Low-grade Depression: How do you cope?

The term “low-grade” depression started trending recently when Michelle Obama publicly shared that she had been experiencing it in response to the quarantine and social unrest. While “low-grade” is not an official term – a psychiatrist would classify it as Major Depressive Disorder, Mild”- it described what many of us have experienced at some point, and may be feeling currently.

This means having mental health symptoms such as sad/empty mood, diminished pleasure in activities, weight changes, sleep changes, loss of energy, indecisiveness or inability to concentrate, moving slowly, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, or even thoughts of death, but the intensity of these symptoms is manageable enough that you can carry on with your day to day life. Except that day to day life feels like a drag.

Even in the absence of Covid (if that can be imagined anymore), stressful events such as romantic breakups or conflicts, loss of a job (voluntary or involuntary), change in living situations, and post-baby isolation can bring on some or many of these feelings. The common thread here is an external circumstance, which is usually out of your control, so the problem is not immediately “fixable.” This means that you have to go through the emotions the best you can.

There are some obvious tangible physical things that everyone knows to do to elevate their mood- setting up a routine, eating well, exercising regularly, practicing mindfulness, getting good sleep, and maintaining social relationships. But it’s hard to do them when you are feeling the way you are, even though you know doing them will help you.

So what can you do? Where do you start? Therapists will tell you, start from within.

  1. Acknowledge and accept: Pay attention to what you are feeling and call it what it is. Perhaps you never thought of yourself as a person who got depressed or anxious, so it may be a shock or even embarrasment in fully acknowledging your feelings. Read about mental health, talk to a doctor or therapist if you are unsure, and understand what is happening. The sooner you accept it, the better you will be able to deal with it.
  2. Process – This means to deeply explore and examine how you are feeling, both verbally and nonverbally. This might mean sharing your worries, fears, and regrets with friends or family or a support group, or taking some time each day to dedicatedly to observe your inner world and maybe even taking notes. There was a time when regularly talking to people in your close circle for hours was common. Many people also kept journals or diaries to unpack their thoughts and feelings. These simple things were effective in helping people cope with the ups and downs of life. Unfortunately they have become uncommon in today’s world of fleeting online interactions and digital record keeping.
  3. Envision the new chapter in your life’s story – most therapists will ask their clients the “miracle question” at some point – how will life look like if the current problem disappeared miraculously? It helps people articulate their goals and eventually start working towards them. Ask yourself this question and answer it in detail. You might find yourself flummoxed and unable to imagine it. Push yourself. What would you be doing in your vision, how would you be feeling in it? It will help you have something to work towards, and a renewed sense of purpose and hope that you might not be able to feel now.

Maybe you you want to take the next step

Reach out for a free consultation for depression treatment. Together we can help you cope.

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