Depression is often like weather. When it’s storming or freezing or, I don’t know, raining comets, sometimes you just have to wait it out. But sometimes there are little things you can do to make the weather in your brain more bearable.
So let’s talk about mental health first aid. Here are some of the items on my personal “triage” list, roughly in order of escalating difficulty.
Curate a YouTube playlist for when you’re miserable
Everyone has at least one YouTube video that makes them laugh at any time, regardless of the circumstances. For me, it’s this absolutely ridiculous (and extremely foulmouthed) animation based on a web series I have never watched:
Start a playlist on YouTube. Whenever you see something unrepentantly silly and delightful – something you know you’d love to see again – add it to the list. We’re talking animal videos, comedy sketches, bizarre Vines, all of it.
This playlist will not cure your depression. But when you’re so unhappy that your limbs feel heavy and absolutely nothing sounds appealing, you’ll still probably be able to convince yourself to watch the playlist.
Specifically label your emotions
When my therapist emailed me an article titled “Are You in Despair? That’s Good,” I was like, “Wow, thanks, Dr. Tim.” Unfortunately, Dr. Tim won this round, because it’s a great article.
Essentially, when you feel down, you should put some thought into naming specifically how you’re feeling down. “Disappointed” is different from “embarrassed,” which is different from “exhausted” or “lonely.” The more specific you are, the more you can start thinking about causes and next steps. Of course, there isn’t always a cause or a next step, but even being a little more certain about that is helpful – it lets you know you should just batten down the hatches, be kind to yourself, and wait.
Sometimes when you’re overwhelmed with despair, those feelings isolate you. Choosing someone or something else as a focal point of your empathy drags you out of that mindset. The process of considering your options and selecting a recipient helps ground you in the outside world – the stories of other people and your role in influencing the narrative for the better.
Plus, if your brain is telling you you’re worthless, making a tangible positive impact – even a small one – can help pull you out of it. You can even choose a cause related to whatever’s currently bothering you, so you feel like you’re doing something to counteract it.
This is easily the most embarrassing item on this list, so you know I’m only sharing it because it absolutely works. Don’t just take it from me. I learned about it through this Reddit post, from a guy whose therapist wife made him fill it out when he kept complaining about his Overwatch team.
I printed out a stack of 20 of these puppies at a FedEx. I keep them on my bedside table for occasions when I want to cry all over them while writing down my deepest fears and anxieties. It is undeniably valuable for me to force myself to identify and write out, longhand, the ways in which my thoughts are distorting my perception of reality.
I put this fifth because I hate meditation more than any other habit in which I engage completely voluntarily. Being alone with my thoughts, and holding myself back from action, is the worst. But I’ve also learned that the more I’m resisting a meditation session, the more I’m going to realize afterwards how much I needed it.
It only takes 5 or 10 minutes. I recommend the free, beginner’s guided meditations in the app Headspace.
Reconnect with an old friend
I know, I know, this is emotional energy. But this doesn’t have to be a full visit or phone conversation. It can just be a quick “thinking of you” text.
Talking with an old friend brings a new energy to your current mood. It helps you feel grounded, loved, and connected to others. You’ll have to force yourself to pull it together enough to be a little social, which will help you feel a bit better. And your friend will also probably ask you to talk about how you’ve been since you last spoke with them, which will encourage you to construct a narrative and maybe find new insight.
Take a walk
I’m not asking you to go hiking; I’m not a monster. Prod your brain a bit and figure out how much moving of your body sounds bearable. Often my “walk” is going to the end of my hallway to take out my recyclables. Then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. If I were ambitious, I could walk a block to McDonald’s and get a McFlurry. Then at least I’ve got some ice cream.
Often when I’m depressed, I feel a bit like I’m testing how bad a physical injury is. Is this leg broken? How much weight can I put on it? For me, that mental process looks like, Can I manage sitting up instead of lying down? What about sending a text? What about getting out of bed? What about getting out of the apartment?
Sometimes, yes, this means that I abruptly run out of spoons, and realize I need to delay some obligations and rest. But if I’m lucky, small accomplishments help me build up to bigger ones. If I’m lucky, I’m able to take back some control over the weather.
Featured image via Thomas Hawk on Flickr.