I’ve struggled with depression in the past, but man was 2020 rough. As the world went into lockdown and our children transitioned to virtual school, I could feel myself starting to tailspin. How was I supposed to work a nine to five and keep an eye on the kids all day? Well, it turns out I didn’t have to wonder for very long. Just two months later, I was furloughed.
Luckily, we had enough in savings to last us a few months and my husband was still working full time. But that wasn’t enough to keep me from relapsing.
In the months that followed, I sunk into a deep depression. Apathy replaced all other emotions and some days, I couldn’t even find the motivation to get out of bed, much less take a shower or get dressed. And I wallowed in my misery — our collective misery — for a while. It was easier than pulling myself out of the void.
However, by the time the New Year rolled around, I was ready to step out of the darkness and into the light. I knew that doing so would be a process, that I wouldn’t feel better overnight. But, by implementing healthy coping mechanisms, I could successfully drag myself out of the pit and embrace a brighter outlook.
As we entered a more hopeful 2021, there were three things that helped me to find these adaptive strategies.
A few years ago, a childhood friend invited me to my first yoga class. After an hour of breathing, flowing and sweating, I was hooked. Eventually, I went on to complete a 200-hour training course and earn a teaching certificate. However, it wasn’t until last year that I truly had to rely on yoga as a tool to manage my mental illness.
As I slipped deeper into my depression and began to disassociate, yoga called me back to my mat and taught me to feel again. Because the practice required me to notice sensations and reactions, I had no choice but to sit with my emotions and face them head-on. After a while, the numbness began to subside and give way to acute awareness. I began to experience flashes of joy and excitement again.
At some point, I started incorporating meditation and pranayama into my daily routine, too. Pranayama — or yogic breathing — was one of the most effective tools for managing my depression. Belly breathing reduced anxiety and stress, nadi sodhana helped me maintain a balanced mind and lion’s breath made me feel more alive. Now, I highly recommend these exercises to anyone who might be dealing with depression and struggling to bounce back from 2020.
Going to therapy also gave me a handful of healthy coping mechanisms, which is funny because I didn’t even want to go at first. However, after a few sessions, I could tell that my cognitive-behavioral therapist was arming me with valuable tools that I could use to manage my depression.
Journaling was one such tool. By naming my emotions and putting them on paper, I began to notice thought patterns and behavioral habits that subconsciously impelled my darkest depressive episodes. Recognizing these coping mechanisms as unhealthy ultimately helped me develop healthy ones so I could build better routines and perceptions.
Regular sessions with my therapist also helped me sharpen my communication skills so I could accurately convey my thoughts and feelings. As I learned to be more honest and vulnerable, all the words I’d repressed and pent up inside came flowing out. Through direct labeling, I was able to release dark, self-deprecating thoughts and calm my limbic system in the process. Now, when I feel like giving in to depression, I talk to my husband or therapist about it and, somehow, it keeps me steady.
Like many other religious devotees, I attend weekly sermons and am highly involved in the church. However, it wasn’t until last year that I realized what a blessing my faith and church family have been.
Even in my darkest hour, I still managed to make it to Sunday service, which reminded me to lean into Christ and look to Him for comfort and guidance. He was — and still is — my greatest source of strength. Thus, prayer, church attendance, Bible reading and memorizing verses have become vital coping mechanisms
Staying involved in the church also allowed me the opportunity to join a small group, meet new people and serve the local community. Volunteering my time and energy to help others became a healthy coping mechanism because it replaced my doom and gloom mindset with an optimistic one.
Taking an Individualized Approach
Of course, not every one of the strategies above will be helpful to you. However, there are still plenty of other ways to find healthy coping mechanisms. Therefore, it’s wise to pick and choose whatever works best for you and adapt your approach as you go.
Kara Reynolds is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Momish Magazine. Bio mom of two kiddos & stepmom of two kiddos – normalizing blended families is her ish. She enjoys peeing alone, pancakes, and pinot noir.
Image courtesy of Sebastian Voortman.