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.
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.
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.
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.