How to Get Out of a Depressive Episode

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During the course of our lifetime, It’s normal to experience a temporary funk of melancholic sadness. However, a chronically low mood marked with diminishing functioning over a significant amount of time may be pointing to depression

The DSM-5 classifies depression as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, insomnia, and worthlessness amongst other characteristics. If someone has experienced an onslaught of these symptoms over a period of two weeks, this means they’re in the midst of a depressive episode. 

Depression can often be misunderstood, stigmatized, and thus untreated so it’s common for feelings of hopelessness to persist. Therefore, it’s important to recognize the telltale signs of depression to manage the disorder sooner. Then, you can take the steps to deploy scientifically sound tools to get out of a depressive episode. 

How to Know If You're Experiencing a Depressive Episode

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in primary care across the world. Depression is a medical condition that needs treatment—it’s not a sign of weakness or failure. Being depressed could be triggered by things such as abuse, stressful life events, genes, substance abuse, impaired mood regulation, and other mental health problems. 

A 2020 study reported an estimated 21.0 million adults in the United States have had at least one major depressive episode, which represents 8.4% of all American adults. The prevalence of a major depressive episode was highest (17.0%) among individuals aged 18-25.

In the beginning, symptoms of a depressive episode may feel similar to overall blueness, immense fatigue, and being “stuck.” Learning how to discern between the differences is useful to recognize the warning signs and seek help for the condition. 

To qualify as a depressive episode, individuals must experience four to five of the below symptoms almost every day, all day, over a two-week period. Experiencing the following symptoms can make it difficult to function and maintain a high quality of living. 

Common depressive symptoms include:

  • Lack of motivation, exhaustion, and fatigue 
  • Strong thoughts of worthlessness, guilt, and anxiety
  • Suicide ideation and disliking oneself to the point of hatred
  • Low self-esteem and isolation
  • Little interest in self-care and image 
  • Feelings of irritability, annoyance at little things 
  • Impaired decision-making 
  • Difficulties focusing on the task at hand, restlessness
  • Declining work productivity 
  • Sluggish, slowed cognitive processing 
  • Morbid thoughts about death
  • Sleep issues with insomnia, or excessive sleeping
  • Changes in appetite with under-or overeating  
  • Leaden paralysis where the body may feel heavy, fatigued, or weighed down
  • Unexplainable physical or mental aches such as headaches, cramps, and tension

How to Get Yourself Out of a Depressive Episode

When you are in the throes of a depressive episode, it can be difficult to leave the bed much less actively improve the situation. People often report experiencing these symptoms for weeks, months, or even years before recognizing the symptoms as a form of depression.

Here are a few strategies on how to get out of a depressive episode.

Take Stock Of Your Self-Care 

Studies have noted declining self-care behavior can be considered a predictor of depression. Inversely, people with the healthiest self-care behaviors had the lowest levels of depressive symptoms.

Take an inventory of how often you’re giving yourself care and compassion on a daily basis. Are you alert and interested in changes in your mental and physical health? Are you aware of your emotions, and can you process them adequately? Are you taking good care of yourself? Are you doing activities that bring you joy just for the sake of it? 

Working on these foundational pillars is essential to optimizing your physical and emotional health. 

Move Your Body 

Being physically inactive is a common risk factor for depression and anxiety. In treating major depression numerous studies show physical exercise has been proven to help prevent, ease, and treat the symptoms. 

Regular exercise is good for your body externally with accumulating strength, but also internally for your brain and nervous system. During acute levels of exercise, your body releases neurotransmitters such as endorphins and dopamine which help you experience pleasure and euphoria.

Be Intentional About Quality Sleep 

Sleep quality is an important indicator of well-being. Self-reported sleep disturbances are present in 80% of patients with depression. Getting a balanced night’s rest—not too much or too little—is a great way to manage your depression and have more energy. Seven to eight hours is recommended for optimal health. 

On top of proper rest, having enough sleep can help with attention, cognition, memory formation, and emotional regulation, If you’re having trouble with sleep, practice good sleep hygiene with consistency. This could look like putting away electronics, journaling before bed, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine to wind down. 

If your sleep is not improving, seek assistance from your doctor to explore your options. 

Practice Mindfulness  

When you’re in a depressive episode, it’s easy to wallow in negative emotions. Mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing can be a way to fend off stress and anxiety and focus your brain back on the present moment. You can also apply mindfulness to your creative pursuits which could involve activities like drawing, journaling, painting, singing, playing, and dancing.

Biologically, meditation has a positive, notable impact on physical functioning. Practicing meditation can adjust brain structure, reconstruct brain networks, preserve the homeostasis of the autonomic nervous system, and help with epigenetic and telomere regulation.

Broadening your awareness with presence also leads to a perceptual shift. Your thoughts and emotions are no longer seen as overwhelming events but rather a moment in time that helps with perspective and calmness. 

Eat Nutritious Foods 

In recent years, research has shown a Western diet heavy in processed or fried foods, sugar, refined grains, and alcohol is positively correlated with depressive and anxiety symptoms. A 2020 study found consuming processed foods can cause inflammation in the body and cause a cascading effect on your immune system, increasing the risk of depression symptoms. 

The same research found strong evidence that a healthy diet with moderate caloric restriction can help improve depressive symptoms. A 2019 study found eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, and lean meat can help reduce clinical levels of depression.

Be sure to include lots of whole foods, fiber, and water in your diet to nourish your body and reduce the risk of depression. 

Go Outside and Feel the Fresh Air 

One of the signs of depression is finding it hard to get out of bed. It’s normal because it may feel like a Herculean effort to complete basic tasks. If you’re neglecting the outdoors and staying inside more, it can disturb your sleep and circadian rhythm and create Vitamin D insufficiency. 

Having decreased Vitamin D levels has been contributed to depression. Although research remains scant, there’s been increasing research that Vitamin D can play a therapeutic part in alleviating depression. However, its benefits are widely known in promoting immune function health, cell growth, and maintaining healthy bones.

To get out of a depressive episode, adequate exposure to natural sunlight can help fulfill 90% of your daily Vitamin D quota. Embrace nature therapy, feel the sun on your skin, and take a short walk around the block to change your environment. 

Lean On Loved Ones

When you’re depressed, it’s easy to isolate and shrug away attempts to hang out with people. Or you may be around people and still feel alone. However, humans are innately social creatures. If the quality of your social support has fallen to the wayside, it may reinforce depressive symptoms and create more feelings of loneliness, guilt, shame, and alienation. 

Reaching out and making plans with your support system is a pathway to care, self-esteem, resilience, and love—all of which contribute to positive mental health outcomes. Decades of research have proven higher social relationship quality with your community was associated with lowering stress levels and depressive symptoms.

A Harvard Study of Adult Development ran a long-running study on happiness and found personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which helps counteract isolation. The Harvard researchers noted that relationships are a powerful predictor of happiness and life satisfaction.

Find Gratitude and Laughter Where You Can 

There’s promising scientific evidence that gratitude can improve cognitive and emotional well-being. One of the most researched tools is compiling a gratitude list where you list three to five things you are grateful for, Practicing gratitude can help increase compassion, pro-social behaviors, relationship maintenance, sleep, life satisfaction, and happiness. 

Studies have found humor can be an important coping mechanism to fight off depressive symptoms and anxiety. When you’re depressed, it’s hard to find fun in anything. Even so, it’s still good to seek out pleasurable activities like watching a hilarious stand-up act, cuddling with a pet, indulging in a feel-good movie, listening to music, treating yourself to a hot bath, or ordering your favorite meal. Whatever you like to do for joy.

Seek Professional Help

Once you’ve noticed your emotions and behavioral patterns are becoming detrimental, talking to a therapist is a crucial step for your mental care. A trusted therapist can identify patterns, help with emotional regulation, treat depression with effective therapeutic interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and use other measures such as pharmacological intervention with medication. 

If you notice signs of depression, seeing your primary care doctor for a physical checkup can help determine whether or not you have depression. Your doctor can conduct a battery of tests to confirm your diagnosis.

A Word From Verywell

Depression can take a significant toll on your mental health and the quality of your daily life. Although these changes may seem commonplace, taking these small and tangible steps can help you get out of a depressive episode.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Julie Nguyen
Julie Nguyen is a freelance mental health and sexuality writer. Her writing explores themes around mental well-being, culture, psychology, trauma, and human intimacy.