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4 Small Steps to Try When You Face a Depression Setback

Accomplished. Most of us have felt this way at some point, right?

You finally got around to organizing the garage, or watched a YouTube video on how to crochet that hat and then did it!

Maybe we’ve made one small change in our routine that’s made us healthier and happier. But inevitably, the boxes start overtaking the garage again…or you never quite got around to finishing that craft project you started a few months ago. Or you slowly let go of that habit you’d worked so hard to engrain.

Why does that happen? And more importantly, what do we do when we’re disappointed to be back seemingly at square one?

For six months I’ve been working really hard on getting my head and heart above the waves of depression. And slowly and steadily, I’ve seen that hard work pay off. I’m less moody. I yell less. I’m pursuing the things I’m passionate about, whereas before on some days all I really wanted to do was go back to bed…or cry.

But then this month, all that hard work seemed to be a facade when I ran head first into those all too familiar depressive, anxiety-ridden feelings. It sort of felt like it came out of nowhere, and I started to panic. No way was I going to sink back into the depths of depression. I just couldn’t and the thought absolutely terrified me.

But, I stopped long enough to say, “OK, there has to be a way to regain my footing. So what do I do?”

If you’re in that discouraging spot of having to start again, here are a few small, intentional steps to take to reorient yourself and start walking forward again.

1. Decipher where things went off course to gain clarity
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I couldn’t see an obvious trigger for the depression. So, I took inventory of the past three months and realized that I hadn’t met with my counselor at all since Christmas. I also had to put a lot of mental and emotional resources toward an important meeting centered around my son’s educational needs. Just knowing there was an explanation for what I was experiencing helped tremendously.

So, take a deep breath and think carefully about what’s been going on. Talk it through with a friend or journal it out, whatever you need to do to help you understand.

2. Use that clarity to get your mental game set so you’re working with the right energy
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The mental food we feed ourselves matters immensely as it often determines our emotions, our decisions, and our reactions. For me, my depression stems from feelings of insecurity and being unloved, and as cheesy as it might sound, I responded to as many depressive thoughts as I could with, “You are loved, Allison. You are loved.”

Do you know what’s at the core of your struggle? What false belief system is fueling the issue? You’ll likely need some help digging beneath the surface like that. Perhaps it’s time to work with a counselor, or read a book on that or even just google articles related to that struggle. Honestly, that’s where I started this week — googling why depression can start seemingly out of the blue; which helped me see that it wasn’t really all that uncommon and it helped me feel a little better knowing I wasn’t the only one.

3. Use that energy to do the next thing in front of you.

Life doesn’t stop when my depression hits; I still have to make meals for my family, teach my classes, and otherwise be a decent, responsible human being (even though I just want to crawl back into bed). For me, that meant putting off the excuses and showing up to teach my college class Tuesday morning. The distraction of teaching actually helped energize me and push me toward emotional stability. I didn’t put on a fake smile and pretend I was OK, but I did teach my class and interact with my students as authentically and helpfully as I could. Literally figure out the next thing you need to do. Get out of bed? Take a shower? Show up for your appointment? Make lunch? Write a grocery list? And let yourself feel accomplished when you’ve done that thing. Then, and only then, think about the very next step you need to take. Small steps headed in the right direction add up to an accomplishment.

4. Reach out to others.

I’m a lifelong, hardcore extrovert that rarely needs alone time (though, I wouldn’t mind if my kids would let me use the bathroom alone occasionally ha!). But I tend to isolate when depression rears its head, so I’ve learned that I need to reach out to compassionate friends, my husband, and my counselor so they know what’s going on with me and can be there for me. Who are your people? You don’t have to tell them all the nitty gritty details of what’s going on if you don’t want to, but even reaching out for a quick chat or a meal out can be really helpful.

So many of us make the mistake of thinking that we have to totally conquer our setback to be accomplished. But what I’m learning is the truly extraordinary happens when moment by moment we can stop, breathe, discern, and be intentional. Because each small next step I take allows me to breathe the air of accomplishment, that someday can add up to conquering that mountain.

Photo credit: Milkos/Getty Images

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