have a proven mood-lifting effect (no, I'm not talking about pot).
8. Schedule Something You'll Look Forward To In The Near Future
Your mood may be lifted if you have something to focus on besides the immediate problematic period you'll be going through. It doesn't have to be a Greek holiday or a visit to the Chanel store; it could be something as simple as spending a day with friends, trying a cooking class, taking a day to walk in the country, or even devoting an afternoon to cake-baking. Knowing you have something to look forward to in your schedule can be a real mood booster, in my personal experience.
9. Plan Time For Relaxing Self-Care
Some focused self-care often helps when you're in the depths of the depressive episode itself. Self-care can include anything from taking a bath to listening to music to meditating — and if you know that a depressive episode is coming, you can fiddle with your schedule to ensure that there's time to do some self-care. (A note: There's good scientific evidence that the practice of mindfulness, a particular type of meditation, can help with certain aspects of depressive thinking, like rumination. If you're interested, you could start putting it into your routine before the really bad days hit.)
10. Try To Identify Your Triggers
Use this time of relative calm before the storm to try to understand what's setting off your depression. While depression can have organic patterns and dips, the reality is that there are usually also significant environmental factors that trigger depressive episodes, from stress to bad sleep patterns to illness to family arguments. You don't have to go all girl detective on it if you don't feel like it. Just write down what's been happening recently, with a clear head. It'll make it easier to challenge your negative thinking patterns later if you can detect exactly what patterns you're experiencing. And don't worry: You got this.
Images: Patryk Sobczak/Flickr, Giphy (5).