Coping Strategies

There are tricks — shortcuts, actually — for just about anything you want to do in life. Right now, you want to relieve the symptoms of depression and get about the business of living your life on your own terms, once again. Coping strategies can get you to where you want to be.

The Jigsaw Puzzle Approach

A jigsaw puzzle goes together one piece at a time. If you're persistent, eventually the 500 or 1,000 or 1,500 pieces will come to look like the picture on the box. You can apply this analogy to your daily routine, when you're faced with those big jobs at home or at work. These can be overwhelming and discouraging, but if you break those jobs into smaller tasks, you'll find that you can manage more easily and, just like the jigsaw puzzle, eventually the job will get done. You'll also enjoy the satisfaction of being able to put a check by each task, as you accomplish it. You're monitoring your progress and seeing the visual reminder of what you've produced.

Deferring Decisions

During times of stress, it's not advisable to make important decisions. Depression is stressful. If you don't have to sell the house right now, change jobs, or break off a serious relationship, don't. Postpone the big decisions until you're feeling better. You may find that your depression was responsible for creating or at least intensifying the difficult situation in the first place. Even if this turns out not to be the case, time is on your side. Wait, if you can.


Once you let worry into your mind, everything takes on equal weight. You can't assign the appropriate value to what's causing you distress. A house fire is just as worrisome as a misplaced set of car keys. Depression keeps you from putting things in a proper perspective.

Scheduling Worries

Often, worries seem to come in torrents, when you're depressed. Nothing seems to be working right, and everything has the potential for reinforcing your down mood. Take charge of your worries and they'll lose their power over you. Before you go to bed, write down everything that is worrying you. Don't leave anything off the list. When you've written it all down, promise yourself that in the morning, or when you start to feel better during the day, you're going to take the first worry on your list and decide upon a strategy for dealing with it. Why the first worry? Because it's probably the one that's most on your mind. The big ones come to mind quickly. It's only toward the end that you're scraping the bottom of the worry barrel. Here's how this might look:

  • Worry: I'll be depressed forever. Strategy: Nothing lasts forever, and that includes depression. I'll take my antidepressants, eat right, exercise, and keep my appointments with my psychotherapist. I'll work through this depression, even though it may take longer than I'd like.

  • Worry: I'm never going to have the energy to be able to leave the house and enjoy myself again. I'll be trapped inside forever. Strategy: Look at what I said — never and forever. This black-and-white thinking isn't getting me anywhere. I'm going to find out why I'm so tired and talk to my psychotherapist about this. Together we'll find ways I can gradually get my life back.

  • Worry: I've lost the person I used to be. I never laugh anymore, and I hurt so much. Strategy: I can't believe I said never. I'll think of a way to turn that sentence around to make it sound foolish. Okay. I'm going to go looking for myself. I'm probably just misplaced. That's ridiculous, but it made me smile just a little. I can do this, even if I try it just once every day.

  • Worry: I am the worst mother in the world. I don't even care about the baby right now. Strategy: I understand that I have postpartum depression. This will pass in a couple of weeks. It's just that my hormones aren't back in sync yet. In the meantime, I'll get some help taking care of the baby. I really do love her.

  • Worry: I dread the coming winter. Winter is the worst time of year for me. I don't think I'm going to be able to survive another one without going stark, raving mad. Strategy: Okay. Forget the stark, raving mad. I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and I'm going to discuss light therapy with my physician and make some changes this year.

In each of these examples, you have taken responsibility for your actions. You aren't blaming yourself, because even though you're depressed, you know that finger pointing doesn't accomplish anything. You're on track. You understand that time is now on your side. With good self-care and positive self-talk, you'll beat this depression.

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