People with bipolar disorder spend two to three times as much time experiencing depression as they do mania. Some research has shown that someone with bipolar disorder will spend 50% of their time in a period of depression. If that’s the case, we need to be prepared to continue to live our lives while depressed. It’s incredibly easy to just let depression get the best of us. Powering through is difficult, but it is possible. There are several steps you can take to help combat the symptoms of depression.
Step 1: Recognize it.
Depression can start slowly so that it’s barely noticeable until you’re bogged down with symptoms. If you have bipolar disorder, it’s best to use an app or journal to keep track of any symptoms you are having and how they are different from the days and weeks before. Look for changes in eating or sleeping patterns, loss of interest in activities or relationships, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness and any thoughts of death or suicide.
Step 2: Get help.
Once you see signs of a pattern of depressive symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor as soon as possible. If you don’t have a psychiatrist, see your primary care physician first. They may want to start you on treatment while you wait for a referral. You should also consider seeing a therapist. Every bit of help counts.
Step 3: Take your medication.
Whether it had already been prescribed or it is a new prescription, it’s important to take medication as it has been prescribed. It’s easy to say that the medication isn’t working because you’re depressed, but discontinuing medication without the supervision of a physician can be dangerous and cause more problems. If you are given new medication, keep in mind that many drugs used to treat depression and bipolar disorder can take weeks to become effective.
Step 4: Eat right.
People experiencing depression often gain or lose a significant amount of weight. Many people will lose their appetite altogether and some will start eating more food that’s less healthy. Making a point to eat healthy foods rich in B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis can help combat symptoms. If you need help figuring out a healthy diet, ask your doctor for a referral to see a nutritionist.
Step 5: Exercise.
When you’re depressed, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of depression and it’s difficult at best to do something as energy-intensive as exercise when you’re feeling depressed. However, regular exercise will help you build energy to help you feel less fatigued. You can start out by simply taking a walk. Getting out in the sunlight can also help with depressive symptoms.
Step 6: Reach out.
We tend to isolate ourselves when we’re feeling depressed. That may be because we don’t have the energy to interact with people or it may be that we don’t want to burden them with what we’re feeling. It’s important to reach out and talk to someone anyway. You don’t necessarily have to talk about your depression or how you’ve been feeling. Find someone supportive and go have a coffee. Spend some time volunteering or keep up with some of your usual activities even when you don’t feel like it.
Step 7: Be patient.
Depression will not abate in a day. One therapy session and an hour on the treadmill are not going to suddenly cure depression. It is a process. Unfortunately you just have to wait it out whether waiting for medication to work or for the cycle to end naturally. You also have to have patience with yourself. If you eat an unhealthy meal and skip out on workouts or social engagements it’s okay. You’re sick. You wouldn’t give yourself a hard time for missing out if you had the flu, so give yourself some slack when dealing with depression as well.
Stick with your treatment and give yourself a break. This too shall pass.
Image credit: Alberto Adán