Staring at the wall. Unable to get out of bed. Struggling to muster the energy to work or cook dinner. Thinking, “Will I ever be happy again?”
This kind of experience is common in people who live with depression. While many of us might think of depression as feeling constantly sad and alone, it’s often more like a state of numbness or fatigue. But what causes depression? And how do people manage it?
Here’s a guide to break it down.
What is depression?
Depression can show up in different ways. It can be short-lived or long-term. Depression often looks like:
- Feeling empty or numb
- Going through the motions of life like you’re on “autopilot”
- Not caring about things you used to love
- Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
- Feeling constantly tired
- Feeling agitated or cranky
- Living with a mental “fog”
- Assuming the worst in people
- In some cases, having suicidal thoughts
What are the different kinds of depression?
Depression can come in different forms. Some are more severe than others, but all of them are valid.
Major depression. This is perhaps the most well-known type of depression. It can come up as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. But it can also come up after traumatic events, major life changes or long periods of loneliness. People with major depression often feel “down” or have a gloomy mood that just won’t seem to go away. They may feel worthless, detached from others and bored.
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD). This is usually less severe than major depression, but often lasts longer. PDD is a “high functioning” form of depression, which might mean you can make it through the day just fine, but you often feel down or hopeless. People who have depressive symptoms for more than two years may be diagnosed with PDD.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Sunlight can help our bodies fight off depression. So when the long, dark winter months come, it can make it hard for the brain to work the way it usually does. This kind of depression is usually predictable each year. It might make you want to hole up in winter and withdraw from other people. But seasonal affective disorder also tends to ease up as the spring and summer come around.
Perinatal depression. This kind of depression comes up when a person becomes pregnant (prenatal depression) or after they give birth (postpartum depression). Learning you’re going to share your body for over nine months—or realizing that you’re now a parent—can be a lot of pressure. And it’s hard to manage that pressure when you’re not getting enough sleep, which is common with pregnancy and parenting. All of that combined can sometimes lead to perinatal depression. This can be especially hard when other people expect new parents or pregnant people to be “glowing” with joy, but instead you might feel tired and withdrawn.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder. The cramps. The bloating. The irritability. These are all commonly known irks of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). But did you know depression can also be a part of PMS? During ovulation and before the actual period begins, many people experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This is a stronger form of PMS and can come up due to hormone imbalances. It usually goes away once the period begins.
Bipolar disorder. People who live with bipolar disorder will have bouts of feeling very down and depressed. But bipolar is unique. For someone living with bipolar disorder, those depressed times are countered with times of feeling extremely happy and energized. These “manic” days often include feeling like you can do no wrong, taking big risks or bingeing on something you enjoy. One example might be a random trip to Las Vegas and riding a high of euphoria, only to gamble away your life savings and feeling depressed after.
People who think they may have depression can work with a therapist or healthcare provider to sort out which kind(s) of depression it might be.
What does depression feel like in the body?
Mental health challenges also show up in our bodies. Depression can often look like:
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Having a hard time falling asleep, or sleeping too much
- Aches, pains and headaches
- Digestion problems
- Fidgeting or feeling restless
- Slower movement or speech
How do you manage it?
Depression can be tough. But there are also a lot of treatments that are proven to help! Many people live with depression and are able to manage it with some helpful tools, including:
- Light therapy: a great way to help fight seasonal affective disorder. When there isn’t enough sunlight during winter to help your brain stay balanced, light therapy can prompt your body to make more serotonin and keep your mind more balanced.
- Physical activity: a natural antidepressant. Moving your body is a great way to release endorphins. And endorphins can fight depression. Jogging, dance classes and lifting weights are all great options. But even a simple brisk walk each day can make a huge difference for your mental health.
- Meditation: a simple exercise to soothe your mind and connect to your body. Practice this guided Loving Kindness Meditation each day for a week and see if it helps you feel more positive.
- Practicing gratitude: a tactic to stop those unhelpful thoughts in their tracks and replace them with more helpful thoughts. Our coaches show you how it’s done in this video.
- Counseling: a powerful tool for moving on from the past and overcoming trauma. Therapy is proven to help treat depression and may help you feel more like yourself again.
- Medication: a great option for when your brain could use a little extra help keeping your mind and body in balance. If you think you might have a form of depression, check with your doctor to see if medication might be a good match for you.
Remember, there is no shame in having depression. And there’s no shame in treating it! Work with your doctor or a trained therapist to get the support you need so you can feel like yourself again.