Some people can take the “good” along with the “bad” in life, and mostly let things roll off of their shoulders. Others, however, are not quite as resilient. For them, any stressful life event — whether the loss of a loved one, a dramatic break-up, or a layoff — can kick-start a downward spiral.
If you have a personal or family history of depression, the key is to stop this spiral before it gets out of control by putting the clues and cues together. “If you know what your Achilles heels are and can say ‘Aha!” this is what is going on,’ you are halfway there,” says Gail Saltz, MD, a New York City-based psychiatrist.
No matter what triggers your depression, help is available. WebMD talked to mental health experts about the best things to do to help manage depression. Getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and sleeping enough (but not too much) are good ways to take control of depression. A healthy lifestyle can help you head off depression, and will also help get you through a rocky patch.
But there’s more you can do, depending on your stressors. Here are some common depression-triggering scenarios and expert-approved mood-boosting strategies to help you cope:
Depression Trigger: Job Loss
In today’s unsteady economy, many people are losing their jobs. This can often lead to feelings of shame, worthlessness and depression — especially in a person who is vulnerable.
Getting laid off doesn’t mean you are powerless, says Scott Bea, PsyD. He is a psychologist in Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health in Ohio. Don’t take the news lying down. Seek employment counseling right away. “It is important to maintain social contact and connectedness,” he says. Don’t stop caring for yourself. You may be on a tight budget, but not everything has a steep price tag. “You can volunteer or coach a local softball team.” In short, “you need to find some way to make a difficult situation stimulate something new and better, rather than shutting down,” says Bea.
Depression Trigger: Empty Nest
Many women devote their lives to raising children, but that leaves them feeling as empty as their “nest” when their kids go off to college or begin their own life as an adult, says Saltz.
“Plan for it,” she says. “It can be the time for you to start taking classes, go back to school, or start a hobby,” she says. You are not alone. “Find other empty nesters for camaraderie.”
Depression Trigger: Caregiver Stress
There is a high rate of depression among people who take care of a loved one with a chronic illness, says Saltz. It can be physically and emotionally grueling.
It’s not selfish to take care of yourself, says Saltz. “You need to eat well, sleep well, and get exercise or you will not be able to take care of your loved one,” she says. Many caregivers take on too much. “Be realistic about what your loved one needs and what you can provide,” she says. “Call in other family members to help. You don’t have to be the one and only.” Support groups for caregivers can also provide a safe place to talk about your frustrations and grief.
Depression Trigger: Loss
Losing a loved one is never easy. Some people may be able to get past the loss after a certain amount of grieving time. Others may spiral into a deep depression.
Don’t go it alone, says Bea. “Join a support group.” Individual or group counseling can also help you come to terms with your loss. Medication may play a role too. If you are already on medication, it is possible that your doctor may want to adjust your dose or add another drug to help you get through a rough patch. “Help is available,” he says. Talk to your doctor about your depression to find the best treatment plan for you.
Depression Trigger: Marriage Problems/Divorce
It can be stressful and upsetting to be in a toxic relationship, but change and starting over can be scary — even if you know it’s for the best, Saltz says.
Some couples can benefit from marriage counseling, and it may even help save their relationship. If you are divorced or separated, support groups and individual therapy can help you get through the adjustment period and remember who you were before the split. “Give yourself some slack and seek support,” Saltz says.
Depression Trigger: Retirement
Yes, retirement is often idealized and even fantasized about. You and your spouse can take long leisurely walks on the beach, maybe take that dream vacation you always talked about, or even relocate to a warmer climate. “It is supposed to be joyful, but many retirees find themselves at loose ends and searching for an identity,” says Saltz. “When both spouses are together all day long, it can also it cause marital strife.”
Don’t let yourself get bored, she says. Take classes, make plans with friends, and look for volunteer opportunities.
Depression Trigger: Hormonal Ups and Downs
Some women feel sad and irritable before their monthly period. Others have more severe mood symptoms during their time of the month. Older women may also experience some ups and downs as they approach menopause, and levels of the female sex hormone estrogen decline. Having a baby can also be a trigger. This can be a fleeting case of the baby blues or the more severe postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. One common culprit in all of these scenarios are your hormones.
Keep a journal to see if you can identify any patterns, Saltz says. “If your mood changes and symptoms are impacting your life, treatments can help,” she says. “This may include therapy, self-talk, and deep breathing. “For women with severe premenstrual syndrome, medication may also be an option,” Saltz says. Postpartum depression is also treatable. If you are feeling sad, hopeless, and or having trouble caring for and bonding with your baby, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional right away.
Depression Trigger: Family Strife
While some people enjoy spending time with family, others may find it less than enjoyable. “Family get-togethers can rekindle childhood and child-like ways of interacting with one another,” Saltz says. “Any intense relationship tumult can alter your mood.”
Just say no! “Make other plans and say, ‘This year, I can’t do it’.” If you are around your family, and feel that relatives are trying to rile you, don’t take the bait, she says. “Walk away.”
Depression Trigger: Holidays
For some, holidays are the loneliest days on the calendar. “Suicides peak during the holidays,” Saltz says.
Reach out to others so you feel less alone. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter during the holidays. “Don’t have such a high threshold for asking for help,” Saltz says.
Depression Trigger: Winter Blues
If you notice that you begin to feel down each year when winter arrives, and the days grow shorter, it could be seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year.
“The good news is that SAD is treatable,” Saltz says. “Medication or light therapy, under a doctor’s direction, can help.” There is more you can do too. “You can also increase natural light by making it a point of doing work near a window – particularly in the morning,” she says. Exercise also helps improve symptoms of SAD. “Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise multiple times a week.”
Depression Trigger: Anniversaries of Loss
Many people may feel depressed on or around the anniversary of a loss, almost as if it just happened or is happening all over again. “These are almost always triggers,” Saltz says.
“When you know that an anniversary of loss is coming and that you are more likely to feel depressed, try to bolster your connectivity to people who are supportive,” she says. “Honor the anniversary, but don’t isolate yourself.”