12 Simple but Powerful Ways Therapists Ward off Depression and Anxiety
Therapists have the same emotional highs and lows as everyone else, but they also have some handy-dandy tricks up their sleeves for managing negative emotions
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Name your feelings
You’re probably aware of the range of emotions you can feel—the tricky part can be acknowledging them. “Since depression and anxiety can be the result of suppressing feelings over time, I make a point of naming, acknowledging, and accepting negative emotions as they arise,” says Tina Gilbertson, author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them. The Colorado-based psychotherapist has noticed that many people do not give themselves permission to feel bad, even in private. Unfortunately, policing negative emotions can damage both mental and physical health over time. “When you don’t like how you feel about something, instead of trying to change your thoughts, give the feeling a name. For example, ‘I feel envious right now,’ or ‘I’m ashamed of how I handled that,'” Gilbertson says. “It keeps you from building up a backlog of unexpressed feelings, which can fuel depression.”
Light your way to lighter emotions
Licensed clinical social worker Kelsey Torgerson of Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis, often shares with her clients her struggles with seasonal depression. The child and adolescent therapist combats her winter blues with therapy lights. “During the winter, I regularly use a SAD lamp to help with my seasonal affective depression,” she says. “I find that sitting with it in the morning helps with anxiety as well, perhaps because stress and depression can get so linked.” These are the silent signs you could have seasonal depression.
Namaste yourself happy
Therapists know that yoga is more than a method for increasing flexibility; some studies have found that it can reduce depression and anxiety. Using this age-old practice to elevate mood is easy and powerful. “I practice yoga regularly. It helps me burn off my anxious energy, and lets my body and mind re-focus,” Dr. Torgerson explains. Try joining a yoga studio to get the added benefit of socializing with others, another depression buster.
Accept that you can’t fix everything
Your therapist’s job is to remain a neutral source of guidance and support. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t absorb the pain her clients express day in and day out. “Working as a crisis clinician evaluating suicidal and homicidal clients can bring a different perspective to everyday living,” says crisis clinician and life coach Angela Tennyson. She regularly sees people in their worst-ever state of mind. “The challenge for me is to know my boundaries and abilities, with the realization that not everything can be fixed,” she explains. “I firmly believe that in order to be an authentic clinician, I must practice what I preach with my own life recommendations to my clients.” Understanding what you can control, and what you are unable to control, can be very freeing. It also provides a pathway to self-forgiveness and understanding. These traits can go a long way toward eliminating depression and alleviating anxiety in the face of adversity.
Nurture yourself first, so you can better give to others
Another of Tennyson’s tips is to take care of yourself, body and mind, so that you are refreshed and strong enough to take care of those around you. This will help reduce the anxiety you might feel if you think are not “good enough” or the depression that could creep in if you feel overwhelmed or unable to care for those you love. “It is the best thing ever to give yourself and your talents (to others),” Dr. Tennyson says. “However, I have found that if I haven’t given to myself first, I will not have my best to provide.” Her suggestions for self-care include getting enough sleep, spending time with family and pets, having a good laugh, getting a massage, reconnecting with nature, and, of course, lazy pajama days. Another pro-tip: Know when to say “no” to others.
Learn the lessons of the day before
We all make mistakes, but we often try to forget them out of embarrassment or shame. Tennyson suggests making an effort to learn from failures and near-misses and deriving insights for the future. “This helps us be the best we can be the following day,” she says. Moving forward from set-backs and embracing the ups and downs of each day can help manage your depression and anxiety. Make sure you avoid these everyday habits that raise your risk of depression.
Channel the power of meditation
Therapist Kareen Puranda is a huge fan of meditation. “None of us are impervious to life stressors,” he says. His meditative practice consists of prayer, affirmations, and controlled breathing. “These actions help me to reset and bring things back into the perspective that works best for me. I can only control my thoughts and behavior.” he explains. Meditation can heal your body as well as your mind.
Follow the healthy behaviors the doctor prescribed
Vishal Anilkumar Gandhi, PhD, fights depression and anxiety with healthy habits geared towards keeping the mind occupied and refreshed and the body rejuvenated and nourished. “I exercise daily for 30 to 40 minutes, eat healthy food, avoid junk food, get enough sleep, and do relaxation exercises,” he says, adding that creative hobbies like writing and painting are also important. Research and medical professionals across multiple fields back up the claims that lifestyle habits, such as healthy eating and exercise, play a role in treating and preventing depression. Try eating these foods that may help fight depression.
Talk it out with a pro
As you might imagine, therapists think therapy works. Many see therapists themselves to process their feelings and experiences. Some types of therapy include counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and group therapy. If you think working with a therapist can benefit you, approach finding a therapist the same way you would any professional. Do your research, seek out recommendations, read reviews online, and treat your first session as you might a job interview, with you as the interviewer. You’re not required to hire the first therapist you meet with. Find one you think you can trust and feel comfortable with.
According to child psychiatrist and author Gayani DeSilva, MD, play is the best stress relief. “Adults can take a lesson from children, who use play to work out conflicts, relax, have fun, and reduce worries and stress,” explains Dr. DeSilva, author of A Psychiatrist’s Guide: Helping Parents Reach Their Depressed Tween. She suggests doing something silly to make yourself giggle. “Yodel, make funny faces, do the chicken dance. Act in ways that make you laugh at yourself. This releases endorphins and causes immediate relaxation.” Try getting a wind-up toy for your desk, and wind it up when that feeling of being stressed starts to develop. Getting active by running or playing a game of pick-up basketball can also reduce stress. If you have children, immerse yourself in their make-believe playtime or play with them at a local playground. Check out more simple ways to instantly boost your mood.
Keep a journal
Journals don’t judge. They don’t interrupt you while you’re writing or make suggestions that aren’t in your best interest. Keeping a daily journal can help you understand your feelings in real-time and reduce depression and anxiety, much of which is based on unresolved feelings and patterns of behavior. According to life coach and author Jackee Holder, daily journal writing can help you track behavioral patterns you might not realize you’re stuck in. It can also help you solve your problems and get in touch with your creative side. Boston-based psychotherapist Angela Ficken manages her own stress and anxiety by journaling.
Listen to music
Maybe you remember how you loved to belt out or cry to a favorite song when you were a kid. Your therapist remembers too. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, music therapy has the power to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Turning on your favorite tunes is more than just a feel-good behavior. Research published in 2015 in the World Journal of Psychiatry indicates that music can activate parts of the brain that function abnormally in people with depression which is one explanation for why music has a positive impact on anxiety and depression. Turning on the tunes is one of Ficken’s favorite hacks for reducing on-the-job stress—she loves to switch on her favorite music or podcast when she needs to shift her focus or relax. Don’t miss these other science-backed ways to overcome depression naturally.
- Tina Gilbertson, a psychotherapist and author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them
- Kelsey Torgerson, MSW, LCSW, of Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis
- Angela Tennyson, MHP, CADC, crisis clinician and life coach
- Kareen Puranda, NCC, LPC, LCAS
- Vishal Anilkumar Gandhi, PhD
- Gayani DeSilva, MD, child psychiatrist and author
- Jackee Holder, life coach and author
- Angela Ficken, LICSW, a Boston-based psychotherapist
- Issues in Mental Health Nursing: "The effectiveness of yoga for depression: a critical literature review."
- Asian Journal of Sports Medicine: "Depression and Exercise: A Clinical Review and Management Guideline"
- Antioxidants: "Linking What We Eat to Our Mood: A Review of Diet, Dietary Antioxidants, and Depression"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Music Therapy for Depression"
- World Journal of Psychiatry: "Effects of music and music therapy on mood in neurological patients"