I remember it as if it was yesterday. I stared into the mirror but didn’t recognize the reflection gazing back at me.
Who was she? How did she get here? When did it happen?
I had fallen into depression’s pit.
My productive life turned into a struggle for existence.
As I surveyed my bathroom vanity, the signs of my normal life remained: toothbrush and toothpaste, vitamins, makeup…but the motivation to engage no longer existed. I picked up my toothbrush, the weight of it now felt like an axe ready to split wood for the winter fireplace. I could no more make myself brush my teeth than I could split logs to keep myself warm.
Everything was just too much of an effort. And that kept me stuck.
Once I became desperate, I was willing to push past the lethargy and start making small, daily choices that helped get my life, my heart, and my mind back on track. What did I do? I’m going to share with you below ways to help you overcome because there is help, hope, and healing waiting for you.
20 Ways to Overcome and Fight Depression
Our true source of help, hope, and healing come from God. While friends and family mean well, they often don’t know what to say or do to help. Many times, there really is nothing they can do. But Scripture says that God bends his ear to listen when we pray, so share with Him how you feel and what you need.
2. Be in God’s Presence
When I was physically ill (which led to my bout with depression), I was on medically-induced bedrest, and all I could do was pray, watch sermons online, and listen to praise and worship music. But that was the best thing I could do because it ushered me into God’s presence—the very place where healing begins.
3. Be Honest
In today’s culture, people are prone to wearing masks. They cover up the real and the raw to lead others to think their life is ideal, when in fact, they are dying inside. In psychology we have an adage: you have to feel it to heal it. If you aren’t honest with yourself about how you are feeling, and you try to shove the emotions into a closet, they WILL come out later at some inopportune time.
4. Pay Attention to Your Thoughts
I used to believe that emotions were neither good nor bad, they just were. In fact, I used to tell my patients that…until I went through depression. I have come to realize that our emotions are the outward manifestation of the thoughts we believe. We must pay attention to our thoughts in order to detect the lies we believe. Susie Larson has a saying, “The storms reveal the lies we believe and the truths we need.”
5. Take Every Thought Captive
In order to battle depression effectively, it’s imperative that we monitor our thoughts, take the time to ask God what lies we have believed (e.g. I’ll be depressed forever; I’m joy immune; God is punishing me; etc.) and then refute them with God’s truth (e.g. God desires for you to prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers; Although weeping may last for a night, His joy comes in the morning; God’s grace is sufficient for you).
6. Consult with Your Physician
Many medical conditions either mimic depression or contribute to signs and symptoms of depression. I always encourage my patients to get a thorough medical workup to rule out a medical condition that might need to be treated. If no medical condition exists, then we can focus on the real problem.
7. Consider Seeing a Counselor
People have no trouble going to a doctor for strep throat or diabetes or heart trouble. Seeking medical help for depression is no different—depression is a medical condition that originates in your brain. Sometimes we are just too close to our problems to be objective about them and we need an unbiased party to help steer us in the right direction.
Many have told me that journaling helps get their thoughts out on paper and serves as a form of catharsis. I would go so far as to say that journaling helps us recognize how far we’ve come. It lets us look back in the rearview mirror and see the progress we’ve made over time, and it can serve as a source of encouragement if difficult times befall us again in the future.
9. Maintain a Gratitude Log
I have found not only for myself but for others as well, that keeping a list or a log or a journal of the things we are grateful for, helps improve our mood. It’s difficult to remain down and depressed when we can identify the things for which we are grateful. When I began this, in the depths of my depression, I started with the obvious like being grateful for my husband, my children and my home. I never repeated an item, so each day I went a little deeper and recorded less obvious things like air-conditioning in the heat of summer, or my ability to walk rather than being wheelchair bound.
10. Keep a Schedule
When someone is depressed, even the littlest tasks (like brushing your teeth or taking your vitamins) can seem overwhelming. Frequently we begin to let things go, and then it feels even harder to climb out of the pit. I encourage you to stick as closely as possible to your usual schedule, which helps both physically and emotionally. It helps work with your brain rather than against it.
11. Set New Goals
When one isn’t depressed, we can be busy and goal-oriented. That becomes much more difficult when battling depression. When battling depression, it’s important to keep our mindset future-oriented rather than stuck in depression’s pit. While even the smallest tasks can seem overwhelming, accomplishing them is a big deal. Make new goals for yourself and then celebrate when you accomplish them. They may start off seemingly small to the non-depressed person (e.g. Getting dressed every morning, Making the bed so you’re less likely to sleep throughout the day, Making it a point to get together with someone outside the home at least once a week and not canceling, Encouraging someone else with a card).
12. Ask for Help
I tend to be fiercely independent, but when is battling with depression, that’s no time to try to win an award for doing everything yourself. Often, friends and family don’t know what to do, what to say, or how to help. Tell them what you need. Maybe you need them to go with you to a doctor’s appointment so you don’t have to go alone or so you won’t forget what the doctor said. Maybe you need their encouragement so you don’t allow yourself to become isolated. Maybe you just need a heartfelt hug. Share your needs. And then later you can return the favor for someone else.
13. Give Yourself Grace
This can be one of the hardest things to do when battling depression. It’s easy to beat ourselves up, wish we were different, or regret what we’ve done or haven’t done. None of that helps, and in fact, can make things worse. Extend yourself a little grace, and recognize that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, so we shouldn’t expect that of ourselves either.
14. Get Sufficient Sleep
Inadequate sleep results in insufficient neurotransmitter production in our brains. Those are the chemicals responsible for our mood. While sleep alone won’t eradicate depression, it can help regulate our mood. It’s important to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly—neither oversleeping nor under-sleeping. And most importantly, aim for a regular bedtime.
15. Get Regular Physical Exercise
Depressed patients frequently tell me that they don’t have enough energy to exercise. I completely understand—I remember feeling that way as well. So start small. Commit to walking 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening, 5 days for one week. Then the next week, increase it to 10 minutes twice a day, then 15, until you build it up to 20-30 minutes a day. Physical exercise helps promote endorphins (the feel-good chemicals). Research shows that just 10-15 minutes of exercise can help improve our mood.
16. Eat a Balanced Diet
A balanced diet with adequate protein, fiber, nutrients, and minerals can promote energy and balanced mood.
17. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is a natural depressant and only serves to make one’s mood more depressed. Furthermore, the after-effects of alcohol can leave one sluggish and promote excess sleeping and decreased motivation.
18. Look for the Positive
Depression naturally makes us feel down, discouraged, and more negative than we might otherwise be. Sometimes we have to intentionally look for the positive side of things despite how we feel. I remember when I was at my lowest point. I was discouraged because I have a physically deformed foot and foot surgery that I thought would help correct the problem only made it worse. I struggled to find shoes that fit. About that time, I saw a photo of a homeless man with no soles on the bottom of his shoes. Suddenly, I was able to see how blessed I was even when I didn’t have everything I wanted or needed.
19. Try Something New
You’ll never know what you can do, or how much you might enjoy something until you try it. Trying something new just might unleash the creativity inside you that will bring a smile to your face or a chuckle to your heart.
20. Recognize that Healing is a Process
When in the pit of depression, we so desperately want to feel better that we can lose sight of the lessons we learn along the way. While I would never wish depression on anyone, I am finally at the place where I can say I’m thankful I went through it because it has increased my compassion for others who suffer. Occasionally, I’ll start to feel my mood slip a bit, and I have to recognize that healing is a process, not a once and one event. But now I catch it sooner and go back to all these things I’ve suggested to you.
More than anything, I hope you know that you aren’t alone in this. Depression is an epidemic: more than one in four will suffer in their lifetime. But it’s easy to believe the lie that no one understands. I do understand—I’ve been there, but am now on the other side.
If you are struggling, or know someone who is, I’d love to hear in the comments below what helps you. I’d also encourage you to check out some of my other popular posts and resources about depression.
15 Top Blog Posts on Depression
- 10 Verses of Hope for When You Are Down or Depressed
- Depression Feels Like a Broken Heart
- What Not to Say When a Loved One is Depressed
- What to Say When a Loved One is Depressed
- Combat Depression with Truth
- Ask Dr. B: When a Spouse Is Depressed
- Don’t Treat Depression with a Band-Aid
- 10 Scriptures for Mothers Suffering from Depression
- 3 Things Depression Does To Us Spiritually
- 3 Hope-Filled Ways God Limits the Impact of Depression in our Lives
- There is No Shame in Depression
- How to Help a Depressed Loved One
- Is It Exhaustion Or Depression?
- Thankful for Depression
- How to Share About Your Depression With Your Loved Ones
Resources on Depression: Recommended reading on depression
Because I treated patients for 20 years, and then went through a terrible bout of depression myself, I felt compelled to write my award-winning book “Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression” and the companion “Hope Prevails Bible Study” to help others be victorious and overcome.
If you read either of my books and found them helpful, I’m excited to share that the original “Hope Prevails” won the 2017 Christian Literary Awards Reader Choice Award, and the “Hope Prevails Bible Study” has been nominated this year. You can vote for it here: Christian Literary Awards – Cast Your Vote. Voting ends Monday, October 15th.
May I pray for you?
Father, I know the pain and despair of depression’s grip. But I also know that what hurts us hurts you, and this is not your best for us. I pray for the person reading these words now. I pray that you will comfort them by the power of your Holy Spirit. I pray that you reach down and pull them out of depression’s pit by your mighty right hand. I pray that you will set their feet firmly on the rock, and that you will be their fortress and strong tower. Reveal the lies they have believed and the truths they need. In Jesus’s name I pray, Amen.