Contingency Plan: 5 Ways To Combat Depression This Winter
Artwork by Ajgiel
Hello again! Depressed in Brooklyn is writing to you at the moment. I'm sure it's a combination of jet lag, cold, rain, and several jobs falling through that has me down. Nothing like a fresh birthday to make you question EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR LIFE AND WHY YOU'RE DOING IT SO WRONG. I tend to be (and feel) extreme; either everything is going pretty well, or I'm the worst person in the world, who is hopeless, talentless, and has absolutely no place in this business. Dramatic, right?
When I get to that place, I'm usually overwhelmed, something may have happened that set me off (like people scheduling me for work and then cancelling day of, WHY IS THAT A NECESSARY AND SUCH A COMMON OCCURRENCE FOR ALL OF US IN THIS INDUSTRY?), or I may be fighting with someone close to me, or experiencing the fucking curse of womanhood (which one? I know).
Deep in a rut of depression, it's really difficult to do anything. It's incredibly uncomfortable, and there's not much I can do to distract myself. That said, I've found that the most important thing is to feel it, and then to teach myself ways in which to transcend it, if only slightly, if only for a small amount of time. A few minutes of reprieve can set you off in a new trajectory, or at worst, just give you a much needed break.
One minuscule step in the right direction is profoundly more therapeutic than sitting in the same place.
One of the biggest problems when I'm starting to try to push myself out of a depressed episode is: DECISIONS. I know I'll feel better if I go to the gym, but I can't find any gym clothes anywhere, the shirt I did find is too short, the only clean leggings I see in my closet are too see through to squat in, etc. I also know that I should listen to music, but sometimes the idea of of having to pick out a song is too much. I think those last small roadblocks that can arise can be the difference between taking action and saying "screw it," and laying back down on the couch.
So what does the classical pianist suggest? PRACTICE! If you know these moments will come, give yourself permission to feel them, and then have a contingency plan to climb out of the hole when you're ready. That way you're PREPARED. Practical, right? Here's five things I find helpful:
1. Keep a gym bag packed. With an outfit, a bottle of water, shoes, etc. Have it ready by the door (or in my cramped apartment, hidden under the couch) so that you can just go on auto pilot, without thinking about it; even if it just means walking around the block, or doing whatever exercise is available to you at home. Even if you just blasted music for 20 minutes and shook your arms as hard as you can, you will still release some endorphins. Many times, depression can be chemical, and a little bit of a hormonal switch up can help a little, or even a lot. I've found this first point to be MONUMENTALLY helpful, even if I have to drag myself to the gym, kicking, screaming, and making excuses along the way. I think of the gym as a pill, labeled: antidepressant.
2. Have a playlist planned and ready to go, preferably downloaded on your phone. Put on your top 5+ songs right now, that aren't related to any trauma/ traumatic situations (breakups, your "song", etc). First step, listen to the songs. Second step? Dance as hard around your room/apartment/house/private place as hard as you can, keeping in mind that you're alone, and you want to make your body into the most ridiculous shapes possible. I usually make myself smile when I do this, even if I don't want to. Music is very powerful.
3. Make yourself a checklist of three small (or even tiny) things that you need to/can do right now and let yourself feel victorious when you've done them (this list can, of course, change, you can keep updating your depression contingency plan every few weeks, with a simple reminder in your phone, and 5 minutes to spare). Examples: mine are typically things like, are the dishes done? Have I showered? Have I made the bed? Very easy, and very effective. I frequently feel like I can never do enough, be enough; sometimes even on days when I've been very disciplined and productive. However, on days when I have less to do and I'm alone, I find it much easier to get down. If I can make myself a small, realistic list and thrust myself into it, that can sometimes take the edge off.
Anytime you force yourself to do something that needs to be done when you don't want to do it; you're putting deposits into your self esteem "bank."
4. Master a favorite, easy healthy meal, with the recipe and shopping list ready to go at all times (if you're like me and never have everything you need in your house). Many of us tend to under or overeat during bouts of depression (I personally restrict and then binge on junk), and if you have a "food solution," that's easy, quick, and nourishing, you may find it easy enough to whip it up and, as my father would say, "worry it down." I like to promise myself that I can have whatever I want, AFTER I eat a lot of veggies and protein. If I'm hungry AND feeling awful? This one works like a charm. Turkey burgers and salad, or stir fry's are my go-to, several times a week.
5. Make a video playlist: Once you've made sure that you've done a few productive things, maybe moved your body a bit, showered, and eaten something that makes you feel good, I suggest: GETTING COZY FOR A FEW AND WATCHING SOME CUTENESS! Allow yourself to feel even the littlest bit triumphant, because you took action when you didn't want to, and battled depression. That is very hard to do, and entirely worthy of respect. Now give yourself a mental break/reward and have a playlist of videos that make you laugh or smile. I like standup comedy and cute baby animals, and also this music video (which always gets stuck in your head, warning), because it's so weird and catchy.