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Depression Coping Skills: Steps to Managing Symptoms

Original Post VeryWellHealth By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH Updated on January 29, 2024 Medically reviewed by Michael MacIntyre, MD

 

Even with treatments such as antidepressants or psychotherapy, having additional strategies to cope with depression is helpful. Self-regulation and coping mechanisms play an essential role in treatment. They can provide relief and increase the effectiveness of other interventions.


This article offers 22 coping skills for depression, including therapeutic, physical, emotional, and social strategies.



Depression Coping Skills Used in Therapy 

Nearly 6% of adults experience one or more major depressive episodes each year, and over 60% of them receive treatment.1 Mental health providers, such as psychologists, therapists, and counselors, can work through various depression coping skills during therapy sessions.


Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, involves communication-based techniques to help you cope with depression. These techniques are used under the supervision of a mental health professional.


Depression and Anxiety Overlap

Depression and anxiety symptoms sometimes overlap. The coping skills described below are helpful for people with depression and may help improve anxiety symptoms, too.


Reframe Thoughts

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most researched and effective interventions for depression and has been found effective when provided in a number of ways, including face-to-face, remotely, and in hybrid formats.2


During a CBT session, your mental health provider will teach you how to recognize how your thoughts influence your behaviors and emotions. Once you learn to identify the root cause of your behaviors and feelings, the provider will offer strategies to help you reframe, or adjust, your thoughts and behavior patterns to lead to different emotions.


Improve Interpersonal Relationships

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is effective in improving the severity of depression.3 With this treatment, mental health professionals help you learn skills to improve your interpersonal relationships.


Examples include resolving a conflict with a family member, improving issues that contribute to loneliness, supporting transitions in relationships such as marriage or divorce, or coping with the loss of a friend or family member.


Practice Guided Mindfulness Exercises

Mindfulness is becoming aware of and drawing attention to thoughts, feelings, emotions, breath and/or your senses, things in the environment, and more. Mindfulness-based interventions are effective in treating depression and preventing additional depressive episodes.4


This can help you focus on the present instead of ruminating about past events or feeling anxious about the future. Mental health providers can help you develop mindfulness through guided exercises.


Identify Triggers

Psychotherapy for depression may involve identifying situations or events from the past that may have contributed to developing depression.5 Discussing these parts of your life—and related thoughts and behaviors—can help you determine your triggers. Your therapist will work with you to develop appropriate coping skills to use when you're faced with your triggers.


Self-Coping vs. Provider Support

Mental health providers can help you feel better faster than going it alone when you have depression.6 But your therapist can't be present throughout your daily life. Mental health professionals may use part of your therapy sessions to teach you coping skills you can incorporate into your daily life.


Physical Coping Skills for Managing Depression

The physical body and mind are connected. For example, people who experience physical health challenges such as cancer and autoimmune disease are more likely to experience depression. Similarly, those with depression are at an increased risk of developing physical health conditions.7


Coping skills that support the physical body can go a long way in improving and preventing depression symptoms.


Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

Research has found that eating quality, nutrient-dense foods and limiting inflammatory foods improves and prevents depression.8 To improve your diet, limit sugar and processed foods and get enough essential vitamins and nutrients.

What Are the Best Foods for Depression?


Exercise Regularly

Participating in moderate aerobic exercise at least three times per week improves depression symptoms.9 Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, running, rowing, biking, and dancing.


Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed is a hallmark of depression. It's common to want to skip exercise when you're feeling depressed. It's OK to feel that way, and important to keep trying.


Practice Breathing Techniques

Breathing techniques help calm your mind and nervous system and relieve depression symptoms.10 Examples of breathing techniques are slow, deep, and box breathing exercises.


Try box breathing by breathing in while counting to four, holding for four, breathing out while counting to four, and then holding for four again.


Start a Yoga Practice

Yoga can help improve depression symptoms.11 Hatha yoga is a common type, but other types are also beneficial. You can do yoga at home or at a yoga studio in a group class. It is a good option for people who don't prefer or cannot participate in more strenuous exercise.


Take a Tai Chi Class

Tai chi incorporates gentle body movements and breathing and is effective in improving depression symptoms.12 Like yoga, the physical activity of tai chi may be tolerated by those who are unable to engage in more strenuous exercise options.


Prioritize Sleep

Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, so it's important to prioritize sleep. Getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep can help to alleviate and prevent depression. Sometimes, insomnia can contribute to depression. If you struggle with insomnia, ask a healthcare provider for a referral to a therapist who specializes in CBT-i, a treatment for insomnia.13


Seeking treatment for insomnia is especially important if you're taking medication for depression—or comorbid (co-occurring) conditions. Certain medications can interfere with sleep.


Emotional Coping Skills for Managing Depression 

Emotional coping skills can help to alleviate and prevent symptoms of depression by improving self-esteem and decreasing the risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide.14


Suicide Prevention Hotline

If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, dial 988 to contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect with a trained counselor. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion can help to buffer depression symptoms.15 Many people are often more critical of themselves than they are of others. One exercise to extend more understanding and kindness to yourself is to consider how you would think about and act toward someone you care about if they were in a similar situation.


Track Your Progress

People who use apps to set goals and track their progress experience relief from depression symptoms.16 When using this coping skill, ensure your goals are appropriate and realistic. Setting and achieving small goals can help you feel a sense of accomplishment.


Try EFT Tapping

EFT (emotional freedom technique) tapping involves traditional Chinese medicine pressure points and using your fingertips to tap on those points to balance your energy. It connects the body and mind by using physical tapping points (body) with spoken phrases (mind) while tapping. This coping skill has been found effective in treating depression symptoms.17


Practice Gratitude

Intentionally practicing gratitude has been shown to prevent and relieve depression.18 Start a gratitude journal by writing down three positive things in your life when you wake up every day. Or, express gratitude to people in your life. The details of the practice can vary; the key is intentionally eliciting regular thoughts of gratitude.


Start a Meditation Practice

Meditation is intentional mental focus. You can do it while sitting still or moving, as with walking meditation. Research shows that meditation is effective in relieving depression symptoms, and the benefits may last long-term.19 Some people meditate as part of their regular yoga practice, along with practicing gratitude, or independently.


Use Stress-Management

Stress can increase your risk and symptoms of depression. If stress contributes to your depression symptoms, try some stress-management techniques.20 Stress-management techniques may help you bring awareness to stressful thoughts, feelings, and situations and respond calmly.


Follow a Morning Routine

Routines can help improve sleep and insomnia and, in turn, alleviate depression symptoms.21 Starting the day with a morning routine is a great way to set a positive foundation for your day. A morning routine may include exercise, gratitude practice, and other coping skills.


Social Coping Skills for Managing Depression

Symptoms of depression can include avoiding social settings and losing interest in interacting with friends and family.22 This presents a challenge to getting through depression since social support can prevent and alleviate symptoms of depression. Learning social coping skills can give you the tools to engage in positive social interactions.


Reach Out to a Friend

Friend support can help to prevent and alleviate symptoms of depression and lessen the impact of bullying on the risk of depression.23 Although people with depression may not always feel up for social interactions, reaching out to a trusted friend can help. Explaining your depression symptoms to a friend can be challenging and scary, but knowing that you have someone to confide in can help improve your symptoms.


Lean on Supportive Family Members

Like supportive friend relationships, research has shown that supportive family relationships relieve and prevent depression symptoms.23 It can be helpful to connect with a trusted family member. Letting them know about your thoughts, feelings, and depressive symptoms may also be beneficial.


Join a Support Group

While friends and family play an important role in depression support, they may not fully understand your experience without having experienced the symptoms themselves. Support groups specifically for depression serve as a way to connect with people who can personally relate.


Additionally, people trained to support those living with depression often lead or organize such groups, so it can be an excellent way to learn additional coping skills.24


Get Involved in Your Community

Feeling connected to and a part of a community can help to prevent and alleviate symptoms of depression.25 Having a connection to an identity can help, too. Participating in community activities, such as school groups, neighborhood activities, religious group functions, sports or hobbies, and other areas of interest can be beneficial.


Confide in Your Colleagues

Many people experiencing depression fear discrimination and other adverse effects at work if anyone in the workplace were to find out. However, there are laws in place to protect against such situations.26 Additionally, employees have legal rights to accommodations in the workplace, which includes mental health. Having the social support of a coworker or boss can help you cope with depression.


Maladaptive Depression Coping Skills 

There are many coping skills to help you manage depression, but not all of them are good. Maladaptive coping skills, also known as maladaptive coping mechanisms, are ways that people respond to challenging situations and experiences like depression that are often ineffective and unhealthy.27

Some examples of maladaptive depression coping may include:

It is essential to seek the support of a mental health provider if you notice you're using maladaptive coping strategies. These are signs of distress, and help is available.


Summary

Various depression coping skills can help you manage your symptoms. These coping skills may include physical, emotional, and social strategies. Many coping skills can be combined for added benefit, such as making mindfulness meditation and practicing gratitude part of a bedtime routine that leads to plenty of quality sleep. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, reach out to a healthcare provider for support.


Dr. Olivine is a Texas-based psychologist with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice.

 
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