Your teenage and young adult years are also a period of physical, emotional, and social turbulence. Dealing with life is even harder when you’re also battling factors like hormonal imbalances, bullying, stress, trauma, or even a genetic disposition to depression.
The problem is that depression can present itself as normal “mood swings” due to puberty or teen angst. The signs aren’t outwardly obvious, and the signs can be episodic, appearing to come and go. That’s why it can be difficult to identify and address.
So when do you know to seek help? Look for warning signs, including:
- Anger, irritability, and frustration
- Declining grades
- Difficulty concentrating
- Negative self-talk
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Somatic/physical complaints
- Talk of death or suicide
- Withdrawal from friends and family
When you’re in the throes of depression, the emotional, and sometimes physical, pain can feel paralyzing. It’s hard to figure out how to dig yourself out of a hole. However, if you can relate with any of these symptoms, speak to a trusted friend or adult before your depression spirals into serious risk-taking behavior.
If you think that you might have anxiety or depression, there are a few ways you can cope with your emotional pain:
- Nurture yourself with healthy food
- Acknowledge your troubles, but don’t dwell on them
- Express yourself
- Focus on the good things
Let’s dive into the different ways you can manage your negative emotions.
Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression. In fact, research has shown that exercise is equally as effective for treating depression as medication and psychotherapy!
While the optimal amount of exercise is different from person to person, any exercise is better than no exercise.
Choose an activity that you enjoy—and stick with it. What exercise do you love? Do at least 30 minutes of that.
Here are a list of activities that count toward your physical exercise goal:
- Having an impromptu dance party in your room
- Roughhousing with your dog
- Jumping on your trampoline
- Shooting hoops in your driveway
- Taking a brisk walk around the local mall
- Cleaning all the nooks and crannies of your bedroom
- Playing Dance Dance Revolution
- Riding your bike around the nearest park
- Running a few laps up and down your stairs
- Climbing the tree in your yard
- Practicing yoga, as well as breathwork and meditation
These are all fantastic ways to get yourself off the couch, get your heart rate up, and clear the mental funk.
And though there will definitely be times when you don’t feel like working out, it’s still not a good reason to skip your exercise. Tell yourself that you’ll feel better afterwards.
- Find a workout buddy. Or, join a virtual or in-person workout class. When you add a social component to exercise, you’ll form a stronger habit and have more motivation to stick to it.
- Enjoy the afterglow. When you’re finished with your workout session, use your warm-down time to appreciate how good you feel. Once you get in the exercise habit, it won’t take long to notice a difference in your mood.
- Exercise can help us make fewer unhealthy food choices. Instead of rewarding yourself with fast food or sugary drinks, you can start telling yourself: “If I’m going to exercise regularly, I might as well make it worth it by eating right too.”
2. Nurture yourself with healthy food
Did you know that what you put in your belly also affects your mood?
That’s right. The field of nutritional psychology studies how gut health and diet can affect our moods. In fact, 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut! Our vagus nerve allows anatomical and physiologic two-way communication between our gut and our brain. That’s the reason why eating well has a direct connection to feeling mentally well.
One study suggests that eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding inflammatory foods can help protect against depression. This is supported by the findings of another study, which outlines the 12 Antidepressant Nutrients that have been shown to support prevention and recovery from depression disorders. Here are the most nutrient-dense foods to help protect against depression:
- Bivalves, like clams, oysters and mussels
- Various seafoods, including salmon, tuna, pollock, snapper, and rainbow trout
- Crustaceans, including crab and lobster
- Liver and organ meats
- Leafy greens
- Cruciferous vegetables
If you feel like your depression is affecting your appetite—by reducing or ramping it up—you’ll need to be extra mindful of getting the right nourishment.
- Steer clear of super-processed foods. Here’s something you should know about the processed food industry: Big Snacks load up their products with salt, sugar, and fat because consumers are hooked on this trifecta. But just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it should be going into your shopping cart at the grocery store.
- Eat whole foods. Eat a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains. These foods allow us to feel full, but keep us nourished with the right nutrient profiles. You can keep yourself accountable by keeping a food diary, or even turn it into a creative activity by posting your meal creations on social media.
- Set an eating schedule. Even if you don’t feel hungry, try to eat something light to keep you going.
3. Acknowledge your troubles, but don’t dwell on them
There’s an important distinction between acknowledging that something didn’t go as planned, and dwelling on it.
- Practice emotional awareness by acknowledging your feelings. When we’re in a difficult situation, you might want to protect yourself by pretending it didn’t happen. But to move past things, we need to acknowledge that your emotions exist.
- Whether you’re feeling happy or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, bold or fearful, name your emotions. Be as specific as possible, and try to identify the specific reasons behind your current emotional state.
- Learn to ride the wave. Life is full of ebbs and flows. When you feel intense emotions, practice leaning into your current emotional state. Sometimes those waves are big, and other times they’re small. When you can learn to observe your emotions from a distance, you can mindfully ride them without getting swept away.
- Practice deep emotional work. Try journaling about your past, present, and what you want for yourself in the future. You can use an app, or you can use pen and paper. When you write, you allow yourself the time and space to reflect, process, and make peace with your emotions. You can even share your insights with a caring friend as a way to release your old feelings.
- Turn your attention to something positive. Brainstorm solutions to your problems, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Your social circle is a fantastic source of moral support.
- Push your feelings to the back of your mind. When you try to move on without processing your emotions, those feelings will meander back to the front of your mind at random times, coming out in ways that you wouldn’t expect, sometimes at less-than-optimal moments.
- Wallow. Bad things happen. It’s part of life. However, dwelling on your troubles will keep you from learning from the experience and moving forward in a constructive way. It’s our own responsibility to prevent bad circumstances from consuming us entirely.
4. Express yourself
When you’re depressed, it may seem hard to tap into your sense of creativity or fun.
However, there is tremendous emotional healing power in the arts! (You don’t need to have natural artistic ability or talent to participate and heal yourself, either.)
Art therapy uses the process of creating art to improve mental, physical, and emotional wellness.
It works by connecting your imagination to your body movements and allows you to express the feelings that you can’t quite get out in words.
- The process of making art moves your focus away from negative feelings and directs it toward a creative endeavor.
- Making art also helps get your creative juices flowing, which loosens up some positive emotions and lightens your mood.
- As you move through the creative process, you can gain personal insights and develop new coping skills.
All art counts—doodling, collaging, sculpting, painting, sewing, writing, and even composing music! Give yourself permission to break the rules and experiment with new techniques.
5. Focus on the good things
When you’re dealing with depression, it’s easy to feel stuck. It can feel like you’re living in a monochromatic world, where everything looks dismal, negative, and hopeless.
When you feel a depressive episode coming on, try interrupting your thought cycle by naming three things you’re grateful for. Go into detail:
- Why are you grateful for these things?
- What sort of value do these things add to your life?
- How can you pay it forward so others can experience the same sense of appreciation that you have?
This forces you to notice the good things in your life. No matter how small, it’s healthy to acknowledge your strengths, talents, gifts, and blessings!
The key to managing your anxiety and depression is to be patient, kind, and compassionate with yourself.
Accept that some days will be great, while other days will be difficult—but today’s mood, emotions, and thoughts don’t belong to tomorrow.
It’s completely within your power to use your support network and keep up the habits that help you manage your anxiety and depression.