Depression and Relationships: Helpful Advice

Managing depression and relationships can seem impossible at times. Socializing can be difficult if you are unable to sleep, are exhausted, or are experiencing other symptoms of depression. Even responding to texts can feel taxing if you lack the energy to get out of bed. If you’ve ever had a similar experience, you are most certainly not alone.

We’ve all been through a lot during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and you may be completely spent. And if you suffer from a condition such as bipolar disorder that results in mood episodes, including depressive ones, you may feel as though maintaining relationships is particularly difficult right now. Because everyone experiences depression differently, there is no one correct way to navigate relationships while suffering from it. However, one of these suggestions should assist you in feeling better and retaining some social support.

Depression and Relationships: Helpful Advice - Photo by Fernando @cferdo
Depression and Relationships: Helpful Advice – Photo by Fernando @cferdo

1. If you are seriously depressed, see a therapist (or be completely honest with your own).

Depression can significantly impair your ability to function. You may lose interest in previously enjoyed activities, experience a lack of energy, and experience overwhelming negative emotions. Sadly, these symptoms persist and can be extremely difficult to manage on your own. Thus, according to Rachel Annunziato, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Fordham University, working with a therapist while depressed can be extremely beneficial for a variety of reasons. Cognitive behavioral therapy is frequently used by therapists to assist patients in challenging some of the negative self-talk and hopeless thinking associated with depression, Dr. Annunziato says. (If you’ve ever found yourself trapped in negative thoughts, you understand how difficult this can be to do on your own.) Additionally, your therapist will likely assist you in developing a plan for incorporating the activities you previously enjoyed in a manner that feels manageable at the time. Each person’s situation is unique, and a trained therapist can assist you in developing customized strategies for whatever you’re going through.

Having said all of this, obtaining assistance is not a simple process. While contacting your insurance provider to inquire about local therapists is one option, this may not be available to everyone. You can search OpenPath for clinicians who accept reduced fees or search the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration database for low-cost treatment centers in your area. Support groups can also be beneficial, and the Anxiety & Depression Association of America maintains a database of groups located throughout the United States. If you already have a therapist, you may need to express your desire to work on managing your depression explicitly. You and your partner can work together to develop goals and strategies that may help you feel better.

2. Speak with your doctor about possible assistance medications.

“Navigating depression is difficult, but medication can help,” Nicole Johnson2, Ph.D., an associate professor in Lehigh University’s counseling psychology program, tells SELF.

If you are currently taking antidepressants but are experiencing more difficulty than you would like, you may want to ask your physician or psychiatrist if you could try a different type or adjust your dose. If you’re hesitant to take antidepressants due to social stigma, keep in mind that medications can provide some relief from chronic exhaustion or other extremely difficult symptoms that can make each day feel taxing. If you’ve reached a point where you’re unwilling to spend time with your loved ones, you may want to consider taking antidepressants to reclaim your sense of self.

If you have bipolar disorder and believe you are entering a depressive state, it is critical to consult a physician or psychiatrist, according to David Miklowitz3, Ph.D., director of the UCLA Semel Institute’s Max Gray Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program. Your practitioner will review your bipolar disorder treatment plan and make any necessary adjustments to assist you in stabilizing your mood (which may include prescribing medications or adjusting current medications), he says.

There are numerous types of antidepressants, and they generally provide additional support for a few weeks or months while you work with a therapist to incorporate other strategies.

3. Pay attention to your sleeping patterns.

“It is critical to look after your basic needs,” Dr. Annunziato tells SELF. “It’s critical to get enough sleep, but I understand that’s much easier said than done.”

Sleep and depression have a complicated relationship, but it is clear that they are linked. According to studies, approximately 75% of people who suffer from depression have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Around 15% of people who suffer from depression have hypersomnia, which means they feel excessively tired despite getting adequate sleep. Both situations can deplete your energy and make you irritable (and understandably, you might be more inclined to be alone when you feel like this).

In either case, experts recommend adopting common sleep habits such as maintaining a consistent bedtime schedule, keeping your bedroom dark to promote melatonin release, and getting sunlight when you wake up to help slow melatonin production.

Even under ideal circumstances, you may experience difficulty sleeping if you are ruminating or having negative self-thoughts. Alternatively, you may wish to sleep to alleviate some of those feelings. It can be extremely difficult to break this cycle on your own, which is why therapy can be beneficial. If you are not in therapy, Dr. Annunziato says that journaling may help you identify some of the negative thoughts associated with depression. Once you are aware of these, she says, you can seek out alternative modes of thought. For instance, if it’s 3 a.m. and you’re beating yourself up over a work mistake and having difficulty accepting that these things happen, Dr. Annunziato suggests asking yourself, What would I say to a friend who believes this about themselves? It’s much easier to tell a friend that no one is perfect than it is to accept this for oneself.

At times, getting adequate sleep feels out of your control, regardless of what you do. If you’re having difficulty regulating your sleep on your own, you can speak with your doctor about medications that can either help you sleep or make you feel less exhausted if you believe you sleep excessively.

4. Make a conscious effort to spend time alone.

According to Jessica Stern6, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at New York University, some people may feel better after socializing, while others may feel drained. “If you are depressed, you may experience extreme exhaustion. Dr. Stern tells SELF that “alone time can help you recharge.” Self-reflection on why you want to be alone — and how you want to feel afterwards — can help you be more intentional. Do you believe that spending the weekend alone will help you refill your cup? If that is the case, Dr. Stern suggests deciding how to spend your time so that you feel energized for the following week. For some, this may entail taking a walk, meditating, or enjoying a quiet dinner at home.

Dr. Stern recommends that you balance your alone time with social interaction in a way that feels feasible for you. Your level of engagement can be as simple as a phone call, and it’s best to choose someone with whom you have a healthy relationship, Dr. Stern explains. “You can develop an addiction to that alone time or feel out of practice socializing,” Dr. Stern explains.

This can be difficult to do on your own if you are severely depressed, and working with a therapist can help you learn how to intentionally spend time alone. Alternatively, if you’re isolating for another reason, speaking with a therapist can assist you in managing that as well.

5. Think of social interaction as a spectrum.

Avoid coercing yourself into social outings that do not feel good simply to re-engage, as Dr. Stern advises. Perhaps you truly desire to see a friend, but the effort required to shower, dress, and travel to a restaurant is excessive. Consider instead asking your friend if they’re game for a takeout night at your house. Alternatively, you could have a daily check-in with a friend to discuss your day. “Give yourself manageable chunks of interaction so that you’re not doing any of it,” Dr. Stern advises.

6. Decide on a method of communication that is most comfortable for you.

Have you ever received a text and thought to yourself, I’ll respond when I’m ready? And then you don’t respond at all?It occurs. However, if you consistently struggle to respond to texts, this may not be the best mode of communication for you. “I struggle with texting, but phone calls feel much more natural to me,” Dr. Johnson explains. According to Dr. Johnson, some people believe that writing an email is easier because it feels less urgent than texting. Perhaps messaging a friend on Instagram is more convenient because you can send humorous posts that may spark an easy conversation.

7. Make small gestures and be as candid as possible.

If fear of rejection is keeping you from reaching out to people you’ve lost touch with, Dr. Annunziato notes that a simple gesture can go a long way. She suggests sending a simple text or email that reads, “Hey, I was thinking about you and wanted to say hi.” “Oftentimes, it’s simply more difficult to maintain contact when you’re depressed, and this can be misinterpreted. People may believe you’ve changed in the friendship, and as a result, their outreach to you may shift, “she explains. If the other party responds and you feel comfortable doing so, you can explain your communication breakdown. (Or, if you prefer, you can mention that you’ve been feeling down in the initial text.) You are not required to go into detail, but it may help people understand why you stopped responding to their texts. “If you’re worried that your friend will be upset with you or if you’re feeling overwhelmed, keep in mind that this has probably happened to several people in your life,” Dr. Stern says.

There is always a possibility that the other person will not respond. When this occurs, it’s all too easy to feel guilty or blame yourself, especially when depressed. However, we never know what is going on in another person’s life—perhaps they are going through a difficult time right now as well. Reframe any self-blame by thinking, It was not the right time with that person, Dr. Annunziato advises. This is another circumstance in which seeing a therapist may be beneficial. Dr. Annunziato explains that your therapist can assist you in identifying a supportive person in your life to reach out to, role playing what your interaction might look like, and assisting you in talking through the experience afterwards. Depression is excruciatingly painful, so try to extend grace to yourself regardless of how you are feeling. You may not feel motivated to seek the support you deserve—especially if you are experiencing a depressive episode—but know that doing so can help make things more bearable. If you feel comfortable, contacting a friend, therapist, physician, or loved one can help expedite the process.


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