At The Depression Project, we're often asked questions by members of our 3,000,000+ person social media community about coping with depression. So, in this blog post, we're going to share with you a free excerpt from our book This Is How You Overcome Depression that details:
- The importance of having coping skills when you're fighting depression;
- How to actually cope with depression - in such a way that you can help prevent yourself from becoming burned out, from breaking down emotionally, and from fuelling depression's vicious cycle and therefore having the symptoms of your depression worsen.
As soon as you're ready, let's get started!
So, like we talked about in the previous chapter, in order to prevent your depression from completely consuming you, it’s really important that you implement survival strategies that give you quick, short-term relief when you’re in the Storm Zone with severe depressive symptoms. And, like we also said, if you implement these survival strategies and therefore reverse depression's vicious cycle, you can pull yourself out of the Storm Zone and into the Rain Zone of the Storm To Sun Framework.
We touched upon the Rain Zone in the previous section, but to paint a more detailed picture of it for you, the Rain Zone is where:
Metaphorically Speaking: The storm in your mind has calmed down or not yet started – but it could flare up on short notice.
When It Comes To Your Thoughts: While you’ll still in all likelihood struggle with negative thoughts, they’ll be less uncontrollable, less intrusive, less constant, less catastrophic, and you’ll be less attached to them than you were in the Storm Zone.
When It Comes To Your Emotions: Similarly, while you’ll still have to deal with difficult emotions such as worthlessness, overwhelm, irritability, sadness and/or lack of motivation for example when you’re in the Rain Zone, the severity of these emotions is considerably less intense than was the case in the Storm Zone.
When It Comes To Your Behaviours: When you’re in the Rain Zone, as a result of your depressive symptoms not being as intense as they were in the Storm Zone, you are much less likely to emotionally shut down, engage in destructive or reckless behaviours, or self-harm. Because your symptoms are less intense, your ability to function will also be higher, and as a result, relatively simple tasks like getting out of bed, having a shower or preparing dinner for example won’t feel akin to climbing a mountain like they can sometimes do in the Storm Zone. In fact, when you’re in the Rain Zone, you can usually uphold your day-to-day responsibilities – including doing relatively simple tasks like the ones we just mentioned, in addition to, for example, going to work, taking care of your children, etcetera. However, while manageable, upholding all of these responsibilities while dealing with moderately severe symptoms of depression is still likely to make you:
- Feel tired and burned out much quicker than you otherwise would.
- Since your ability to function is still compromised and you’re consequently often at the end of your tether, then you may be prone to snapping over something small.
- When you’re in the Rain Zone, completing the day’s “essential tasks” like getting ready for work, working all day and then making the trip home, for example, is likely to consume the majority of your energy – and as a result, you often may not have much capacity left over for what could be deemed “non-essential” activities such as your hobbies or socialising, for instance.
- If you do happen to be interacting with someone when you’re in the Rain Zone, then you may still struggle to be as engaged as you otherwise would be. Not only that, but there may also be times when you have difficulty concentrating, and/or when you forget something they told you (although not to the same degree as when you were in the Storm Zone).
When It Comes To Your Environment: When you’re in the Rain Zone, any environmental triggers of your depression such as toxic relationships or your job for instance are likely still triggering you – however, they’re not doing so to as significant a degree as they were when you were in the Storm Zone. Additionally, if you were previously in the Storm Zone prior to being in the Rain Zone (as opposed to previously being in the Cloud Zone), then you may also have an extended “to-do” list / a backlog of work to attend to – due to putting off doing such things when you were in the Storm Zone and all your energy was focused on “surviving”.
When It Comes To How You Feel Physically: Like we said above, as a result of having to function while dealing with moderately severe symptoms of depression, you may be prone to feeling burned out and tired much quicker than you otherwise would. Due to battling moderately severe depressive symptoms, it’s also possible that you’ll have difficulty sleeping; that you’ll oversleep; and/or that you’ll experience other physical symptoms of depression like sexual dysfunction, body aches and pains, headaches, digestive issues or a loss of appetite, for example. As is the case with the other four aspects of your depression, though, none of these physical symptoms are likely to be present to the degree that they were when you were in the Storm Zone.
The Importance Of Knowing How To “Cope With The Rain” (I.e. The Moderately Severe Symptoms Of Your Depression)
When you’re in the Rain Zone, rather than trying to “survive the storm”, the challenge now is to do your best to “cope with the rain”, so that you can:
- Function as best as possible, have positive interactions with the people around you, and uphold your day-to-day responsibilities (such as, for example, going to work, caring for your children, being attentive to your partner, etcetera).
- Do the above without getting burned out, breaking down emotionally, or fuelling the depression cycle and consequently slipping back into the Storm Zone.
To show you the importance of being able to “cope with the rain” – i.e. the moderately severe symptoms of your depression – in this way, let’s now have a look at three different examples.
Example #1: Coping With Moderate Symptoms Of Depression And The Feelings Of Being Frazzled, Burned Out And Stressed After A Hard Day At Work
As with each of the three examples we're about to show you, there are many different ways that you can cope in this situation – and indeed, to give yourself the best chance of “coping with the rain” effectively, we recommend that you learn and implement strategies to do so which address each of the five different aspects of your depression (more on this shortly). However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s just assume that in this particular situation, you decided to cope with your moderate symptoms of depression by going for a run in the park after work to clear your mind and give your brain a healthy boost of endorphins.
- Why “Coping With The Rain” In This Way Helps You: As a result of clearing your mind and giving your brain a healthy boost of endorphins, you’re likely going to feel less frazzled, burned out and stressed when you get home and see your family. This means you’ll be better able to uphold your responsibilities towards them (such as preparing dinner or helping your children with their homework, for example), and that you’ll be much more likely to enjoy their company – which is also going to give your mood a lift. As a result, by the end of the night – thanks to clearing your mind after a tough day at work, feeling good about yourself for upholding your familial responsibilities, and being uplifted by the presence of your family – you’re much more likely to get a relatively peaceful night’s sleep, and wake up the next morning feeling as if you could do it all again.
- What Might’ve Happened If You Hadn’t Gone For A Run: In this case, you would’ve brought your frustration, stress and irritability home to your family. Consequently, you would’ve been much more likely to snap at your child while you were trying to help them with their homework for example, and to have been in too much of a bad mood to have enjoyed your family’s company during dinner. Consequently, by the end of the night, as a result of still feeling frazzled, burned out and stressed over your work – in addition to feeling guilty and ashamed for snapping at your child when they didn’t deserve it – you would’ve been much less likely to have a good night’s sleep, which would’ve resulted in you having to drag yourself out of bed for work the next morning feeling not only tired, but even more frazzled, burned out and stressed than you did the previous day … and so the depression cycle would’ve continued and continued until sooner or later, you would’ve likely found yourself back in the Storm Zone.
Example #2: “Coping With The Rain” While Studying For A University Exam, And Feeling Overwhelmed And Triggered By The Negative Thought “I’m Not As Prepared For This Exam As I Could Be, Which Means That I’m Going To Fail”
In this situation, one particularly effective strategy to “cope with the rain” would be to calm yourself down by challenging the validity of the negative thought “I’m not as prepared for this exam as I could be, which means that I’m going to fail”. There are a multitude of ways that you could do this, but to keep this example simple, let’s say that you do so by reminding yourself of the evidence that disproves your negative thought. For example, by telling yourself:
“OK, so just because I’m having the negative thought ‘I’m going to fail’, it doesn’t mean that this negative thought is true – and in fact, there’s actually a lot of evidence to suggest that it’s false. Firstly, just because I’m not perfectly prepared for this exam, it doesn’t automatically mean that I’m going to fail. Secondly, I got 65% and 72% in my last two exams for this subject, which is evidence to suggest that I’m actually pretty good at it. Thirdly, I’ve still got two full days to prepare for the exam, so if I’m able to knuckle down and focus, I’ll be able to consolidate what I already know, learn what I don’t know, and then walk into the exam feeling reasonably calm and confident.”
- Why “Coping With The Rain” In This Way Helps You: Now that you're more aware that this negative thought isn’t true, you won’t feel as stressed out, overwhelmed and worried. As a result, over the next two days, you’ll find it much easier to effectively study for your exam, and when you then sit down to take it, you’ll find yourself feeling a lot more calm and confident than you otherwise would have. Consequently, you’ll likely pass.
- What Might’ve Happened If You Hadn’t Implemented This Coping Strategy: In this case, you probably would’ve continued to feel stressed out, overwhelmed and worried, which would’ve made it much more difficult to study; which in turn would’ve made you feel even more stressed out, overwhelmed and worried; which would’ve made it even more difficult to study … and so the vicious cycle would’ve continued. Consequently, you would’ve then had to sit your exam without understanding the material as well as you otherwise would have, and you would’ve had to do so while feeling more stressed out, overwhelmed and worried that you’re going to fail than ever before. On top of this, your difficulty concentrating would’ve put you at risk of making a lot more mistakes than you otherwise would have, and as a result, you would’ve been in genuine danger of your negative thought that you’re going to fail actually becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Example #3: “Coping With The Rain” After Seeing Your Friend On Facebook Going On A Fancy Tropical Holiday, Which You Yourself Would Love To Experience But Right Now Can’t Afford
Just like with our other two examples, there are many ways that you could “cope with the rain” in this situation, and the more strategies you use to do so, the better and better you’ll be able to cope. For the purpose of this simple example, though, let’s say that you cope with your feelings of misery, jealousy, etcetera by redirecting your focus and bringing awareness to all of the things in your life that you’re grateful for, and of all the reasons why your life is good in spite of you not currently being able to afford a tropical holiday. Doing this can be really helpful, since it will put your misery and jealousy in context, and help prevent you from overmagnifying an area of your life that you’re not 100% satisfied with.
Now, some of the things you’re grateful for and some of the reasons why your life is good could include, for example:
- Because you have abundant access to food and water as well as a safe, comfortable home to live in – when so many people in the world do not.
- Because you have a terrific partner who loves and supports you.
- Because you have a beautiful, healthy child who brings you more joy than you ever thought possible.
- Because you have a gorgeous dog who always gets excited and licks you when you come home from work.
- Because the next season of your favourite television show is about to start on Netflix.
Now, let’s look at the impact of implementing (or not implementing) this strategy.
- Why “Coping With The Rain” In This Way Helps You: After reminding yourself of all of the good aspects of your life, you’re likely going to feel more uplifted and positive, and then you may decide to, for example, make the most of your blessings by taking your child and your dog to the park to play for an hour before sunset. This will uplift you even more, and as a result, by the time you get home, your mood may well have improved enough such that you feel able to enjoy dinner with your partner and child before putting the young one down to sleep, watching an episode or two of your favourite television show with your partner in bed, and then ultimately falling asleep feeling a lot less jealous and miserable than you did earlier in the day when you noticed your friend posting about their tropical holiday on Facebook.
- What Might’ve Happened If You Hadn’t Implemented This Coping Strategy: In this case, you would’ve continued to feel miserable and jealous, which may’ve led to the negative thought “I’m a loser and a failure for not being able to afford to go on a tropical holiday myself”. This would’ve caused you to feel even more miserable; which may’ve led you to ruminate on all of the other places you’d like to go in the world that you can’t currently afford to visit; which may’ve made you think that you’re an even bigger loser and a failure; which may’ve made you feel even more miserable; which may’ve led to you getting a bad night’s sleep; which may’ve led to you waking up feeling lethargic the next day; which may’ve led to even more negative thoughts; which may’ve made you feel even more miserable … and so the depression cycle would’ve continued and continued until sooner or later, you would’ve found yourself back in the Storm Zone.
The Benefits Of “Coping Strategies” When You Have Depression
As you can see in the examples we just shared with you, implementing strategies to cope with depression significantly helps you to:
- Uphold your day-to-day responsibilities;
- Have positive interactions with the people around you (as opposed to snapping at them, for example);
- It also helps prevent you from getting burned out, from breaking down emotionally, and from fuelling the depression cycle and slipping back into the Storm Zone.
How To Give Yourself The Best Chance Of Coping With Depression When You’re In The Rain Zone
Now, just as was the case when it came to surviving depression when you were in the Storm Zone with severely intense symptoms, in order to give yourself the best chance of coping with your depression when you’re in the Rain Zone with moderately severe symptoms of depression, it’s critical that you implement coping strategies to address each of the five aspects of this illness. So, let’s now dive into what these coping strategies look like for the “thoughts”-, “emotions”-, “behaviours”- “environmental”-, and the “physiological” aspects of your depression!
1. Your Thoughts
Like we’ve said, while your negative thoughts won’t be as intense in the Rain Zone as they were in the Storm Zone, they’re still likely to be present. Furthermore, because your negative thoughts won’t be as intense as they were in the Storm Zone – and because your depressive symptoms on the whole won’t be as severe – then you’ll have more mental capacity with which to fight back against them. Consequently, rather than just trying to “survive” your severely intense negative thoughts by quickly distancing yourself from them / by mitigating their intensity like we suggested you do in the Storm Zone, when you’re in the Rain Zone, your goal is to cope with and overcome your moderately intense negative thoughts as much as possible – so that they stop fuelling depression's vicious cycle.
On that note, if you’d like to learn a variety of cognitive behavioural therapy strategies to help you do this, please see Appendix M of this book (NOTE: You can also learn a variety by reading this blog post).
2. Your Emotions
When you’re in the Rain Zone with moderately severe symptoms, the painful emotions that are associated with your depression like worthlessness, overwhelm, irritability, etcetera, will be felt to a moderate degree. So, in order to “cope with the rain”, it’s important to learn and implement coping strategies that help you to regulate these painful emotions – so that rather than becoming more intense, they gradually become less intense. For example:
- You can learn and implement strategies to cultivate gratitude – which, like we showed you in Example #3 beforehand, can help you regulate feelings of misery and jealousy, as well as contribute to you feeling positive emotions such as joy and contentedness. To learn a variety of gratitude strategies that are particularly helpful when you’re in the Rain Zone, please see Appendix N of this book (NOTE: You can also learn some by reading our blog post titled How To Practice Gratitude When You Have Depression).
- You can practice mindfulness – which has a wealth of benefits including, among other things, reduced symptoms of depression, and reduced probably of having another major depressive episode. To learn more about the benefits of mindfulness, as well as a wide variety of mindfulness strategies that you can implement to help you “cope with the rain”, please see Appendix O of this book (NOTE: You can also learn a few mindfulness techniques by reading our blog post titled 3 DBT Mindfulness Exercises For Depression, Anxiety & PTSD).
- Once again, you could also journal. Of course, this is something we suggested you do in the Storm Zone, because writing down your feelings is usually doable even when your ability to function is low. In saying that, however, journaling is also a strategy that can help you regulate your emotions when you’re in the Rain Zone as well. Additionally, when you’re in the Rain Zone with a higher ability to think clearly and function as compared to the Storm Zone, then on top of (or instead of) just writing down your feelings, you could also journal in a way that is a lot more “problem-solving-orientated” in nature, and a lot more geared towards regulating the specific emotions that you’re struggling with. On that note, in Appendix P of this book, you'll find a variety of Rain Zone-specific journal prompts to help you do just that.
3. Your Behaviours
When you’re in the Rain Zone, it’s important that you learn and implement coping strategies that help prevent you from burning out and/or breaking down emotionally. A couple of examples of such healthy behaviours include:
- Ensuring that you make time to practice self-care. This is, among other things, critical to you “recharging your batteries”, so to speak, and to therefore preventing you from getting burned out and/or breaking down emotionally. To learn a wide variety of self-care strategies, please see Appendix Q of this book (NOTE: You can also learn some strategies by reading our blog post titled Depression & Self-Care: 50+ Quotes, An Action Plan & Checklist).
- Additionally, we encourage you to implement boundaries on your time to prevent you from overcommitting yourself (e.g. to your job, to other people, to extracurricular events, etcetera). This is an important coping strategy to reduce the chances of you becoming overwhelmed, burned out, breaking down emotionally and falling back into the Storm Zone. It’s also an important step in ensuring that you have enough time for self-care. To learn more about boundaries and how to implement them, we encourage you to pay particular attention to the “Social Self-Care” section in Appendix Q.
4. Your Environment
Like we said at the beginning of this chapter, when you’re in the Rain Zone, then:
- You’re still likely being moderately triggered by the environmental factors which contribute to your depression.
- If you were previously in the Storm Zone, then you may also have a backlog of things to do that you didn’t have the capacity to deal with beforehand when your symptoms were so severe (for example, chores around the house, tasks to do at work, errands that need to be run, etcetera). Along with your environmental triggers, this build-up of your “to-do” list can also contribute to overwhelm, frustration, stress, exhaustion, etcetera, and therefore fuel the depression cycle.
Consequently, in order to “cope with the rain” and reverse the depression cycle, it’s important that you learn and implement coping strategies to help you:
- Cope with the environmental factors that are triggering your depression;
- Gradually work through your to-do list without getting burned out, breaking down emotionally and falling back into the Storm Zone.
Examples of coping strategies to achieve each of these objectives include:
- When it comes to coping with the environmental factors that trigger your depression, if this happens to be an unfulfilling job, for example, then one way to better cope with it would be to make sure that you’re getting your needs fulfilled when you’re not at work – such as through pursuing a hobby in your leisure time that you really enjoy. Alternatively, if it’s a toxic person that’s triggering your depression, then one of many possible coping strategies you could use would be to anticipate the topics of conversation / the things they might say which will trigger you, and then have pre-planned methods of avoiding these conversations / responding to these comments – in such a way that you don’t get drawn into an argument and therefore have your depression triggered.
- When it comes to gradually working through your to-do list without getting burned out, breaking down emotionally and falling back into the Storm Zone, then one possible coping strategy you could implement to help you do this would be to break down “big” tasks that can feel overwhelming and stressful into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks that feel much less overwhelming and stressful.
5. Your Physiology
As was the case when you were in the Storm Zone, it’s important to continue to give yourself relief from whatever physical symptoms of depression you’re feeling in the Rain Zone (like we said before, these physical symptoms will be less severe than they were in the Storm Zone – but they may still be present). Additionally, it’s also important to continue trying to do your best to directly influence your brain chemicals in a positive way as well – which is something that, due to having a higher ability to function, is something you’ll find easier to do in the Rain Zone as compared to the Storm Zone. For example, when it comes to exercising, while you may not have had the energy to do much more than stretch in bed while you were in the Storm Zone, in the Rain Zone, there's a much higher chance you’ll have enough energy to take a brisk walk around the block, go for a run through the park or lift weights at the gym – all of which will give your brain a much bigger rush of dopamine.
At the start of this chapter, we walked you through three examples that highlighted the dangers of not implementing coping strategies when you’re in the Rain Zone, and explained how not doing so can lead to you getting burned out, breaking down emotionally, and slipping back into the Storm Zone. However, the good news is that if you use coping strategies to address each aspect of your depression like in the ways we just showed you, then not only will you give yourself the best possible chance of preventing this from happening, but you’ll also give yourself the best possible chance of reversing depression's vicious cycle, and therefore spending proportionally more of your time in the Cloud Zone – where your symptoms are only mild and your ability to function is at its highest. When it comes to overcoming your depression, this is where the most work needs to be done, which is why the next chapter of this book will be dedicated to explaining exactly what you need to do in the Cloud Zone – and how taking the action you need to take can lead to you conquering this illness and living the healthy, depression-free life you want!
End of free excerpt
From the bottom of our hearts, we really hope that you found this free excerpt from This Is How You Overcome Depression informative.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.
P.S. If you found the above free book excerpt helpful, then click the button below to learn more about This Is How You Overcome Depression, in which you'll learn:
- A wide variety of strategies you can implement to help you cope with depression;
- The other steps you need to take in order to actually overcome this illness - so that rather than continuously relapsing, you can live the healthy, depression-free life you want.